This report provides Members with a brief overview of Customer Services. It specifically considers the operation of the services over the last financial year ending March 2021 and identifies emerging trends of operation comparing this with the operation over the previous 3-5 years.
The report looks in some detail at the numbers of customerscontacting and accessing services offered by the council either by phone by coming into the two reception areas or making inquiries using the Council’s website and webchat.
The Customer Services Managers presented a report providing a brief overview of Customer Services. It considered the operation of the service over the last financial year ending March 2021 and identified emerging trends of operation comparing this with the operation over the previous 3-5 years.
The pandemic forced huge changes onto the team and with the help of IT, the whole team had been able to quickly work remotely. On average, the Customer Services Team received 13,600 calls per month with only 16 staff taking these calls. The need for the Centre had not diminished during the pandemic. New rules and grants for businesses from the Government meant that there were many more enquiries with businesses and vulnerable customers requiring assistance. The Contact Centre had been fundamental in providing a first point of contact and resolution service for customers who might not have been able to contact the Council via other channels.
The Contact Centre dealt with responding to voicemails and emails handling environmental health and cleansing enquiries via the online-portal and some social media responses as well. This has required the team to embrace new ways of working and find innovative solutions to deliver services. The Contact Centre had been keen to encourage customers to self-serve and utilise alternative channels to contact the Council and had been pleased to have been able to develop the new Webchat service which had been available for about 13 months. Since its implementation it had received 4,392 chats and plans were underway to develop this service further to include other service areas. Generally, customers had adapted well to new ways of working learning to access the Council’s services differently. With IT, the Centre had developed an online booking system and was utilising a workaround system for service areas such as housing, elections, and land charges to make appointments for their customers to come into the Civic Centre when a face to face appointment was needed.
The Chair asked how the Webchat service worked in terms of responding to chats received out of hours. It was explained that a set of questions were asked and answers provided for out of hours queries and that most of these questions would be answered correctly by the knowledge bot allowing customers to be able to access the service twenty four hours a day seven days a week. If it was not possible to provide an answer, the customer could request an email or telephone call response.
A Councillor raised concern that the Council offices were still not open to the public to walk into when other authorities across West Sussex were. It was explained that Reception areas both at the Civic Centre and Bognor Regis Town Hall had been available for customers to access housing services throughout the beginning of the pandemic. Since 19 July 2021, when the Government had changed its restriction guidelines, the reception areas had been manned by staff to operate a meet and greet service where customers were signposted to other services online or could make an appointment to meet staff face to face.
Councillor Cooper then proposed the two recommendations in the report which were seconded by Councillor Clayden.
RESOLVED – That
(1) The report be endorsed acknowledging the work of the Customer Services Team and implementation of the digital improvements; and
(2) The Committee’s thanks be recorded to the Customer Services Team for ensuring that customers continued to receive a high level of service during the pandemic.