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Rebecca Coombes looks at new trends in job titles ...
Rebecca Coombes looks at new trends in job titles

Head of customer services

A relative newcomer to the local government scene, the head of customer services cannot help but sound like an import from the banking or retail industry.

In some ways it is. For example, Donna Reed, head of customer services at Thanet DC, is trying to procure a customer relationship management system.

'You use this to find out more about your customer. For example, if this person is buying beans from us will they also buy cabbages? Or, if we are selling this person a radio, we should also stock and sell them the batteries.'

The adoption of this type of technology is part of a move to reconfigure the customer services side of each local government service into one central resource.

Ms Reed, who is the first holder of the post in Thanet, explains: 'This job is about bringing front-line services together into a contact centre: face-to-face contact and on the web. I am also responsible for IT, facilities management and procurement. We don't have a

co-ordinated customer services in Thanet. My remit is to get 75% of all customer enquiries answered at first point of contact, either by telephone, face-to-face or through the website.'

These enquiries can range from 'my bin hasn't been emptied' to 'what council tax band am I in?'

She says: 'If you called each department up and found out what their top five most frequently asked questions were I bet they would make up about 80% of our calls.'

With a budget in excess of£2m and 80 staff to manage, Ms Reed also sees it as her job to sell the idea of a centralised customer service to other service areas.

Ms Reed, who previously worked for CIPFA as assistant director for education support services, has a strong sales and marketing background.

'I don't have an IT background, but I have a vast amount of management experience. I bring the customer service aspect to it. I don't talk in technical language - I don't need to know how the IT works, but how the customer can use it.'

Designated people in individual departments previously carried out elements of Ms Reed's job. 'If you bring it together you start seeing all different aspects from a strategic point of view. It is a move away from working in silos,' she says.

The post is heavily tied to e-government and is sometimes described by local government employers as 'head of ICT'.

Steve Cooley, national lead on local government at the recruitment firm Veredus, said the move to set up these posts 'is about treating citizens as diverse customers with different needs, so it's about changing the culture'.

'We are increasingly seeing these roles: sometimes they can be a little bit obscure. The people for these jobs are generally not techies - people who understand the minutiae of writing a computer programme - but people who can understand how technology can be used to reconfigure services from a strong user perspective. That is one of the greatest difficulties,' he says.

In five years' time Thanet's call centre will by up and running with up to 20 trained staff. 'But we will still be looking to develop a better technical understanding of customer needs. We need to take it to the next level, such as texting young people about benefit claims,' Ms Reed says.

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