Improving the experience of visiting the Civic Offices

The Digital and Customer Programme has recently got up and running. As the name suggests, there is a broad remit, and “digital” and “customer” are the kinds of words that can mean different things to different people. We thought it might be easier to just show what we’re doing.

We work closely with our Head of Customer Service & Business Support. He suggested that it would be helpful to explore how visitors experience visiting the Civic Offices, especially the reception area and customer contact centre. This is where we make our first impression to many of our residents.

Researching the problem

Bringing together a multidisciplinary team, we planned a range of activities to help us quickly understand if people have a good experience when they visit us, and why they choose to visit us in person.

We spoke to over 60 visitors, shadowed staff, observed how people moved around the space, looked at whatever stats we could find, and mapped time-consuming processes.

We felt it was important to try lots of things, so we would get as full a picture as possible. And we also wanted to find out if we could do this work quickly – and were pleased that we could, as the research took less than two weeks.

What did we find out?

Then came time to make sense of the research. We wrote things on post-it notes, shared experiences, tried grouping our findings and began to understand more about why people come into the Civic Offices and how they find it.

We found there were five main reasons people visit us:

  • Transactions (these were low in volume, and generally didn’t take long to resolve)
  • Submitting documents (mainly for housing, planning and schools)
  • Crisis support (mostly around housing and social care, and understandably these took a long time)
  • Information gathering (both public and professionals, and often time-consuming too)
  • An appointment with a member of staff

We also found out these things about peoples’ experience visiting:

  • Most people were very happy – they were impressed with the knowledge of our staff and pleased to get our full attention
  • The simpler the query, the happier the person!
  • If someone was unhappy it wasn’t because of the customer contact centre, it was unhappiness around the wider situation they were in

And people knew they could contact us via telephone or the website, and suggested they would be happy to do so, but:

  • Sometimes they couldn’t find the information they needed online
  • They couldn’t submit what they needed to online
  • They found it difficult to get through to someone when calling us
  • They had been told to visit us in person

And the overarching feeling was that they felt visiting us in person was the best way to get a good outcome.

What we tried to make things better

We came up with a lot of ideas, but we focused on things we could try right away – to test and learn as quickly as possible.

We asked the customer contact centre to pilot a concierge service – where someone would stand by the entrance to help people as they entered the building. This meant simple queries could be dealt with right away and other visitors could be pointed in the right direction.

We found this helped cut down queues and the time many visitors needed to spend with us. This then meant that, with fewer people waiting in the customer contact centre, more complex queries that needed more dedicated support were dealt with quicker too.

The concierge service was then improved by the team piloting it. They found that while it was working, it was only really needed during busy periods (generally between 9.30am and 2.30pm). This was a real benefit of piloting quickly, as we now know how to make the best use of our resource to meet the needs of our visitors and can avoid someone standing out the front with nothing to do!

We also found that the concierge can also help anyone using the public computers and generally keep an eye on what support our visitors might need while in the customer contact centre, along with offering a really useful link between our reception desk and the customer contact centre.

We also placed “How to” guides by the public computers, to support people with the most common tasks they could complete online rather than with an adviser. We’ve found this has helped those less confident using our website. We hope that they feel more confident to try this at home in future.

What next?

There are other improvements in the pipeline, including:

  • Simplifying the process for submitting housing documents
  • Move building control queries online, so people don’t need to visit us
  • Publishing busy and quiet times (for anyone who has stayed at a Premier Inn – think of the traffic light signs around when to come down for breakfast!)

We’re also planning what we can explore next. We think there are opportunities across the Council where we can make improvements to our services based on customer needs, and where we can test and learn quickly too.

Watch this space for further updates!

Any questions? Feel free to drop us an email at servicedesign@bexley.gov.uk