Bradford City Council
A review of the customer experience at Britannia House customer service centre to plan the design of a new space, which would improve the quality of service delivery at lower cost
Public sector organisations are under pressure to save money. However, cost cutting alone will lead to worse service, which in turn leads to higher costs. Work done badly with less resources will result in more waste, delays and rework to rectify errors. In addition, there is the added cost of dealing with wasteful demand from calls, letters, emails and visits from members of the public complaining that their service is bad and is taking too long. The only way to reduce costs is to improve the quality of service. This means ensuring every service provides maximum value to customers as quickly as possible, with no waste, delay or rework.
Joanne Conlon, Head of Customer Services at Bradford City Council was facing the same challenges. Britannia House, the main customer service delivery hub, was experiencing long delays resulting in high levels of customer dissatisfaction and low staff morale. Demand had exceeded capacity, yet there were plans to introduce more services, using the same resources, but with little focus on improving quality. In addition, proposals to expand the service area were focused on changes to the building and its facilities rather than addressing the root causes of why demand was so high and satisfaction so low. Problems would remain irrespective of any changes to the physical space. Something had to be done!
We started by addressing the issue of staff morale by involving them in our study of existing service delivery to gain a shared understanding of the problems and how to resolve. Improving service pulls people together and morale will get better and better. We found that the standing counter service, although fast at receiving documentation for benefits entitlements, was causing process delays and numerous visits caused by batching and sorting incomplete information. The queue management system was configured to support multiple services and departments, causing customer confusion, long waiting times and inefficient use of resources. Main reception was located far too close to the entrance causing queues out of the door and there was limited use of self-help with systems both cumbersome and often not working.
Our findings were provided as input to a ‘Usability Brief’, which we used as a communication tool to everyone affected by the project. A ‘Usability Brief’ provides a high-level definition of a requirement, containing just enough information for the construction team to work out the numbers and types of facilities, the technology team to define supporting systems and how they should be configured as well as process and training needs. At the heart of a ‘Usability Brief’ are the different ways customers should use or interact with a new environment i.e. customer journeys. Millions of pounds have been wasted by local authorities designing buildings, facilities and services around the needs of individual departments rather than customers. So many would have benefited from a ‘Usability Brief’.
We did not stop there! We worked closely with Joanne’s team to redesign processes, eliminating delays by ensuring all pieces of information required for benefits claims were pulled together before starting an entitlement process. We streamlined the number of queues from twelve to three by aligning processes with new customer journeys and eliminated wasteful demand by simplifying correspondence, avoiding customers arriving early with incomplete documentation.
I spoke to Joanne recently, who confirmed that Britannia House is a huge success. Customer as well as staff satisfaction has improved dramatically and focus is now on increasing channel shift and introducing more efficient and effective ways for customers to access council services. A key lesson and message to government is the only way to save our services and cut costs is to improve quality first!
AT A GLANCE:
- Facilitated a review of the existing customer experience at Britannia House. Key issues:
- Customers experienced problems with navigation and finding where to go
- Multiple queues and long waiting times resulting in high levels of dissatisfaction & confusion
- High volume of wasteful demand, delays and rework – customers progress chasing or arriving with incomplete documentation
- Limited use of self-help – systems cumbersome and often not working
- Ineffective use of resources – some counters busy serving, others used for internal business
- Teams focused on managing targets rather than addressing underlying issues
- Low staff morale due to high number of customer issues and complaints
- Validation of findings with the management team and development of a ‘Usability Brief’:
- A shared understanding of the problems and how to solve – increasing commitment and call to action
- A Usability Brief, which was used to communicate how the new space should be used from an end-user perspective
- More meaningful KPI’s and metrics to monitor and track improvements to the customer experience
- As-Is and To-Be process definitions for core service delivery processes:
- Processes streamlined and aligned to customer journeys i.e. customer with an appointment; customer without an appointment; homeless customer
- Measures implemented to minimise errors, duplication and avoid customers queuing twice
- Reduced rework and delays by eliminating batching and sorting at standing counter – all information would be collated before commencing entitlement process
- Correspondence to customers simplified – 14-day response query letter removed to avoid customers arriving early with incomplete documentation
- Significant improvements in the quality of service at lower costs – less waste, delays and rework
- Increased customer satisfaction and staff morale – significant reduction in customer complaints
- Improved council reputation and focus towards transforming service delivery across multiple channels