Implemented in Guildford Borough Council’s Revenue & Benefits department in 2013, our Telephony services have had a considerable impact on the Council’s ability to offer high-quality customer service on a 24/7 basis.
Currently, the telephony service:
- Answers approximately 68,417 calls a year
- Processes 37% of calls without the need for human agent intervention
- Performs the work of 3 full-time employees
- Results in net annual savings of £19,223 to the Council
Having worked alongside Inform since 2013, Guildford Borough Council’s Revenue & Benefits department signed a new five-year contract last year, extending our partnership until at least 2023. This means that Inform will be working alongside the department as the Council implements its Future Guildford programme – a strategic shift that aims to modernise the council’s services, improve customer care, exploit new efficiencies, deliver financial savings, and future proof the local authority.
Currently, we’re working with the Revenue & Benefits department to enhance their telephony-based customer service.
The relationship with Guildford Borough Council is defined by the Telephony and Inform services that have been integrated into their telephony system. We asked Belinda Hayden, Exchequer Services Manager at the Council, to break down what these services mean for the Council.
‘It gives customers the ability to interact with our services out of hours. It provides users with information or news and customers can propose special arrangements, request exemptions and discounts and leave information out of hours. It also allows us to send out text links to users referring them to information on our website.’
The structure of the partnership is an important factor in its continued success. ‘The team member who liaises with Inform most regularly always finds them helpful and responsive and we couldn’t be more appreciative of how well the service works in that respect,’ explains Belinda.
In terms of how Inform and Guildford collaborate, Belinda describes how the relationship is a two-way thing. ‘I don’t think it’s particularly prescribed. We receive monthly reports but, generally, I think it’s as-and-when we need something or as-and-when a member of the Inform team thinks we need to review something.’
Belinda is also keen to stress that this is a balance that needs to be reached. ‘With a service like Inform’s, I wouldn’t expect it to be constantly back and forth. If the service is working well, contact should only be necessary for special exceptions and when you want to make changes. And there shouldn’t be a need to continually keep on changing things. Ultimately, we are very happy with the balance that we’ve reached with Inform.’
That being said, updates to the service are occasionally necessary. ‘We have found that we do need to keep on reviewing scripts in light of the feedback we receive,’ explains Belinda. ‘When this happens, we approach Inform and say we would like to review our scripts and could you help us with this.’
At Inform, we’re able to leverage our extensive experience in the public sector to make suggestions as to how scripts can be improved and adapted to changes in customer behaviour or demands. Working with numerous local authorities allows us to draw on data acquired from changes made at other councils and advise as to how these may affect Guildford.
The Telephony and Inform systems are designed to benefit local authorities in several different ways. However, councils emphasise the value of different features depending on their organisation’s priorities. For Belinda, the key advantages of these technologies to Guildford Borough Council can be broken down into three distinct categories.
- 24/7 Service
‘I think we all expect everything to be available 24/7 now and customers aren’t happy when it isn’t,’ says Belinda. ‘One of the key reasons we bought into the service was the ability to offer a 24/7 service.’
Implementing technology that allows customers to engage with local authority services on a 24/7 basis reduces the number of calls received during office hours and eases the pressure on human agents. As Belinda points out, it also meets a customer demand. In an increasingly digital society, customers expect to be able to engage with service providers as and when they want.
- Reducing Expenditure and Allowing Staff to Pursue Other Work
The telephony system has allowed Guildford Borough to make savings whilst also improving the standard of service they provide. ‘In 2016, we had a reduction in staff,’ explains Belinda. ‘However, the Inform system is able to handle the work of 3 full-time equivalents.’
This ability to enhance services, whilst also allowing local authorities to meet their budgetary requirements is key to Inform’s service offering. So too is its capacity to automate basic enquiries.
‘For me, 24/7 service and the removal of basic enquiries via automation were key drivers in the decision to work with Inform. It allowed us to use those resources we do have more efficiently,’ Belinda argues.
The automation of basic enquiries – those calls that could easily be resolved by pointing customers in the direction of relevant information – allowed the council to use their staff in a different, more valuable way. ‘By removing a significant number of basic phone calls, we were able to use staff for more valuable work,’ describes Belinda. ‘It’s allowed them to do more on recovery for council tax and its freed up our benefit assessors to do more processing without having to contend with lots of telephone interruptions.’
- Inform’s Specialist Knowledge of Scripts
Belinda argues that, when it came time to make a decision regarding their future with Inform, one particular aspect of our work made it an easy choice. ‘I was happy to renew the contract with Inform because of their specialist knowledge of Telephony scripts. They know about the automated script, what works and what doesn’t. Essentially, they understand what makes a great Telephony script.’
Belinda also recognises that this is a product of Inform’s long history of working with public sector organisations. ‘The fact is, that they have been doing this for so many years compared to any alternatives.’
Though the partnership with Guildford Borough Council began by providing basic services, it has grown over the years to encompass new features and to benefit the Council in new ways. One of the key developments has been an increasing emphasis on channel shift.
‘The Inform service does push people towards web-based services but it’s something that we want to improve in the future,’ explains Belinda. ‘Alongside the Inform service, we have an automation project in place to provide a Revenue & Benefits online portal. Once this is fully up and running, we’ll come back and tweak the script to push more people over to these digital channels.’
After renewing the contract with Inform last year, the whole of Guildford Borough Council signed up to the Future Guildford programme. This project aims to ‘improve the council by modernising our services and systems and making us more customer based and more efficient.’
‘All councils are under a lot of pressure to do more with less,’ says Belinda. ‘We need to make savings but we also need to provide a service for customers that is modern, fit for purpose, and future-proofed. Consequently, there is a drive towards greater automation and more digital services.’
‘Though it is early days with the Future Guildford project, we feel that Inform certainly ticks all the boxes as far as Revenue & Benefits is concerned.’