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Waverley Borough Council Committee System - Committee Document

Meeting of the Executive held on 03/02/2004
APPENDIX J - ELECTRONIC GOVERNMENT FOR CUSTOMER SERVICE DELIVERY LOCALITY OFFICES PROJECT



Summary & Purpose
The purpose of this report is to propose that the pilot project for improved customer service delivery at Farnham Locality Office be consolidated and further developed and that the project be ‘rolled out’ to the locality offices at Haslemere and Cranleigh.

Quality of Life Implications
Natural Resource Use
Pollution Prevention and Control
Biodiversity and Nature
Local Environment
Social Inclusion
Safe Communities
Local Economy
Natural
Resource Use
Pollution
Prevention and Control
Biodiversity
and Nature
Local
Environment
Social
Inclusion
Safe, Healthy
and Active
Communities
Local
Economy
N/A
N/A
N/A
Positive
Positive
Positive
Positive


APPENDIX J
WAVERLEY BOROUGH COUNCIL

CORPORATE OVERVIEW AND SCRUTINY COMMITTEE
26TH JANUARY 2004
_________________________________________________________________________
Title:
ELECTRONIC GOVERNMENT FOR CUSTOMER SERVICE DELIVERY
LOCALITY OFFICES PROJECT

[Wards Affected: Farnham, Haslemere and Cranleigh Wards]

_________________________________________________________________________
Summary and Purpose

The purpose of this report is to propose that the pilot project for improved customer service delivery at Farnham Locality Office be consolidated and further developed and that the project be ‘rolled out’ to the locality offices at Haslemere and Cranleigh.

Quality of Life Implications – social, environmental and economic (sustainable development):

Natural Resource Use
Pollution Prevention and Control
Biodiversity and Nature
Local Environment
Social Inclusion
Safe, Healthy and Active Communities
Local Economy
N/A
N/A
N/A
Positive
Positive
Positive
Positive

Introduction and Background

1. In the autumn of 2003 the Council embarked upon a pilot project at Farnham Locality Office to improve the service provided to face-to-face customers by harnessing and utilising information technology with the aim of enabling most customer enquiries to be resolved at first point of contact without the need to refer customers on to departmental staff at Godalming.

2. The project was undertaken in the context of the Council’s vision ‘to enhance the quality of life…….through customer-focused service’. It also represents a key component in Waverley’s approved Implementing Electronic Government Return (IEG) for which the Council has obtained capital grant funding from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister of 200,000 for each of the financial years 2002/03 and 2003/04. We have been advised that capital grant will also be available for 2004/05, although the exact amount has yet to be made known.

3. The approach adopted in the project was to implement a relatively ‘low tech’ solution exploiting existing in-house systems and expertise prior to any consideration of decisions on the future development of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software and telephone contact centres.

Farnham Project – Outcomes

4. The prime purpose of the project at Farnham Locality Office was to provide improved service for face-to-face customers by empowering the frontline staff with the information needed to resolve enquiries at the first point of contact without the need to refer the customer to staff based at the Godalming Central Offices. It was accepted at the outset of the pilot that it would not be realistic to assume all enquiries could be resolved at the locality office so a target of 80% of queries resolved at first point of contact was established in line with targets used by many other local authorities embarked on this type of improved customer service initiative. A year after the start of the initiative, management information generated from the system developed as part of the project indicates that 88% of customer enquiries are resolved at the Farnham Office.

5. Direct and speedy access to back office systems such as Planning, Housing, Council Tax and Benefits is now available to all Farnham Locality Office staff because of the improved communication links introduced under the project. The information technology available at Farnham has brought the office fully into the Waverley departments IT communities and transformed the way the office works. Information and access to information that was previously not available to face-to-face customers is now available at Farnham. An example is the planning system whereby face-to face enquirers can now be provided with planning history details which were only previously available at the Central Offices in Godalming.

6. A Customer Services System (CSS) has been developed in-house based on Lotus Notes and on internet technologies, as a front-end to the range of services included in the project. The CSS includes a range of frequently asked questions and answers (FAQs) that have been developed with service departments to enable Farnham staff to provide accurate information to routine questions. The FAQs developed are also an invaluable aid for new or less experienced staff providing a source of easily accessible standardised and accurate information for customers. A further spin-off from the project is that the FAQs developed can also be made available on the Council’s website for ‘self serve’ customers.

7. A number of on-line forms are available from the Customer Services screens which are used to capture and disseminate information electronically examples of this are Council Tax change of address information, the reporting of abandoned vehicles and a relatively new development which enables the reporting of a death which is then sent automatically to all relevant service departments. On demand, printing of certain forms is also available from the Customer Services screens for customers needing to complete forms in order to access services.

8. The system includes a bulletin board and message facility to improve communication between the ‘back office’ staff at Godalming and the Farnham Locality Office staff, and vice-versa. This has been used to warn of service problems that have arisen e.g. a refuse vehicle breakdown leading to missed collections, public convenience closures, or as advance warning of letters being sent to customers by departments which might increase the number of face-to-face enquiries received at Farnham.

9. A ‘benefits calculator’ has been developed which enables locality office staff to identify, based on the information supplied by the customer, the likelihood of the claimant being eligible for benefit support.

10. Staff are able to access the Surrey Online web portal and other web links as an information source to answer or report on-line customer enquiries relating to other service providers for such matters as highways or education for example.

11. The management information available as a result of the project has improved immeasurably on information previously available so that statistics on numbers and age of customers, time and purpose of visit and success of enquiry are all captured via the Customer Service System.

12. All of the above benefits have been achieved through a relatively low-cost solution to improving frontline face-to-face service – in total the capital cost for the project has been less than 30,000. However the project places a heavy reliance on locality staff learning and using a number of different back office systems so staff training and the roll-out across services is time consuming and complicated. The nature of the service now available at Farnham also means that generally enquiries take longer as the intention is to resolve issues on the spot without referring matters back to Godalming unless necessary.

Continuation and further roll-out of the project

13. It is proposed that the project at Farnham be endorsed and that further development be approved.

14. During the pilot phase of the project, the need for additional resources was recognised at an early stage and an additional temporary post of 0.6 full-time equivalent was engaged along with some support from a Waverley Training Services trainee. As a result of the experience gained from the project, it is your officers' view that in order to continue the project, an additional full-time post is required at an annual cost of 21,120 (including on-costs) with effect from 1st April 2004.

15. It is further proposed that in accordance with the Council’s IEG statement, the project be rolled out to the other Locality Offices at Haslemere and Cranleigh, the costs to be met from the draft capital programme provision for Asset Management as follows:
30,140 19,420 16. A full breakdown of the costs is attached at Annexe 1, however in summary the main areas of cost involved in extending the project are as follows:
Upgrade of hardware at Haslemere and Cranleigh;
The creation of an additional permanent post at Farnham. The post would enable more effective staff training to be undertaken and free up time for the Manager to focus on the delivery and implementation of the enhanced service. The additional resource would also enable support to be provided to the other locality offices;
Additional 0.5 fte post for a period of 9 – 12 months to support the Haslemere and Cranleigh offices;
Training;
Ongoing maintenance of intranet facilities (including FAQs and Benefits calculator); and
Conversion of intranet facilities to run on the website.

17. It should be noted that the cost of upgrading the IT facilities at both Haslemere and Cranleigh has been included in financial year 2003/04. This is because the existing equipment at both offices is over five years old and is scheduled for replacement as soon as possible.

18. The costs outlined above can be contained within the existing specific provision in the 2003/04 Capital Programme of 40,000 and 20,000 in the 2004/05 draft Capital Programme.

19. Rolling these facilities out to Haslemere and Cranleigh, alongside the current Planning Customer Interface Project, will further inform the Council’s long-term strategy with respect to implementing a Customer Relationship Management system (which would facilitate the delivery, capture and management of all customer contacts with the Council.) IT Staff

20. In order to create the framework necessary to manage the “question and answer scripts” there was a need to buy additional hours of technical support. Additional hours were also needed to create online facilities such as the Housing Benefit calculator, which enabled questions re eligibility for benefit to be answered at the point of contact. These additional hours of support were contained within the pilot project budget. 21. The pilot was supported throughout by the IT help desk team. Whilst the help desk operates from Monday to Friday, the Locality Offices are additionally open on Saturday mornings. In order to maintain the level of service, it would be prudent for the appropriate staff to support the IT help desk staff on Saturdays. The issue of support on Saturdays has been looked at but due largely to personal commitments, sufficient staff are unable to commit themselves to working additional hours on Saturday mornings. The help desk team consists of four people who are already more than stretched to cope with existing demands during the normal working week. They are already asked to work on an ad-hoc basis at weekends when projects demand any out-of-hours activity. The position will continue to be kept under review should there be any change of personnel. If in future this service could be offered the cost would be expected to be around 8,000 pa. 22. In order to ensure that the calculator is kept up to date with the latest Housing Benefits legislation and that the “question and answer” scripts might continue to be enhanced and developed for other services, e.g. Tourist Information, it is proposed that a budgetary provision of 5,000 be made to buy additional hours of support from our Web Administrator during financial years 2003/04 and 2004/05.

Training

23. The initial approach to training FLO staff was for one-off group training sessions at Farnham, concentrating on the use of back-office systems and/or the new customer service scripted screens. This did not prove to be particularly effective and therefore a new approach was adopted based on the locality staff spending time working with the appropriate departmental teams at Godalming. However to benefit from this approach it was soon realised that additional resources would be needed to free up the staff while the training was underway.

24. Another key training issue was the need for FLO staff to become proficient in a wide range of application software packages (including Housing, Planning and Mapping). This was compounded by the fact that most of the staff had not received formal training in core IT skills (Windows, Lotus Notes etc.)

25. In order to address this issue when “rolling out” the Pilot to Haslemere and Cranleigh, it is proposed that an assessment of the existing staffs' IT skills be undertaken and that appropriate training be undertaken prior to further implementation of the project.

Staffing – The Wider Picture

26. Paragraph 14 above sets out views on staffing (and related) needs necessary to continue the development of the pilot. In summary the staffing requirements to continue with the Farnham project and extend it to the other locality offices are: -

Farnham Locality OfficePresuming the extension of the pilot into other Waverley service areas (notably Housing Repairs and Housing Maintenance) it is estimated that one additional full-time member of staff would be necessary (say at Pay Band 9 at 21,120 including on-costs). This would be inclusive of the additional temporary staffing resource at 3 days a week (0.6 fte) added, effectively to kick-start the pilot.

This recognises the additional time taken to respond to enquiries when a more complete service is being offered at the front desk.

This additional full-time member of staff would be funded from Revenue.
Haslemere and Cranleigh Locality OfficeAdditional 0.5 fte (say at Pay Band 9 c at either 7,920 or 10,560 including on-costs) for a period of 9 to 12 months to support the set up at these offices (funded from the Capital Programme provision identified at paragraph 19).
I. T. SectionHelpdesk support for Saturday opening (see above paragraph 22)

Additional Web Administrator support to the value of 5,000 a year for 2003/05 and 2004/05 (funded from the Capital Programme provision identified at paragraph 19).

27. From the outset, it has been recognised, by both Members and officers that the staffing structure and the available staffing resources of the Locality Office service would need to be reviewed as part of the evaluation of the progress so far. 28. The above represents a fair summary of what is needed in order to extend and develop the pilot into a real customer focused service. However, it looks at staffing needs at a superficial level. 29. This project is a major development under the Council’s Implementing Electronic Government Strategy but it has yet to be developed beyond the experimental stage. 30. The staff have readily taken on additional responsibilities and put considerable effort into making it work. However, their roles have yet to be redefined, the job descriptions have yet to be updated and those job descriptions have yet to be put through the evaluation process. Without that, to continue to operate this project as a pilot runs the risk of appearing to be trading on the goodwill of staff. Waverley cannot afford to lose that goodwill. 31. It was not expected that the bedding in of this project would result in significant additional cost. It was recognised that there was a need to invest in staff, hardware and software to get it up and running but that savings would accrue, in time, from the potential to reduce the levels of ‘back office’ staff. 32. Although Waverley should be evaluating the impact on the ‘back office’ service as part of this review, it would be very optimistic to presume that such savings could be achieved in the short-term. Waverley staff, across the board, carry a heavy workload and any reduction in ‘back office’ time is being lost to the opportunity to plug gaps in existing service levels. 33. It is, in truth, unlikely that there will be the potential to reduce staffing levels in a back office until the pilot is extended into the Council Offices at Godalming. That is a major decision yet to be taken. It would, though, present the best opportunity for the re-engineering of services and for the adjustment of staffing levels at the front and back office. That may take place on a fairly neutral basis but the savings may arise from a reduce need to employ ‘expensive’ staff on relatively routine matters. Funding the additional staff resource required at Farnham

34. The revenue cost of the additional full-time post for the Farnham Locality Office (see paragraph 14) would represent growth on the existing revenue budget which will increase the overall budget shortfall presented to the Executive.

A vision for the future of the Locality Office Service

35. The Council’s locality offices have over the years served two main functions for face-to-face customers i.e. a cashiering/payment service and an enquiry service. The Customer Service project at Farnham as detailed in the above report has focused on developing and improving the enquiry service provided to customers. The traditional cashiering/payment services provided have remained unaltered.

36. It is already evident from experience at Farnham that an improved enquiry service means more staff time is spent on each contact and it is anticipated that the balance between enquiry and cashiering services will alter. If it is accepted that resources over the next few years will continue to be under pressure it would seem appropriate to consider whether resources could be made available from within the locality office service itself by reconsidering the balance of functions provided. If it is the Council’s long term view that an improved enquiry service or ‘one-stop’ service for face-to-face customers is a priority it may be that alternative less staff resource intensive methods of providing cashiering services needs to be examined.

37. The question for consideration by the Committee is whether the Council’s vision for its Locality Offices should be to continue to provide cashiering facilities as at present or a change in emphasis to “one-stop shops” for Waverley services which can accept payments if required. Any proposals in cashiering services would of course also impact on the cashier service provided at Godalming.

Recommendation

It is recommended that

1. the Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Committee endorses the approach outlined above and asks the officers to identify how resources might be realigned to achieve it and to submit a report accordingly; and
2. the Committee is asked to forward any observations it has on the future vision for the Locality Office service and specifically the future of cashiering services, to the next meeting of the Executive.
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Background Papers (CEx/DoF)

There are no background papers (as defined by Section 100D(5) of the Local Government Act 1972) relating to this report.

CONTACT OFFICERS:

Name: Richard Wood Telephone: 01483 523387 Roger Standing Telephone: 01483 523221
Comms/o&s1/2003-04/046