Our Customer First programme is about putting customers at the heart of everything we do.
To achieve this, we are radically changing the way we operate as a business, so we can deliver services in a way many of our customers will find easy to use and convenient, while also being more cost effective, enabling us to focus on the more vulnerable or those not able to help themselves.
The programme involves reviewing our structure, processes, technology and introducing new ways of working.
We pride ourselves on being a small, friendly Council which serves its customers well. But we need to be flexible to match changing customer needs and expectations. We need to be innovative and creative to make the best use of the resources, technology and opportunities available, if we are to continue to do this efficiently and effectively in the future. We also need to find a way to become financially self-sufficient.
Budget reductions mean we need to deliver an increasing level of service, while reducing our costs. Our ability to meet the needs of our more vulnerable residents is also increasingly compromised, as we have fewer resources, but need to deliver more.
Our previous approach has been to cut individual budgets bit by bit, without making any radical changes to the way we deliver the service, but this approach will not work in the long term and may compromise the services we can deliver to our customers.
In addition, residents increasingly expect services to be delivered online and to be easy to use, secure, simple, quick and focused on achieving their task. Our existing ways of working were not set up from this customer perspective and our outdated technology, systems and processes meant we didn’t always deliver services efficiently or consistently.
The challenge was also to completely restructure the council – the first major change since it was first set up in 1974.
We have created a new organisational model which covers our structure, job descriptions and responsibilities to unlock our capacity to work in a different way and to make the best use of all our resources.
We are redesigning customer journeys and business processes to be as efficient as possible, delivering the best customer experience – helping customers to self-serve at whatever time suits them best, so we can focus on customers who need more support. Allowing as many of our customers as possible to self-serve, means we can spend more time with customers who need us most, particularly our more vulnerable residents.
To enable this, we are modernising our technology platform to provide end-to end integration – slicker processes, self-serve and more efficient ways of working. Our aim is to hold a single customer record for each resident or business, so we have a complete picture of them and they no longer have to deal with two or three different departments to get the answers they need.
Streamlining processes is helping us create cases for customer enquiries, which allows us to track them and ensure they are dealt with. Previously enquiries could often get stuck somewhere in the e-mail system in personal in-boxes. Customers benefit by having a named officer contact with overall responsibility for their case. Automated messaging will also supplement the system ensuring we keep customers up to date and reduce the need for follow up phone or e-mail contact.
Our new approach will mean we can make better use of our data to help identify services trends and issues.
To support this new approach, we are changing the way we work to empower staff and provide opportunities to develop and embed a new mindset and culture. It also gives us the opportunity to be more flexible in the way we work on site and from home and to do more interesting work ourselves.
As part of our new structure and approach, we have set up a Locality team. This team will be our visible presence out in the district working with the community to ensure our places as safe, clean and compliant. They will work closely with district councillors, parish councils, businesses and community groups.
As with any major change programme the impact of trying to achieve all of this in a short timescale (18 months) is challenging.
The new structure turns the traditional local government model on its head and removes the service silos with the aim of working better together to resolve enquiries. We have asked a great deal of our staff, many of whom have been working for us for a long time.
Our new attitudes and approaches framework, which was developed with staff, has led to a different approach to recruitment. Our new structure means we have been able to offer a range of opportunities to staff to progress or move into a new area of work. We have selected staff on their attitude and approach, rather than whether they have all the skills, as we believe they can develop these. As a result, some staff have been promoted to senior management roles.
Working in a completely different way will take time to embed itself. Although it is early days – we only completed the restructure at the end of February – staff have embraced their new roles and are working well together.
Inevitably, we have had some difficult times – a few staff were made redundant and in a small council that is felt by everyone.
Our new processes and systems are not fully operational which means we have not yet capitalised on the use of automation, as when we started the programme we quickly realised we had to upgrade our ICT systems to support the move to the new ways of working. We have now implemented office 365 and introduced laptops for everyone – a very different way of working for our staff.
Overall our cost savings will be around £1m a year and over time as we develop the technology to support the new processes and structure, we anticipate further savings and an increase in staff capacity.
Now the new structure is in place we need to support our staff in their new roles and enable them to do their jobs effectively and efficiently.
We are reviewing all our HR policies and putting in place new performance management processes. We don’t want to lose our friendly, collaborative culture and are also introducing a new staff engagement plan.
We are working through the ICT plan to ensure the technology we need to support the structure and staff is built, tested and delivered.
We will also be adopting a new culture of continuous review and improvement – we can always make things better.
The key lesson has been not to underestimate how hard it can be to introduce and manage a change programme, while maintaining business as usual.
We probably underestimated the volume of work needed to review and redesign our processes and the time it would take to build the technology to support this. We had hoped our new technology would be in place to support teams in their new structure, but it was just not feasible. We did not want to go live with anything that had not been fully tested.
We had a detailed plan of activities to involve staff from the very beginning and this has been critical to the success of the programme. This included workshops, awaydays, staff briefings, surveys, newsletters, intranet content and launch days. You can never over communicate.
Sometimes it is also important to step back and look at the overall programme and be brave enough to pause or adapt elements of the plan.
Finally, we are learning a model is just that, a model and you need to be able to flex and mould it to suit your organisation, staff and customers.