Inform have played an integral role in the success of Dorset Council’s Revenue & Benefits award-winning customer service provision. Our working relationship has developed over several years and resulted in the implementation of a telephony system that:
- Processes approximately 104,114 calls a year
- Successfully handles 54% of all calls without the need for human agent intervention
- Performs the work of 3.9 full-time employees
- Generates annual savings of £117k
Unlike many of our other public sector customers, West Dorset District Council were engaged in a unique and innovative partnership with two other local authorities – Purbeck District Council and Weymouth & Portland Borough Council. This arrangement developed during 2009 and aimed to create an environment in which the authorities could share resources to deliver a superior customer experience.
Stuart Dawson, Head of Revenue & Benefits at Dorset Council, explains that three main motivations drove the project.
‘First, we believe that sharing our skills and expertise could result in a service that better benefitted the customer. Second, by working together, we thought we could provide a higher-quality service at a reduced cost. Finally, there was the idea that combining services would allow us to invest more heavily in the development of our people, improving both their skills and our customer service provision in the process.’
The councils’ plan proved particularly successful and allowed them to make annual savings of around £1.25 million, approximately 1/3 of their budget.
‘Inform played a key role in that achievement. They were a vital part of the jigsaw that we were looking to complete.’ Stuart Dawson
In April 2019, local government restructuring resulted in the three district councils, along with others, being brought together in a new, unitary authority, Dorset Council.
Before Inform’s involvement with the council partnership, their customer service system faced several challenges. Stuart explains how ‘our main issue was that demand was far exceeding supply. We had fewer resources to deal with customer enquiries, and we needed to find a more efficient way to handle them with this reduced capacity.’
Essentially, the telephony enquiries coming into the councils’ contact centres were occurring in such high volumes that customer service agents were struggling to keep up. Stuart also describes how his organisation was committed to channel shift.
‘We’ve had a channel shift policy for quite a few years now. The idea was to enable those customers who wish to self-serve do so, freeing up capacity for our agents to support customers who are unable to self-serve.’
Inform’s channel shift expertise allowed the councils to more efficiently realise this policy.
In the case of West Dorset District Council and their partners, the decision to approach Inform was not made due to a large number of customer complaints. Instead, it was because the council saw an opportunity to improve the customer experience while still working within their strict budgetary restraints.
On top of the council’s drive to improve the customer experience, several other factors made Inform an attractive organisation to partner with.
First and foremost, the councils were impressed by our experience working within the public sector, particularly with local authorities.
As Stuart explains, ‘it was clear to me that Inform has a comprehensive understanding of the issues that local authorities face. In the past, I’ve spoken to several companies, and they don’t necessarily have a full grasp of the complexities involved in administering a Revenues & Benefits service.’
Rather than having to ask what problems the councils faced, Inform already had the benefit of a nuanced insight into the day to day challenges they encountered. Inform used this experience to develop a software solution that was both tailored to their needs and built upon our years of experience in the public sector – a benefit that Stuart also recognised and appreciated.
‘For the telephony service, Inform is more than happy to tailor their scripts to the individual needs of the local authority. However, they were also able to supply us with an initial draft that had been built upon their previous work with local authorities. We reaped the benefits of years of tweaking and fine-tuning.’
Another critical factor in the decision to partner with Inform was our ability to provide West Dorset and the partner councils with historical evidence of the savings made by councils when they deployed our services.
As Stuart puts it,
‘before we signed up, Inform was able to provide us with data from other local authorities, specifically in relation to Revenue & Benefits, so I could do a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis to identify whether or not we would be better off.’
He goes on to add, ‘we were able to calculate and subsequently demonstrate that Inform’s solution was more cost-effective.’
For Stuart, the implementation of Inform’s telephony system has proved a resounding success. He summarises some of the key benefits in the following way:
- “The cost of our service is significantly less than it was before.” This equates to a saving of £117k per annum.
- “Staff don’t have to spend the whole day being run ragged answering phone call after phone call, they’ve got an opportunity to take time to focus on work that makes a difference to customers.”
- “Customers no longer have to sit in long queues at peak times; they can access the service 24/7 and not just normal office hours.”
- “We cut the time it took to process benefit claims by 1/3. This enabled us to provide a service that was comparable with the best performing councils in the country but at a lower cost.”
- “The Inform facility enabled us to meet the Customer Service Excellence standards successfully. We’ve now had the Customer Service Excellence accreditation since 2014.”
Stuart also believes Inform has had a role to play in freeing up resources that have subsequently been allocated to staff training. This has helped the council win the ‘Investment in People’ silver award and to become the only Revenues & Benefits Service in the country to currently hold both the Customer Service Excellence and Investment in People Awards.
Perhaps the most critical benefit of Inform’s partnership with Dorset Council has been the way our software solutions have allowed them to make savings that kept vital services running.
Stuart argues that –
‘the alternative to Inform’s system would be the council employing a huge bank of staff to answer phone calls. The Inform service solution has allowed the councils to continue to support frontline services and to make a significant difference to the lives of our residents.’
Essentially, ‘the ability to provide our Revenue & Benefits service at a reduced cost means that more money can be spent on keeping libraries open and supporting schools, adult care services, and highways.’
At both at Dorset and Inform, we’re looking forward to the implementation of new customer service technologies. Stuart anticipates that Inform’s Chatbot technology is something that the council will be keen to pursue in the immediate future, with the project likely to get off the ground within the next six months.
In more general terms, Stuart is excited about the potential applications of AI technologies. He envisions ‘a future in which customers are picking up the phone and having a conversation with a virtual assistant without them realising that they’re speaking to artificial intelligence.’ However, he also recognises that ‘there will always be customers who want to speak to someone face to face.’
Whatever the future holds, Stuart is confident that Inform is the ideal partner with whom to move forward. ‘Inform have a good track record for delivering their solution. But it’s also clear to us that they’re investing in their solutions and taking it forward and improving their offer to local authorities. The product is always evolving, and that’s driven by Inform themselves.’