Reading Borough Crest

Reading Borough Council (RBC) plan to spend £2.5 million over the next four years implementing a new customer service strategy. This will offer more online services and includes a system to hold all the data they have about us in one place.

The RBC policy committee discussed the customer experience strategy on 20 January. RBC say that the data will be used to customers’ advantage, although they will also be creating a sinister-sounding ‘golden record’. The council says:

We will join up the data we hold across different systems and services, and use it to our customers’ advantage.

We will aim to create a ‘golden record’ of our customers so we can see all their data in one place and not ask them to repeat their information to us for different transactions.

We will use data to better plan the shape and size of our services according to need and demand, and to move towards designing services that predict customers’ needs based on what the data tell us.

By the end of the project’s third year, the council expect they will be able to use customer data to predict service demand in Reading. Achieving Customer Service Excellence, Reading Borough Council’s Customer Experience Strategy uses an example that sets out four stages in a customer journey, starting with failure to pay council tax, through failure to pay rent, to homelessness, and ending with mental health problems.

The committee report states that there are no legal implications. The council recognised that some customers will not be able to access online services and they have a subscription with the Shaw Trust to monitor the accessibility of online services.

Other councils

The committee report states that Oxford City Council and Aylesbury Vale District Council already use the proposed customer service model, as do Hampshire County Council, using a contracted service.

Unlike Reading, none of these councils are unitary authorities responsible for all services in the borough. Both Oxford and Aylesbury are non-metropolitan district councils that only provide services such as housing, waste collection, planning and licensing. Hampshire is a county council that is responsible for highways, education and adult social care.

Expected outcomes

RBC have set up Operation – CHARM to implement their new customer fulfilment strategy.

The council estimates the total cost of contacts with customers across all departments is currently £5.3 million, of which the call centre makes up £1.2 million. They expect that the new strategy will reduce this cost by 20% to £4.1 million. The council also expects the number of full-time equivalent customer support staff to reduce by 20%, from 155 to 124.

The council expect a positive impact on their external customers:

  • Customers have increasing digital demands; self-serve and first time resolution are now everyday expectations of all services customers consume.
  • Implementation of a transformative digital experience will meet our customer’s expectations and allow our customer to interact with us quickly 24/7.
  • Linking up customer data through an online portal with front to back integration will allow customers to see all the services and interactions they have with the council, reduce handoffs to different departments and ensure services are delivered equitably and quickly.
  • The programme will need to work closely with our customers, communicating and promoting changes to the services provided. In some cases it is likely to be prudent to run customer focus group to ensure proof of concept deliver against customer’s expectations
Councillor Ricky Duveen’s concerns

Councillor Ricky Duveen had concerns whether the depth of knowledge needed to answer some customer queries could be met within the new customer team, whether voice recognition software was reliable enough given Reading’s diverse population, whether the proposed project board was too big for a decision-making body and that the customer satisfaction targets would be very difficult to achieve.

Lead councillor for corporate improvement and customer services Ellie Emberson replied that she had no concerns about the skills and knowledge within the customer service team, who already dealt with a wide range of queries.

She added that she was convinced of the capabilities of voice recognition software as it had been used in even more diverse London boroughs, and suggested that Councillor Duveen might want to buy an Alexa or try Siri.

She said that many RBC customers were annoyed because they wanted to be able to access more services online, adding that she did not want to second-guess officers on the size of the project board, but thought it was good to see such a wide range of people involved across the council.

Councillors unanimously approved this new customer fulfilment strategy.

  1. Big Brother, 1984 by George Orwell
  2. RBC policy committee 20 January 2020 papers & webcast
  3. Oxford City Council, Aylesbury Vale District Council, Hampshire County Council
  4. Reading Borough Council contacts
  5. RBC Data Protection