Customer service contact centres are the public face of a local authority – that critical interface between the council and its residents. The ease at which customers can get the information and support they need can have a huge bearing on perceptions of an organisation and its effectiveness.
This is particularly pertinent for Buckinghamshire Council, a new unitary authority launched in 2020 that is still in its formative years at a time when public services across the country are facing rising demand from residents.
In 2022, the council commissioned IMPOWER to carry out a 14-week project to review customer demand and identify tools and approaches to improve performance.
The goals were to help the client develop a deeper understanding of demand and residents’ interactions with the customer service contact centre.
Using a combination of innovative tools and approaches, we set out to help the client embed new ways of working that would enable it to both anticipate and manage surges in demand and apply behavioural science to influence customer behaviour.
Ultimately, it was about creating a more sustainable and resilient system that is more efficient, better able to manage spikes in demand and delivers a better experience for customers.
The project involved introducing new approaches and tools that were tailored to the client’s needs through coproduction. This helped to reinforce understanding of the changes being made and ensure sustainability going forward.
We focused on a number of “quick wins” to build confidence, underline the rationale and demonstrate effectiveness.
We analysed call, webchat and webform data as part of the process. By carrying out a comprehensive review of current demand and trends and drawing on evidence from more established unitaries, we were able to provide the council with a clearer picture of future demand.
For example, it highlighted capacity gaps within the contact centre and also revealed the proportion of customers who abandoned calls and returned within seven days.
Analysis of “contact us” forms for waste collections showed a significant proportion were for tasks that the customer could have completed via the council’s website.
By creating a forecast demand model incorporating 20 different service lines we found up to 2,200 calls were potentially avoidable due to them being progress chasing calls and contacts which could be better completed online.
Our consultancy team also introduced the Listening Tool, which examines large quantities of data using machine learning to understand resident sentiment, levels of trust and expectation as well as where specific services were driving customer demand.
In addition, they piloted an interactive model of demand flow through the council’s front door using “journey mining” software.
By taking insight from the Listening Tool and journey mining we were able to work collaboratively with the council to trial ways to reduce call levels. It also informed a set of trajectories, based on a fresh cost and demand model, which the council used to track the level of demand on the customer services team.
The council now has a sound evidence base to enable informed decision-making and performance management, avoiding decision making based on anecdote.
This included analysis of more than 6,300 contacts via the Listening Tool to better understand call feedback themes and customer sentiment and use that insight to determine what cross-service improvements were required.
IMPOWER facilitated multiple workshops to establish a series behavioural change trials to influence how residents were contacting customer services. As a result, changes made to the council website and Interactive Voice Response (IVR) telephone system significantly reduced the level of calls.
For the first time, the cost and demand model IMPOWER built allowed the council to clearly understand how to reduce levels of influenceable demand on service lines while maintaining standards.
The council has used the findings of our initial review to develop a new Customer Experience Performance Framework. It also utilises IMPOWER’s Organisational Resilience Framework, which helps councils to understand how to make their organisations more able to absorb shocks along the way, adapt through incremental changes, and anticipate future disruptions.
Based on the successful implementation of the Listening Tool, we are supporting the council to develop it further to proactively track emerging trends in conversations at the front door in order to tackle spikes in demand as quickly as possible, further building resilience within the organisation.
Most importantly, as the council exploits the Listening Tool further by applying it to other service lines, it is building a definitive hub of understanding customer sentiment, making sure that residents who typically don’t get their voices heard are being listened to.
LLOYD JEFFRIES, SERVICE DIRECTOR – BUSINESS OPERATIONS, BUCKINGHAMSHIRE COUNCIL