The Director of Strategy,
Communications and Customer Services opened the report and
described how the Customer Services Strategy had been approved by
Cabinet in 2017, and how Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Committee
had been asked to feed into the process and comment on the action
plan before it was agreed. She commented that the committee
regularly asked questions regarding online services and how
residents were being supported to access these, and this report
provided a focused item on this issue. She mentioned that this was
an opportune time for the report due to the significant changes to
the reception area of the Civic Offices and face-to-face areas. The
Assistant Director Customer Services stated that there was a focus
in the report on the changes in the face-to-face areas, and
described how prior to these changes, customers were seen by
advisers at individual desks. She commented that there were now 11
self-service tablets, new seated computers, and floor-walkers that
could determine the appropriate service for a person and help
vulnerable individuals see an individual specialist if they
required. She continued by stating there was a new DDA area with
rise and fall desks for disabled users and a private waiting area
for those seeking housing and homelessness advice. She stated that
since the changes there was a 50% decrease in the volume of
customers visiting the Civic Offices this month and average wait
times had decreased from 8 minutes to 1 minute in January 2019. She
added that the decreased wait times meant that more time could be
spent with vulnerable users who needed it. She summarised by
stating that only one complaint had been received regarding the
changes, and some services were now online only such as Council Tax
exemption and bulky waste collection. Finally, she added that the
customer services department were CCA accredited and had received
no non-conformities in the independent review.
The Chair thanked officers for the detailed report and recognised the shift towards online, as computers were now a fact of life. He added that he had some concern in making sure good access to services was still available to all users, particularly those that were vulnerable or elderly as he did not want online to become a barrier. He questioned what the team were doing to help residents with online services, and what Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) were evaluating these services. The Assistant Director Customer Services replied that floor-walkers were there to assess customer’s vulnerability and support them with their needs. She commented that there had been a decrease in people visiting the Civic Offices for basic transactions, but there was still a good level of service to residents which had seen few complaints. The Chair clarified that although some services were online only, support was still available to those that needed it. The Assistant Director Customer Services confirmed this was the case and floor-walkers were always there to assist visitors, as they could help residents complete forms or answer questions. She stated there was also support over the phone as contact centre workers could talk residents through the processes they needed to follow. The Director of Strategy, Communications and Customer Services added that customer services’ training was focused on identifying and helping vulnerable people. She stated that the training was also given to other front-line services too, as well as to people working and volunteering in community hubs and libraries.
The Chair then asked what was being done in libraries and hubs to signpost residents to services. The Director of Strategy, Communication and Customer Services replied that library staff, volunteers and other partners had been offered training to help signpost residents, and were aware of the changes happening in the Civic Offices. She commented that services were also promoted through Thurrock communication channels and at hubs so there was a level of consistency. Councillor Fletcher mentioned that he held his surgeries at the South Ockendon hub and had seen first-hand the increased value of this service, as most residents did not visit the Civic Offices. He felt that it was good to see a decrease in the number of people visiting the Civic Offices, and asked if officers had therefore seen an increase in the number of people visiting the hubs. He then commented on the communications via social media, but how some people did not use computers, so it was good for them to see friendly faces at the hubs. The Assistant Director Customer Services explained the ‘Right First Time’ training offered to front-line services, of which 532 people had undertaken since April 2018. She stated that once all front-line services had undertaken the training, it would then be offered to hub employees and volunteers, as the training was a key part of providing the online service, so both were aligned with each other. The Director of Strategy, Communications and Customer Services replied that she did not have an answer regarding the number of people visiting the hubs, but will look into the question further and come back to the Councillor with an answer. She added that the communications team had been focusing on the Council’s social media presence for the past 6-8 months, but still ensured that hard copies, such as consultation documents, were sent to hubs, so there was a mix of communications channels.
Councillor Churchman stated that in the past year and a half he had received two residents complimenting the system and its ease of use, and two residents complaining about the service they had received over the phone. He stated it would be good if members of the contact centre team could undergo training so they could be more sympathetic to resident’s needs. The Assistant Director Customer Services replied that all contact centre calls were recorded and could be checked they met all criteria. She added that the contact centre received 25,000-30,000 calls per month, but that they tried their best to monitor the quality of calls, and generally received a satisfaction level of 97-98%. The Director of Strategy, Communications and Customer Service added that the team were currently developing a quality framework for all front-line services, so all calls, not just those through the contact centre, could be monitored. She stated that she felt it was a good opportunity to look at all front-line services that dealt with residents.
Councillor Fletcher commented that call centre advisers may have problems in helping residents as they might not understand the nature of the problem, if it was complex. He added that a 97-98% call satisfaction may not include people who had ended the call early, as they did not get a chance to complete the survey. Councillor Duffin asked where the £225,000 of savings stated in the report had come from, and the Assistant Director Customer Services replied that this had come from moving ground floor staff to the contact centre over the past two years and into vacant roles.
1. The Committee commented on the progress delivered against the Customer Services Strategy key actions.
2. The Committee commented on strategy actions currently in progress and provided suggestions for any further development areas.