Thanet District Council has kicked off an eGovernment Change Program that’s designed to improve service and give citizens and local businesses greater choice in the ways they can contact the Council. Various online techniques, including e-payments, interactive TV, and videoconferencing, are being trialled with a view to introducing them over time.
The flagship piece of Thanet’s eGovernment Change Program is already up and running. With an estimated 75% of citizen contacts within Thanet taking place by phone, the Council identified that improving the quality of phone-based services needed to be its key priority – especially as around 17% of calls were previously unanswered because of inadequate call handling facilities.
A new customer service centre, The Thanet Service Centre, was therefore opened in late 2004 to handle calls into the Council – including calls to the main council switchboard number – and with the goal of dramatically improving the quality of over-the-phone service. By the end of 2005, the Council has set itself the target of resolving caller problems 80% of the time on the very first call.
The initial results have been extremely encouraging, with the percentage of calls unanswered by the Council falling from 17% before the Service Centre was opened, to 4% today.
CallPlus contact centre technology from Macfarlane Telesystems is at the core of Thanet’s call handling capabilities, with Thanet’s CallPlus computer telephony system providing intelligent call routing, call recording, IVR and reporting facilities.
The Thanet Service Centre handles a range of enquiries relating to Environmental, Council Tax and ‘Street Scene’ (i.e. lights, cleansing, verges etc.) services. All calls to the main Thanet switchboard number, plus those previously answered within those departments, are now handled by the Centre.
One of the most remarkable things about the new Service Centre is its focus on the development of its people. “We didn’t want a classic call centre” explains Donna Reed, Head of Customer Services at Thanet “we wanted our Customer Service Assistants to get involved in all areas of the business so that they could handle calls, have face-to-face contacts with customers within our One Stop Shop area, and work at the cash desk as well. When new capabilities such as video conferencing are introduced, we want those services to be delivered via the Service Centre as well. It’s very important that our people enjoy their interactions with the public – I believe it’s key to the development of the Centre”
Consulting with staff who join the Centre as to what career path they wish to take - and then providing multi-skill training to help them achieve these goals - is an important part of the Council’s plans. People coming to work in the Centre who are new to the organisation generally start by handling switchboard calls and are then given a ‘buddy’ to help familiarise them with various parts of the organisation. They are also given comprehensive training that covers customer service, technology and product/service skills. Other personnel coming to the Centre from specialist departments within the Council are also given the same extensive training. The Thanet Customer Service team currently comprises 20 people.
“Within three months most people will have done most jobs within the Centre and we are using their feedback to improve future training” explains Donna Reed. “Taking on so many roles gives people a well-rounded experience of how the organisation works and what customers want, knowledge that’s extremely useful should they decide to move into a job within one of the Council’s specific service areas such as Environment or Street Scene. We’ve received several comments from customers on how cheerful our staff are. I think that says a lot about what we’ve achieved.”
“Delivering great service is all about developing people and enabling them through best-in-class technology, a positive workplace environment and skills-based training. Thanet must be congratulated on the positive manner in which it has set about putting its contact centre at the heart of its eGovernment initiatives” said Paul Skinner, Sales Director at Macfarlane Telesystems. “At Macfarlane, we believe that the quality within local Government contact centres is fast catching up with operations in the private sector – and in many cases surpassing them. That’s very evident from the progress made within the 70 UK local councils we work with today.”
About Macfarlane Telesystems
Founded in 1987, Macfarlane is a UK developer and supplier of communication solutions to service providers, enterprises and public sector organisations. Its CallPlus platform supports a range of applications including contact centre, IVR and unified communications. The company delivers cost-effective, market-focused solutions directly and through strategic partnerships with vendors such as Northgate, Lagan, Sx3 and Onyx.
Macfarlane has established a strong position in the public sector where it assists central and local government in reaching e-government targets, providing a citizen-centric approach while working within Best Value practices. Existing customers number more than 70 local councils including those within the Government’s Partnership programme such as Somerset Direct Partnership, the Warwickshire On-line Partnership, Cornish Key Partnership and more recently, the. Lancashire Partnership. CallPlus has enabled these Partnerships to link their many local councils and create single 'virtual' contact centres that serve citizens on a county-wide basis. More details can be found at www.macfar.co.uk
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