Agenda item

The purpose of this report is to update the committee on the progress made towards the digitising of Customer Services.



It was reported to the Committee that the Customer Service provision at Tendring District Council had undergone significant change in the last two years. Three Teams from different services had been brought together to create the physical customer service team and a new reception area had been created at Pier Avenue in order to give residents a welcoming place to visit. The reception area included a number of digital kiosks whereby customers could self-serve if they chose.


The digital offering for customers had also seen significant changes. Originally online services had been delivered through forms that then needed massive intervention from back office staff. They were only useful for gathering information and were not a true end-to-end digital solution. Now customers had just one place they needed to visit online, ‘My Tendring’, where the aim was to allow customers to complete transactions at the time of their choosing from the comfort of their own homes, without the need for any intervention from TDC staff. It was the very fact that the Council had made such progress in that direction that had stood Tendring in good stead during the Covid-19 pandemic when our residents had been more insecure and the number of incoming enquiries had more than doubled.


The Members heard that although work on the My Tendring platform would be ongoing as the Council continued to add services and processes, it had already generated savings in terms of Officer time.


The Members also heard that during 2015 it had become clear that there was an ever increasing demand from customers that TDC should endeavour to provide a myriad of services online, 24 hours a day. That would benefit both those customers that worked and so could not access other customer contact channels, and those that preferred the convenience of digital access. Therefore a Channel Shift Strategy had been devised and adopted by the Council on 22 January 2016 with the statement that:


“In order to meet the needs of customers, Tendring District Council had to provide services that were:

               Easily accessible

               Simple to use



               Cost effective



In essence the Channel Shift Strategy was the roadmap to delivering services with little or no interaction from TDC staff.


The Committee was informed that in early 2016 the process of looking at the range of options available to TDC began. It was evident that there also needed to be a Customer Service Strategy that would inform the way the Council interacted with  its customers; though the Council would not stop providing other contact channels such as telephone and face-to-face.


The Committee heard that the Customer Service Strategy had been adopted on 16th December 2016 with the vision statement:


Tendring District Council will deliver an excellent service to all of its customers, both internal and external, from all of its points of access and across multiple channels. Staff will be well trained and motivated, and excellence will be measured against key performance indicators”.


To create the Customer Service team to handle telephone, email and face-to-face enquiries the Council had drawn together members of Environmental Administration, Housing Repairs, Telephony and the Revenues & Benefits front office. External consultants, Intergence, had been employed to further assess the marketplace with regards to self-service portals. After an evaluation the product from Firmsteps had been selected.


Members were informed that the Digital Transformation project, which included the Customer Service element, had been initiated on 16th February 2018 “to provide greater online services for customers, making it easier and more efficient for them to interact with the council”, and the My Tendring self-service platform had been installed during August of the same year.


The Transformation project set out a number of key deliverables that had included:


·         Environmental services report-it functionality (missed bins, garden waste)

·         Council tax enquiries

·         Benefits enquiries

·         Licensing applications and renewals



It was reported to Members that the Customer Service project and the funding, originally £306,000, had been broken up into three smaller pieces (worktrains) which would pause for a “time for learning reflection” between each phase.


Worktrain 1 = focussed on understanding the Firmsteps platform, looked at some of the component blocks that would be in many of the processes such as calendar integration and payments, creating the My Tendring accounts, and beginning to develop the garden waste process.


Worktrain 2 = continued those themes and the Council began to use their newly learnt in-house capabilities to create more simple forms and processes.


Worktrain 3 = which was nearing completion, would see the final key services delivered, and in addition, a suite of analytical and reporting tools. Those reporting tools were not originally in the scope but it become clear that they would provide a valuable insight into customer behaviour and service performance. The cost for this extra piece of work would be £35,000 and would come out of the original budget.


It was reported to Members that the Covid-19 pandemic had had a detrimental effect on the Customer Service element of the Transformation project. Timeframes had slipped as  valuable IT resources had been refocussed onto projects with more immediate need such as the track and trace power app. In the meantime though the team members had continued to learn, and to release more useful forms for customers (both external and internal). In terms of deliverables 74% of the original specification that was detailed at inception had been completed.


Current situation – My Tendring portal


The Committee was informed that over the past 18 months the Council had seen telephone calls into the Customer Service centre rise dramatically. Firstly in the summer of 2019, with the roll-out of 70,000 wheelie bins and the associated changes in the recycling service and then more latterly with the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic. Undoubtedly the option for many residents to use the My Tendring self-serve portal had been of great benefit to them.



On the portal, the resident could find access to a whole range of other services in one place as shown above. It made it very easy for the customer to navigate and that had proved to be very popular.


Self-serve stats dated end October 2020 (since May 2019)

Customers with a My Tendring account:   10524 (24.2% of all Tendring households if one account per household).

Forms produced:   16,361         


Satisfaction from May 2019:

5 stars             63%

4 stars             20%

3 stars             8%

2 stars             3%

1 star               6%   


Members heard how all users of My Tendring were asked if they would like to rate the portal and leave a comment. It was shown that since its inception in May 2019, 83% had rated it as 4 or 5 stars. Upon interrogating the data it was discovered that of the 6% 1 stars, many people were actually commenting on the recycling frontline service rather than the portal. All negative comments regarding the self-serve process were used as a learning tool so that the Council could improve the offering.


In terms of budgets, of the original £306,000 that was set aside for the production of the My Tendring portal, the Council had spent £281,000, however £30,000 of this had been spent on producing the suite of analytical and reporting tools.



Members also heard in relation to the above graphic, that the platform was very flexible and the Council had the ability to drill down into each incoming form that was filled in, so for example, in the case of missed bins the Council could look at instances by town or even by road to see if there were recurring problems. That flexibility of interrogation was available across the whole suite of forms.


Savings to date


It was reported to the Committee that the spreadsheet below illustrated the efficiency saving that the My Tendring portal had made within the Customer Service Environmental team. A total of 1924 hours had been saved in the year October 2019 to October 2020 as residents had self-served. That equated to 1.14 FTE that would otherwise had needed to be staffed.




Current situation – Customer Service Centre


The Committee heard that the telephone calls into the Customer Service team had more than doubled in the last 18 months. At one point during summer 2020 each customer service agent needed to complete the work relating to 80 enquiries every day. There were also telephony issues relating to Skype meaning that some calls were dropped if all agents dealing with Environmental issues were already on a telephone call.


As the Council was not able to deliver the customer service excellence that we would expect to, action had been taken. The Council had increased the number of customer service agents by 3 FTEs (1 permanent and 2 temporary). Performance continued to be monitored in order to ascertain if there was enough resource now to handle the demand, and also to try to understand if the current high levels of incoming calls would become the new normal.


Officers had also installed a completely new telephony system, Five9s. Originally unavailable to all customer service agents extra licenses had been purchased and all incoming calls now went through that system rather than Skype. Five9s also allowed customers to request a call-back rather than hold for an agent to become free. That had the effect of reducing call wait times and also allowed customer service agents to manage call volumes successfully. Again, Five9s came with a raft of reporting tools and the Council would be able to understand trends in volumes and staff the customer service team accordingly.


The Future


Members heard that within the next few months the Council would complete the roll-out of self-service processes relating to Council Tax, Benefits and Taxi Licensing. Along with Recycling, those were considered as having the biggest impact for residents. When those services had gone live the Council would commence a media campaign so that it could channel shift more people away from the customer service centre and towards the self-serve portal, thus looking to reduce the need for human resources.


The Council would also begin the process of seeking permissions to correspond with o customers via digitals means rather than by hard copy which was far more expensive. The Print and Post hub had the technology to be able to send digital correspondence to email addresses rather than produce letters which would generate savings.


Members also heard that the Council would look at implementing customer service excellence standards for both its staff and the online self-serve portal and roll-out the satisfaction surveys to both face-to-face and telephony contacts. By benchmarking the Council against both other local authorities and commercial organisations the Council could set itself some ‘excellence’ targets.


The Committee was presented with a look at other technology, such as Chat Bots, to see if other efficiency savings were available. The Council would fully explore the capabilities of the Five9’s call handling platform in order to release other technology and processes that would increase the productivity of the customer service team. Officers were aware that many local authorities were utilising Artificial Intelligence to provide responses to their residents without the need for additional staffing.


Following a detailed discussion it was RECOMMENDED TO CABINETthat:


·         the development time frames and future services to be made available on My Tendring be shared periodically with Councillors, together with volume of customer services calls and email contact information, including call numbers, durations of call waiting and abandoned calls, with appropriate bench marking information from other organisations.


·         the prospect of creating a seamless link between My Tendring and my permit for parking permits is actively explored.


·         council tax billing and other services be asked to deliver those services in a way that avoids overloading the customer services team incoming call capacity, e.g. by spreading the dispatch of council tax bills.


·         the development of the leisure app be urgently addressed.


·         the Council look at joining the Institute of Customer Service.


·         the progress of the transformation agenda and how the Council has responded to the COVID19 pandemic in its ability to work from home be noted and applauded.



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