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Waverley Borough Council Committee System - Committee Document

Meeting of the Executive held on 11/07/2006

Summary & Purpose
The report provides member and officer feedback on the visit which took place on 13th February 2006, to Chorley Borough Council, Lancashire, which has been designated a three star best value authority for its approach to customer service.





[Wards Affected: All]

Summary and purpose:

The report provides member and officer feedback on the visit which took place on 13th February 2006, to Chorley Borough Council, Lancashire, which has been designated a three star best value authority for its approach to customer service.

Environmental implications

The review will take into account the environmental benefits of the various methods of providing customer service.

Social / community implications:

The review will take into account the social effects of the various methods of providing customer service with particular emphasis on hard to reach groups and the socially excluded.

E-Government implications:

Part of the review will be to consider how e-Government initiatives contribute to customer service. In particular the review will evaluate and consider the case for Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems as a means of improving customer service in Waverley.

Resource and legal implications:

There are no direct resource and legal implications associated with this report other than the officer time involved in the review, which can be contained within approved budgets.


1. The Improvement and Development Agency’s (IDeA) Strategic Support Unit (SSU) who were allocated to Waverley to provide advice on the issue of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) as Waverley were unable to meet key e-Government ‘Priority Outcomes’ on this requirement. The IDeA suggested Chorley Borough Council was an example of an authority developing best practice in the area of customer service and the Committee, at its meeting on 21st November 2005, agreed to a member/officer visit to Chorley to see its approach to customer service at first hand.

Chorley Borough Council

2. The borough of Chorley is situated in central Lancashire and covers around 80 square miles. Its eastern border lies on sparsely populated upland rising towards the West Pennine Moors; the central spine is more urban, continuing the market town of Chorley and settlements close to the M6 and A6 that run north-south through the borough. In the west, the land merges into the Lancashire plain and is dotted with villages and hamlets. The borough is attractive with a large amount of green space. It is well-placed for access to the major cities of the north west of England with good connections to the major motorway and good railway links to Manchester and Preston. Manchester International Airport is easily accessed by motorway and rail.

3. There are 100,449 people living in 42,250 households. Of these, 20 per cent are aged under 16 years, 61 per cent are aged 16 to 59 years and 19 per cent are aged 60 years or over. The percentage of the population belonging to a black or minority ethnic community increased from 1.1 per cent in 1991 to 2.1 per cent in 2001 and is anticipated to continue to increase. The largest minority ethnic group in the borough is Indian (0.39 per cent, mainly Muslims from Gujarat) closely followed by Pakistani (0.33 per cent) and Chinese (0.31 per cent). The borough overall is relatively prosperous and ranked 172 out of 354 in the index of multiple deprivation. Around half of the adult population works outside of the borough. Within the borough the service sector accounts for 75 per cent of all employment. Council research shows that 65 per cent of the population have direct access to the internet at home and 40 per cent use the internet at work. There is 100 per cent broadband availability across the borough. This means that electronic access to Council services is popular especially with new residents. However, in the more established communities that were historically-based around manufacturing industry and mining, there is still a preference for more traditional forms of access such as face to face and telephone contact.

4. The net revenue budget for 2004/05 was 11.77 million. There are 47 councillors representing 20 wards – 21 Labour, 20 Conservative, 3 Liberal Democrat, and 3 Independent. The Council is controlled by the Labour party with cabinet support from the Liberal Democrats and the Independents. An overarching scrutiny committee manages the work programme of three scrutiny panels which focus on the three corporate priorities of customer, community, and environment. The Leader of the Council was the appointed member e-champion. The Council employs around 500 staff this includes housing service staff although a Stock Transfer exercise is currently underway. The top management structure of the authority is a Chief executive with two strategic directors.

Context for customer service development at Chorley

5. In 2001 Chorley were one of only 15 councils in the country whose Implementing E-Government Statement (IEG1) was deemed unsatisfactory by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM). The Council’s IT infrastructure by its own admission was poor and it did not have a website. In the light of its IEG failure Chorley were advised by the IDeA to mentor with Brent Borough Council, Knowsley Metropolitan Borough Council and Thameside Metropolitan Borough Council who are acknowledged leaders in e-government delivery and customer service.

6. As part of its consideration of changing service delivery Chorley Borough Council undertook a public consultation exercise and received 66% support for the concept of one stop customer service.

7. To create its one stop shop Chorley has refurbished the ground floor of its central offices to a single customer service area (at a cost of 500,000) with a fast-track reception area, a customer contact area and interview rooms. Currently the authority has five town centre offices which it plans to reduce to two. The Council had also invested 500,000 to update and improve its poor IT infrastructure.

8. The Council working in partnership with six (out of twelve) other Lancashire Districts and Lancashire County Council are developing a shared telephone contact centre, using CRM technology, to pool information and provide extended services. From the customer’s perspective, the collaboration will give access to a wider range of services than those of the local district council, including County Council and other districts’ services, via a single telephone call.

9. The development of Chorley’s customer service strategy was against the backdrop of a staffing structure reorganisation creating a management structure of Chief Executive and two strategic directors and an overall reduction in the authority’s staffing of 10% in the last year.

The operation of Chorley’s Customer Contact Centre

10. Customers initially queue in the fast-track area. Customers with appointments (e.g. with planners) or with straightforward enquiries are dealt with there and then (approximately 25% of customers). Those requiring further information or assistance have their details taken down and are sent to a separate waiting and customer service area with a queue number. The average waiting time is 4 minutes. Using the information captured at the “fast-track” counter the customers details are then sent to the staff in the customer service area via the computer system in readiness for the consultation. The customer service area is open plan and welcoming with security being provided unobtrusively.

11. Chorley are currently delivering Environmental Services, Council Tax and Benefits services in this way and initially 6 staff were transferred from Benefits and Council Tax to become Customer Service Advisers. All services will in time be brought into the system including Planning and Housing services. In terms of the Housing service it was envisaged that if Stock Transfer occurs customer services would be provided on behalf of the new housing organisation through the Contact Centre.

12. There are currently approximately 150 face-to-face consultations per day. After face-to-face consultation customers are offered a questionnaire to fill in at their convenience (pre-paid postage) and about 10% of customers respond. The results indicate that 94% have their enquiry dealt with there and then and 98% say they were satisfied or very satisfied with the service they received.

13. The Customer Services staff use structured ‘scripts’ to deal with enquiries using the Team Knowledge Dialogue software programme (which Waverley uses on our website as part of the Planning Parsol Project). The ‘scripts’ used by Chorley’s customer services staff are owned and produced by the relevant service area. The ‘scripts’ are also used within the telephone contact centre.

14. The telephone contact centre is adjacent to the face-to-face contact centre and staff are interchangeable between the two areas. In addition to Borough enquiries the staff will also be able to provide information on County and other neighbouring borough services as part of the County and 6 district telephone contact centre partnership project. The partnership project operates using an Onyx CRM system. Chorley’s investment as part of the partnership CRM project was 95,000 with an ongoing cost of 6,000 per annum. The system has not yet been fully implemented because of teething problems. Chorley aims to move to a single published telephone number for the public and in terms of e-mail are using a single e-mail enquiry address which is managed as part of the contact centre and enables Chorley to respond to e-mails within defined target times.

15. The Customer Contact Centre is also used to provide surgeries for other bodies such as the Department of Work and Pensions, the Citizens Advice Bureau and the Patients Advice Liaison Service.

Cashiering service

16. Chorley had originally included a cashiering point as part of its Contact Centre which it later increased to two points. However it has now closed this facility and instead provides a cash payment service through the AllPay service which is available through many retail outlets in the borough. The Strategic Director responsible for the Customer Service project indicated that it would have been preferable to have closed their in-house cash receipting service from day one.

Management/Human resources

17. Staffing issues were identified as the greatest challenge to introducing Chorley’s approach to customer service. In Chorley the Council’s management structure with strategic directors has assisted cross-service initiatives such as the Customer Contact Centre. There was considerable investment in process mapping, re-engineering and project management and the Council recognised it would not immediately achieve a return on investment. The Council is now realising efficiency gains with a 10% reduction in staffing levels in the last year.

18. Chorley has e-Government and Customer Services strategies in place including a 'customer charter' and there is a strong internal customer focused culture within the organisation which was recognised by the Audit Commission. This is reflected in that one of the ten key competencies against which all staff are assessed is related to customer focus (whether internal or external customers).

19. There is a healthy internal culture within the organisation and this is reflected through the results from annual staff satisfaction surveys.

20. The importance of training front-line staff was recognised and a training room adjacent to the Contact Centre was established specifically for this purpose.

Future development

21. The next stages for the development of the Customer Contact Centre are about adding those services not currently offered and developing the CRM system.

22. Chorley see CRM as essential in providing management information on customer contact and through this knowledge being able to segment customers and deliver more focused and targeted services. In addition CRM is seen as assisting the drive to direct/influence customers to use other more cost effective access channels such as the internet for service and information.

Member feedback

23. The following members of the committee attended the visit to Chorley Borough Council:- Mr Gates, Mr Band, Mrs Mansell, Mr Shelley and Mr Bate, in addition the Leader of the Council, Miss Ferguson, also attended. A brief summary of the feedback from members of the Committee and possible lessons for Waverley are set out below:

a. Like most Members who attended, I was impressed with both where Chorley are and where they want to go – seamless one-stop shopping, regardless of how local government is organised. They still have some way to travel, particularly with the County Council it seemed

b. What impressed me most was the way the whole Council strategy so strongly focused on "The Customer" and "Deliverables to the Customer" and how this was reflected in the Council organisation and how it monitored its performance through O&S committees and individual officer performance

c. The mechanics seemed to have been well though through and well funded, although they did seem to require face to face to take place only in Chorley, which left a large part of the population with some travelling to do

d. Under lying the success is the management structure. This is a common theme seen also at Reigate and at Basingstoke. At Director level the focus was on strategy, not managing silos. The next level get on with the day-to-day front line delivery. That does not totally eliminate reluctance to devolve or combine activities, but there is much more flexibility to go in this direction at director level

e. Have an interesting officer structure which obviously flows over into the Executive Members’ Portfolios

f. A clearly focused strategic plan, devised at the beginning, and driven throughout by a “Champion” who could avoid/override the normal internecine disputes that follow such a cross cutting development plan

g. If we do go along the route of a one stop shop and call centre I think we need to get all departments on board at the start and not do it piecemeal

h. Whether the "Chorley" model is exactly relevant to Waverley, is I think open for discussion. But what I do think is relevant, is the importance of having a clear strategy for the future, driven Top Down & Bottom Up, which is reflected through the organisational structure and the way in which it monitors and critically reviews performance

i. The appointment of specific officers, members and systems to examine and action improvements to the developing service e.g. Customer Access Officer, Executive Portfolio Holder, Business Efficiency Board

j. Get rid of cash collection

k. Cash collection - I think we should look into this

l. I liked the idea of a cashless service with all services being done by paypoint. I think that will give our users more ways to pay. It would save on staff cost

m. Have a proper call-centre. Go for a corporate identity.

n. It will all take time and money

o. I liked the idea of the one stop shop but to do that would involve huge set up cost. Could we afford it? Not convinced about the call centre

p. I believe this to be the right way forward but it must be developed on sound business principles as a fundamental part of our Corporate Strategy. Its success will depend entirely on maximum commitment from all of the Council’s senior management both members and officers

q. We should use the Chorley approach – think big but work carefully towards achieving our aims – not biting off more than we can chew

r. a win/win/win scenario; improved customer services, improved internal procedures and long term savings

s. Its success will depend entirely on maximum commitment from all of the Council’s senior management both members and officers

t. Chorley started from a poor base (‘ground zero’) down side was high initial costs and the fact that most of the financial benefits would tend to be less tangible e.g. reduced printing costs, increased efficiency in the departments

u. Going for the “big plan” at the start and sticking to it

v. Chorley had to manage the project carefully from both a financial and HR perspective and, to my mind, we have much to learn from the way they applied sound business procedures in the design and development stages of their project

w. Getting the majority of Councillors “on-side” at the beginning of the project and having them all pushing in the same direction

x. Got members on board because they could see the benefits and money saving aspects

y. Working hard on the HR aspects to ensure that the internal benefits of the system were “sold”

z. CRM is essential to tie together all customer database information to make the system truly one point of contact

aa. The development of Partnerships to realise the long term benefits

bb. Set up partnerships within the community and with other districts and county

cc. An attraction of being able to work in partnership with other districts and the County, to develop common software systems which enable information to be provided to "customers", regardless of who is actually the service provider

dd. Links with CAB, Dept. of Work and Pensions, Patients Advice Liaison Service

ee. Do we have a ‘comprehensive Customer Care Policy and Standards’ document?

ff. Well-motivated, well trained staff who looked and sounded very competent

gg. Staff able to move seamlessly from one task to another and highly likely to take on more responsibility with ease e.g. environmental issues

hh. The Contact Centre relieves the back room staff of tasks which are likely to have a disruptive effect on their work but direct tasks to these staff when necessary

ii. Chorley are working out of one centre for a population of 100,449

jj. Should we look at other authorities?

kk. Need to wait until after any reform that the Government may propose before committing fully to any change

ll. Waverley should move in this direction, and we should not hold back waiting for local government reorganisation


24. The above report is submitted as part of the background evidence to the Committee’s review of Customer Service.


It is recommended that the report be received.

Background Papers (CEx)

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


Name: Roger Standing Telephone: 01483 523221