How Contact Leeds and Sabio worked together to collect immediate and relevant customer feedback – at a fraction of the cost of previous postal feedback campaigns

By Alec Maycock, Acting Head of Contact Centres, Leeds City Council & Adam Faulkner, Director, Sabio

Learning from customers

Following the publication of Sir David Varney’s official report on Service Transformation: a Better Service for Citizens, a Better Deal for Taxpayers at the end of 2006, public sector contact centres across the country have been tasked with deploying best practice techniques to help optimise the services they provide to their customers.

Varney’s report concentrated on the need for public sector bodies to deliver a consistent level of performance that was comparable to the best that the private sector had to offer. This has placed an increased focus on the importance of customer satisfaction within the public sector contact process.

A key goal of the Transformational Government strategy was to clearly identify the areas of strategic action that Varney believes are needed to deliver on the vision of service transformation. Of these strategic actions, one of the most important is the need to learn from citizens and businesses, and the subsequent requirement to capture these findings and action them accordingly.

The report quite correctly highlighted that today’s best service providers - across all sectors – start by making sure they have a real, evidence-based understanding of the behaviours of the people and customers they are trying to reach – including by directly engaging with their end users. The Government’s vision is to initially set out across the public sector the processes and then the actions and systems that will help make this routine.

This document aims to provide an overview of the contact challenge facing public sector contact centres – and local government operations in particular, and will identify how next generation Customer Feedback solutions have the potential to unlock significant cost and performance management benefits for councils.

Identifying public sector best practices

Following on from the initial report, the Cabinet Office set up The Contact Council in February 2007. One of its tasks was to approve a “Blueprint for publicly-funded contact centres” that could provide some clear guidelines – and provide some best practice examples - for the improved performance and the professionalisation of the public sector customer contact function. The Council recently published this blueprint – it’s been described by Sir David Varney as a “collection of great ideas and the tools, techniques and methods that public contact centres could use to help perform their vital function of connecting customers with public services” – and it’s available for download at: https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/cabinet-office

The Blueprint quite rightly focuses on the quality of the interaction between a contact centre agent and a customer as the strongest determinant of everything from a customer’s perception of the public sector to the effective delivery or capture of information. It highlights four distinct phases for managing call handling quality: establishing standards, monitoring performance, gathering feedback and giving feedback – and highlights their importance in helping council’s to meet the criteria and Key Performance Indicators recommended in key areas such as measuring customer satisfaction.

Establishing the need for better customer feedback

Although organisations have recorded customer interactions for decades, it’s mainly been to focus on what the agents were doing rather than what customers were actually saying. The result is that valuable customer feedback is frequently overlooked and consigned to a database somewhere, rather than used to start improving products and processes.

Research from Bain & Company illustrates this problem, when it recently asked 362 organisations whether they believed they had delivered a “superior experience” to their customers. 80 percent of the organisations surveyed said that they thought they had. However, when Bain turned the question around and asked callers whether they felt the same, only eight per cent actually believed that they had received such a superior experience. That’s a big difference, and it shows the danger of developing processes from the inside out.

Many organisations still try to address their need for customer feedback by using traditional methods such as paper-based questionnaires usually sent some time after the customer’s interaction has taken place. As a result, the number of customers that actually take the time to complete the survey and return it is relatively low, making the process very expensive based on the cost per response. There are also issues resulting from the lengthy gap between the original customer experience and survey completion, making the survey’s less meaningful and more difficult to respond to in a timely manner.

By adding customer feedback capabilities to their workforce optimisation (WFO) solution within the contact centre, businesses can capture customer intelligence and benefit from direct, first-hand customer feedback made available by advanced and fully scalable IVR, web and email surveying capabilities. A key benefit that comes from extending WFO solutions with customer feedback is the ability for organisations to compare and contrast their current internal key performance indicators with real and unbiased customer satisfaction ratings.

Customer feedback solutions are likely to dramatically influence the direction a company can take in terms of its quality initiatives, staffing models and training programmes. Coupling customer feedback software with proven WFO disciplines such as quality monitoring and speech analytics technology goes a step further, enabling organisations to get from why to how, while quickly mining the database of recorded conversations to proactively identify customer service trends and drivers impacting consumer actions, preferences and experiences.

Working together, these solutions can provide a closed-loop system in which the voice of the customer can be used as a strategic asset for improving processes and performance, driving service improvement, and making sure that both public service organisations and the customers they serve benefit from positive outcomes.

Going forward, those councils without a structured way of collecting instant statistically valid customer feedback will be increasingly hard-pressed to deliver the kind of customer satisfaction levels that Varney envisions in his Service Transformation report. However, the opposite also applies, and those public sector organisations that successfully combine the real-time information provided by customer feedback systems – the true voice of the customer - with other Workforce Optimisation (WFO) technologies such as interaction recording and quality monitoring systems, will have a far greater understanding of their customer service performance.

For some these new requirements can appear daunting, as the Government is effectively asking Councils for a consistent measurement of things that have typically never been measured before. Some councils might have automated dialler systems that could support their customer service teams in gathering feedback, but for many others the alternative has been to deploy traditional postal-based surveys.

Addressing the feedback challenge at Leeds City Council

One council that faced this challenge was Leeds City Council, which has placed particular emphasis on improving customer services across all its various contact channels. In 2006/07, for example, the Council’s Contact Leeds contact centre achieved a call answer rate in excess of 90 per cent compared to a baseline figure of 38 per cent in 2004.

One of the key council requirements is to gain a clearer, evidence-based understanding of how it is performing across all its different types of calls. Analysis has shown that of the many thousands of calls Contact Leeds receives, they can be categorised in four ways. Information requests account for 46 per cent of volume, transaction enquiries represent 42 per cent, while emergency calls and support requests each take up six per cent.

The Council is targeting continuous improvement as further services are migrated to its Contact Leeds operation, with a particular goal of gathering feedback from customers on how it is delivering services, and then using this information to help improve service delivery.

Implementing a best practice customer feedback approach

Leeds City Council’s commitment to gathering consistent customer feedback has resulted in the Contact Leeds operation being cited in the Contact Council’s Blueprint document as one of its best practice blueprints. The document explains how the Contact Leeds corporate contact centre is now setting the standard for capturing customer feedback following the implementation of a successful customer feedback project with its technology partner, Sabio.

Sabio’s solution for Contact Leeds is based on innovative Impact 360 Customer Feedback technology from Verint Systems, and also provides the team with extensive analysis reports. The solution uses short, context-sensitive dynamic surveys to capture information from customers at the end of their call. By gathering data that otherwise might be overlooked or lost, the solution provides immediate insight into the effectiveness of the service that Contact Leeds is providing, and allows any actions to be taken quickly if needed.

At the end of their interaction with an agent, callers to Leeds City Council are offered the opportunity to take part in an automated customer satisfaction survey. The survey takes under a minute and asks callers six key questions about the quality of service they received, the outcome of their call, and the skills of the call handler.

This contrasts with the council’s previous approach, which was to use a traditional postal survey. A typical survey cycle would cost up to Ł6,000, and the council usually received less than 1,000 responses – effectively giving a cost of around Ł6 per response. And because these surveys were general, it was always difficult to relate responses to specific council activities, and there wasn’t the level of statistical accuracy to allow the council to draw meaningful conclusions from the feedback.

Impressive take-up

Initial take-up of the Impact 360 customer feedback survey among callers has been impressive. The first Contact Leeds pilot concentrated on gathering feedback from callers ringing concerning Council Tax and Benefits issues, as it was felt that responses would be more meaningful if they related to a specific council service. Questions asked included:

  • How satisfied were you that the person answering your call was polite and courteous?
  • How satisfied were you that they were knowledgeable, and that they listened to and understood your needs?
  • Overall, how satisfied were you with the quality of service you received during this call?
  • How satisfied were you with how long you waited to speak to somebody?
  • Was this your first call to the Contact Centre regarding this particular enquiry? If yes, were we able to resolve your enquiry?
  • How confident are you that the Council delivers on its promises?

The Council found that overall survey take-up was around 15 per cent, with Contact Leeds receiving some 3,631 automated feedback sessions out of a total of almost 25,000 Benefits and Council Tax calls received over the four week period of the initial trial.

According to the Council, this real-time feedback of customers’ perceptions is invaluable because the responses are more relevant than a survey completed several weeks after the call. It also provides valuable insight into customers’ perception of staff, processes and services. Also, because the Verint Systems Impact 360 Customer Feedback tool provides immediate feedback, it allows organisations to take action quickly.

Using this new tool, Leeds City Council has found that it gets rapid customer feedback, that the effective cost per customer survey is in pence rather than pounds, and that it now has a foundation for a far more in-depth customer experience management approach that will be able to connect individual customer feedback to actual call recordings.

Dynamic survey approach

Because Impact 360 Customer Feedback is based on short, context-sensitive dynamic surveys, it’s easy for the Contact Leeds team to customise survey questions in the software-based survey builder. This makes it possible for the Council to gain insight into specific services and processes and, where necessary, provide them the flexibility to take action quickly in response to feedback. This kind of approach makes it possible to go beyond simply measuring customer satisfaction and actually start to take the actions that can help influence it.

Impact 360 Customer Feedback is part of the broader Impact 360 Workforce Optimisation solution from Verint Systems that effectively unifies previously separate contact centre management tasks such as performance management, workforce management, full-time recording, quality monitoring, and eLearning. With Impact 360, contact centres, remote offices and back-office operations can capture, share, and act on information from across the business.

Moving beyond best practice

Being selected in the Contact Council’s Blueprint document acknowledges the fact that Leeds City Council’s customer feedback project is already a best practice implementation. However the team at Contact Leeds believe there’s still a lot more value to be gained from the further implementation of feedback solutions and their closer integration with traditional contact centre techniques such as quality monitoring and workforce management.

The team at Leeds City Council believe that the Customer Feedback solution that Sabio has implemented has proved extremely positive, and they are keen to share their initial findings with other authorities. Contact Leeds’ Alec Maycock has come up with a series of observations that he feels could be useful for other local authorities looking to implement their own feedback approach. These include:

  • Don’t wait too long before moving from your initial feedback pilot phase to production. At Contact Leeds the benefits have been clear cut - we’re getting quality feedback at a fraction of the cost we paid before – so it makes sense to use this approach for as many feedback applications as possible
  • Think carefully about your survey timings – making it a constant process could result in the same, regular customers being asked for multiple feedback. However by focusing surveys on particular service offerings and conducting them quarterly you can gain a meaningful measure of the quality of service you’re providing and whether customer satisfaction is improving
  • If a customer leaves negative feedback, or if they feel they have received exceptional service, we’re now providing the opportunity for them to leave a message with their comments which we can then relay to the relevant service team
  • Consistent feedback gives us the ability to find out what good performance looks like from the customer perspective – it’s always easier to score performance from an internal perspective, however when those measurements can be matched to a valid external customer perspective, there’s a real opportunity for service delivery improvement
  • Real-time customer feedback provides an ideal mechanism for gauging potential customer response before implementing changes in services
  • Don’t forget to involve your management – the executive team at Leeds have been quick to see the benefits of customer feedback, and have been more than happy to demonstrate the solution to our Councillors
  • Make sure you’ve got the right operational management support to embed the project successfully. Deliverables such as training guides and implementation plans need dedicated resources to make them work successfully
  • In our initial pilot we left it to our team leaders to share customer feedback with our agents, however there’s really no reason why the connections shouldn’t be direct – providing all the right processes for access and security are in place
  • Don’t ignore internal opportunities – at Leeds for example there are 13,000 internal IT users, and the Impact 360 solution would be an ideal way to gather feedback from our thousands of internal customers.

Conclusion

Alec Maycock sums up his experience of Contact Leeds’ initial customer feedback project: “I’d have to say that at first I was a little sceptical and thought that we were in danger of just adding length to the call. However, as the project developed, I’ve clearly seen how receiving feedback from customers about the service they’ve just received can give us a far more complete picture of our service capability.

“With the Impact 360 Customer Feedback solution from Verint we’ve got a solution that allows us to build a truly balanced scorecard approach, combining real value-based performance such as customer satisfaction, business knowledge and first contact resolution with more traditional measurements such as Average Handling Time (AHT) and adherence. This kind of consistent information gives us a perspective that we really didn’t have before.

“At Contact Leeds we’re committed to adding value to the Council’s service offering. This project shows how working with a specialist contact centre technology partner like Sabio, we can create solutions that in addition to their initial operational cost savings can unlock significant longer term added value for the Council,” he concluded.