Charlie Cox, Consulting Manager - UK Government Consulting, at Sopra Steria explains how his team helped two neighbouring councils to transform their shared services to improve customer experience and create long-term efficiencies.
Like many forward-thinking councils, neighbouring Welwyn Hatfield and Broxbourne Borough councils identified the opportunity to make efficiencies by joining their Revenues and Benefits services.
In 2016, Broxbourne Borough Council was incorporated into an existing agreement between Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council and Sopra Steria, which provides the Revenues and Benefits service. Whilst a number of operational efficiencies were realised, plans to integrate the two councils’ infrastructures were not as straightforward as anticipated. Combined with the Universal Credit rollout, this resulted in a growing backlog of cases, longer response times and increased manual effort to process cases. Customer experience suffered as a result.
Leaders at both councils recognised the inefficiencies and the potential for improvements but did not have the capacity or expertise in-house to identify how this could be done. There was also the question of cost and whether making changes would deliver a return on any investment.
The right partners
Our expert team at Sopra Steria knew that the councils needed evidence that changes would be beneficial and that real efficiencies could be achieved.
We worked closely with the Revenues and Benefits service at Broxbourne and Welwyn Hatfield councils to develop their Business Case for Change, which was in line with both Council’s digital ambitions and strategic goals in modernising and transforming the way they work. As we do in all our work, we started with people first and began by identifying some of the most painful, and also highest volume, customer journeys.
Our approach was to redesign the relevant back-office processes from the customer’s perspective, and we identified a common set of technology that would bring the new journeys to life.
Through this redesign process, we demonstrated significant potential savings of up to 45% for both councils’ annual Revenues and Benefits running costs depending on the level of customer digital uptake – the equivalent of about 45,000 hours. Plus, we identified areas where staff resource could be freed up to focus their efforts on complex cases and customers who require extra support. The business case clearly demonstrated how investing in this work would deliver long term, lasting benefits.
A customer-first approach
As we gear up to launching the new customer journeys, it is clear to see how these changes will benefit customers in these boroughs. The new journeys are now largely automated which means customers who want to self-serve online can update their direct debit details or report a change of address at a time that suits them. There will be no more sitting on the phone on hold, with up to 40,000 fewer telephone calls per year for service expected. The current pandemic has further demonstrated the importance of making the service more responsive to customer needs, with demand for the Revenues and Benefits service markedly increased in both Councils.
Staff will notice a plethora of improvements too, not least a substantial reduction in back logged queries. Customer services colleagues will also be equipped and empowered to support customers who would still prefer to make changes or requests by telephone. By supporting more customers at the first point of contact, customer services teams will need to transfer far fewer calls to colleagues in the Revenues and Benefits service.
Elsewhere, two solid months’ work per year are set to be saved through the new process we’ve designed for students’ council tax discounts using robotic process automation.
Investing for the future
The potential opportunities for innovation and efficiencies in shared services are huge, but this requires resource and expertise to fully realise. Broxbourne and Welwyn Hatfield Borough Councils provided significant staff and financial investment to the project and brought in the right partners to help them deliver value. The Councils are now set to realise efficiency benefits and see improved customer satisfaction when the new customer journeys launch.
Is 2021 the year to develop your Business Case for Change? Get in touch to find out more.
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