Continuing profile series of some of the customer engagement sector’s leaders, we interviewed Leeds City Council’s Technical Support and Development Manager, Laura Batley.
The Council has been at the forefront of customer engagement innovation among local authorities and was responsible for building one of the UK’s first citizen contact centres. However, with continued pressure on local government budgets, Laura and the Leeds City Council team are tasked with delivering performance improvements while balancing a requirement to achieve savings and efficiencies.
With sustained budget reductions since 2010, how has the Council continued to deliver on its customer engagement commitments?
All areas of the Council are being asked to make savings and efficiencies, and our Customer Access service (of which the Contact Centre operation is part) is no different – although it keeps getting tougher year on year. Couple this with the impact of Welfare Reform on residents in our city over the past 6 years, and it’s clear that we had to effect change within Customer Access – one that balances the need for more face to face contact to help tackle complex and integrated issues emerging (such as financial hardship and helping people into work), with a parallel drive to develop our digital offer so that people who wanted to self-serve could do so. In this way we are constantly looking for ways to optimise our many different customer journeys, so encouraging customers to channel shift is clearly an important part of our activities.
So how do you ensure that the Council’s Customer Access and Contact Centre keeps pace with evolving customer needs?
It’s inevitably challenging as the Contact Centre manages almost all of the contact for the many different Council services across voice, email and transactional web services channels. Enquiries can range from routine bin collection questions to the most complex social or housing issues. That means we’re constantly working to refine our processes, making it easier for our customers to self-serve online (where appropriate), as well as making the right data available so that we can address failure demand and resolve as many enquiries as possible at the first point of contact.
That said, we also recognise that our customers are overtaking us in terms of the everyday technologies and applications they use, and – not unreasonably – they expect the same levels of flexibility and responsiveness when dealing with their council. It’s our job to strike the right balance between accessibility and quality delivery across all our services.
What are you currently working on to make things easier for citizens in Leeds?
Our goal is to (where appropriate) move away from voice, and email contact; promoting instead the flexibility of digital channels whilst investing more into face to face contact. In this regard, we are currently looking to bring in an enhanced natural language speech front-end to our services within the contact centre that will not only make things easier for our customers, but also unlock savings that we can apply to our overall efficiency targets. Building in open call steering would help us in terms of getting the right answers for our customers, while a more structured Digital Front Door strategy will play a key role in bringing our contact centre and digital contact services together.
That’s where working with a specialist customer engagement technology partner such as Sabio can help – particularly when it comes to identifying opportunities for optimisation, building a spend-to-save business case, and then fine-tuning technology for even better results once it has been deployed.
We also need to look closely at our core Contact Centre technology platforms and think about how we’re resourcing and managing our technology. It’s clear that there are now considerable opportunities around hosting and cloud-enabled communications platforms. This approach may help us when it comes to maximising our technology investment, while also offering a much more flexible platform for trialling new customer engagement services.
In addition to operational technology and support strengths, what other skills do you bring to your role at Leeds City Council?
Continued learning is essential if we’re to keep our Customer Access service current, and it’s also important to bring the latest leadership and customer experience thinking to my role. That’s why it’s great to get involved in best practice industry events through companies such as Sabio, and tap in to the network available through those partnerships in the wider industry context. On a more personal level – I’ve also continued my education, undertaking a Masters in Leadership and Management at Leeds Beckett University.