29 July 2012

Wave goodbye to service

Customer Services Transformation moves up a gear
Monday, 23 July 2012 14:20 Schroder, Johnathan 
Over the past couple of months, our Customer Service Transformation (CST) project team has been busy planning the transfer of a number of services into the Customer Service Organisation (CSO). The services are transferring over three waves running through till October 2012 and the majority of the services included in the first wave have been successfully implemented this week.Are they now waving or drowning?

The planning has been made more complex by the requirement that business as usual should not be negatively affected during the transfer. Really? but it has been. Call handling in CSO for Revs & Bens has gone from awesome to abysmal according to anonymous, from 85% answered to 15% of calls answered.

As a result, the CSO has successfully transferred call and email contact handling for Registrars, Youth Services and most recently the Revenues and Benefits service. The final stages of transferring Education Welfare contacts are currently underway and this is imminent. This equates to approximately 26 staff and team leaders joining the CSO. Poor sods.

This is a significant achievement, and the single biggest critical success factor has been the professional, enthusiastic and collaborative working between the CSO and the services themselves. Both groups of stakeholders are passionate about their service and wanted this transfer to work and have pulled out the stops. What a pity we couldn't press the stop button instead.

The ‘go live’ was planned around taking small pragmatic steps, using tried and tested methods, diligent review of the existing services, recruiting customer-focused staff, testing and training and the development of various systems and processes. The majority of the services transferred did not include staff transfers so it was even more important to get this part of the planning right. So now we have left all that knowledge behind in the services. Presumably, the services themselves are now over-staffed and will make loads of redundancies and knowledge will waft out of the front gate.

From an IS perspective, complex call and email routing rules had to be designed and put in place to effect the seamless migration of contacts from existing sites and teams into the CSO at NLBP. IS = Information Systems? Oh no, complexity. That leads to cock-ups. Systems so complicated that once the person who designed them leaves no-one knows how to change them. If the services had been left to handle their own customer service enquiries none of these complex routines would be needed.

During the actual ‘go live’, the CSO was able to call on colleagues from within the services themselves to help support the launch by providing floor walkers and subject experts ‘on the floor’ to provide assurance, feedback and knowledge over the early days of the transfer. Staff had been recruited with enough time to allow them to receive comprehensive training which was jointly designed and delivered. A safety net had to be employed as the new people didn't, of course, know enough or have enough experience. Comprehensive training won't replace 10 years experience.

The innovative training programme also included sending CSO staff to the services’ place of work to allow them to experience, first hand, a typical ‘day in the life of’ the services. CSO staff could therefore empathise with both the customers of the service, the nature of their queries and the service itself. CSO managers also presented to the services their vision of how the service would work at team meetings and during consultation.

To support the successful launch and to provide a sustainable service, the team also developed a new knowledge management system that provides prompting and scripting for staff. This knowledge base is so comprehensive that much of the content within it is to be utilised by the services on Barnet’s re-launched website. The CSO staff are also providing feedback to the webmasters on appropriateness of content and encouraging customers to visit the new website to support their information and service needs. Oh no. A computer system which tells you what to say. Scripts are just awful. Many callers don't know the script and so don't get the answer. Square peg / round hole. Also trying to make the customer do the work themselves. Hang on, you are customer service, service, service, service, service (do you get it?)

For Revenues and Benefits, the complexity of the transfer was compounded by the fact that staff were transferred into the CSO after a statutory consultation period. The professional staff that joined the CSO received comprehensive training in customer service skills and during a period of unprecedented change successfully went live on 11 July. Again, a Herculean effort involving staff from the retained services, IS and the CSO project team meant that ‘go live’ happened with very little incident. Why does Mr Mustard think that professional staff already had customer service skills? Perhaps Bill would like to share with us on the intranet the number of pieces of work in arrears on 11 July 2011 last year and the number now. Mr Mustard already knows that the recent number is much greater than the one for last year. Facts never seem to make it into these messages.

Historical note: Hercules had the help of Hermes and Athena, sympathetic deities who showed up when he really needed help. Who is going to help CSO later?

A big thank you goes out to all the teams both within the services affected as well as the project teams from within the CSO and IS that worked tirelessly to make the 'Wave 1' launches a resounding success. Wave service goodbye.

Bill Murphy, the Assistant Director for Customer Services, said: "This is a really significant milestone. I feel proud that we have achieved this and things are going so well." Oh, no.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

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