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Success of unique customer service direct

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Mid Suffolk DC (MSDC), Suffolk CC (SCC) and BT set up a joint venture in 2004 designed to make the councils’ services more accessible to the public and provide a joint back-office operation.

Yet despite its success, customer service direct (CSD) remains one of the few local government projects of its kind.

Andrew Good, MSDC’s chief executive, explains why he thinks other authorities should take the plunge.

Top tips for shared service success

  • Punch above your weight. It doesn’t matter how small you are, if you sort out governance and contract management issues in advance, a shared service agreement can work to your advantage.

  • Be clear what you want to achieve. Shared services aren’t an end in themselves - you have to know what your end goal is. MSDC’s key driver was to radically improve the service offered to its citizens and it was willing to change to accomplish this.

  • Partnership is key. For shared services to succeed, people have to work in partnership with each other. Check the cultural fit feels right. We recommend carefully managing relationships on a day-to-day basis. Once you’ve set up the deal, you should never have to pull the contract out of the draw in anger. Things should never get that far.

  • Measure as you go. Put clear SLAs in place so you know what you are accomplishing. Neither SCC or MSDC had a baseline in place at the beginning of the process - we do now and our improved systems are also proving vital when it come to continuous improvement.

  • Plan security in from the outset. Security of systems and information is vital and must be included in the initial planning.

  • Make sure everyone is on board. Good communication is key to getting politicians, senior managers and staff on board. If there are barriers at any of these levels, it can be very difficult to proceed.

  • Put your customers first. There may be 1,001 reasons not to opt for shared services but there’s one why you should, and it’s the most important - your customers.

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