The true role of technology in driving down cost

Following the Comprehensive Spending Review, it’s clear that all public sector services are going to need further and deeper plans to drive efficiency, delivering more with less. In this new world, technology appears again and again in transformation plans and budgets.     

Equally it’s clear that the technology alone doesn’t drive down costs. As David McElhinney, acting chief executive of Liverpool Council, said at our recent Public Sector seminar on 23 November, just buying new laptops never saved a penny, but getting people to work differently does.     

Public sector managers need to get clever about how to work differently and understanding where technology is a key enabler and where it actually isn’t necessary. Putting the customer at the heart of the decision is one key factor that sets apart the best – with a focus on simplicity and processes re-design.

Sharing best practice
Five recent success stories – all shortlisted for the Customer Contact Innovation Awards 2011 – all demonstrate the scale of impact that can be achieved when there is a vision and commitment, together with the skills and resources to make change happen.    

One project at Liverpool that’s made a dramatic difference is the ground breaking Careline service, which uniquely offers full 24/7 social care support by telephone for vulnerable children, adults and families throughout Liverpool.    

Highly skilled call-handlers now assess all new cases in this extremely sensitive area of work, supported 24-hours by trained social workers within the team. Costs are down 23 per cent, with 20 per cent more calls answered and fewer cases passed to area social work teams – and employee survey scores for communication are up 26 per cent.   

Social care is a brave area for innovation in the public sector, with high risks and huge consequences if the wrong judgements are made. What’s significant at Liverpool is that work in this area was able to build on the wider infrastructure – of technology and business process experience – which already exists in Liverpool Direct ltd. Furthermore once the concept has been proven successful it can now be offered to other authorities looking to achieve a similar transformation.

Smarter working

A totally different approach can be seen at Wokingham Council, where smart working was introduced, using flexible hours and home-based agents, with the aim of making council-wide savings of £1million.    

Taking a different approach to resourcing services is key to delivery of real benefit – whether cost reduction or service improvement.        

The council also merged the front and back office operations of council tax and benefits. Breaking down silos has delivered budget savings of £100k, cut e-mail response time from ten days to one day, and reduced abandonment rates from 40 per cent to under five per cent.      

A major lesson at the council is the use of technology such as cloud computing, webchat and SMS to make contact quick, cheap and easy for customers – in particular cloud computing can be a cost-effective way of introducing new technology and changing processes.

Workforce management
At the NHS Business Services Authority, resource flexibility and efficiency has been massively improved, by implementing a preference-based scheduling and workforce management system. This saved £150k in year one, with further savings of £250k expected, through full union consultation.     

While preference-based scheduling is a more complex approach, its introduction has increased flexibility, improved work/life balance for employees and allows better planning of training, recruitment, meetings, reviews and coaching. It has even freed up time for 45 employees to complete their NVQs. And all this was achieved in just three months.   

Another authority famous for transforming customer service is Surrey County Council, commended at the European Call Centre Awards. They developed a new model contact centre to successfully streamline process, halve complaints, and raise colleague satisfaction to 72 per cent – all while saving £400,000 for the tax payer. Working with customers, front-line staff and other departments, the council drove improvement projects that have reduced the number of calls coming in by 11.5 per cent.    

Thanks to a holistic channel strategy and setting up a web service team within the contact centre, problems are identified as soon as they occur and cost per contact has been reduced by 28 per cent.

Human factors
In these inspiring models of change, we see that technology has a major role to play, but that none of these successes have been led by the technology itself. What’s drive change is a vision, careful planning and a belief that a real difference can be made – together with close attention to what the customer wants and to the needs of employees.    

Portsmouth City Council provides a valuable example of a different kind of approach which is even less reliant on technology. Here we can discover what happens when an organisation changes the thinking that drives service design and delivery.    

Portsmouth transformed the housing service and halved the cost of repair, by applying Vanguard’s Systems Thinking methods and uncovering what creates true customer satisfaction. Repairs are provided at the specific time/day requested by tenants – 75 per cent within 48 hours – and completed to a high standard on the first visit. Most managers would argue that it couldn’t be done or would be massively expensive. In fact, focus on people and value, rather than cost and process, has cost less – with £2m annual savings, fewer properties left empty and double the grounds maintenance at no cost.   

All these organisations are speaking about how they achieved their success at Contact Centre Planning 2011 in Birmingham on 11-12 April 2011. Special one-day rates are available for public sector employees.

For more information:

E-mail: paul.smedley@planningforum.co.uk
Tel: 0333 123 5960.
Web: www.planningforum.co.uk

Six top tips to successful customer contact:
    •    Start with the customers – does it make their life simpler?
    •    Change the thinking in your own organisation
    •    Engage your front-line teams so that they feel listened to
    •    Good planning creates a framework for engagement and continuous improvement.  
    •    Measure the impact – and check you are delivering what you plan
    •    Learn from others; there is such a lot of good practice out there already

Event Diary

London Calling! Register online for The HVAC & Refrigeration Show 2018

Taking place at London’s ExCeL, ecobuild is the number one event for forward thinkers in the built environment, comprising the ecobuild conference and futurebuild districts.

Hotelympia 2018 will equip visitors with products, trends and innovations to develop their businesses.