Efficient customer service

Slough Borough Council works with Double Eye and RedDot to improve online customer serviceSlough Borough Council’s best value review of customer service showed the organisation was not meeting its citizens' expectations. Access to services was difficult and time consuming with no single point of contact and no access outside normal working hours. This, coupled with the fact that the government was introducing requirements for local authorities to electronically enable services, prompted Slough to enter into an agreement with Unisys to deliver an
e-government programme.
The flagship project within this programme was the development of a customer service centre that went hand-in-hand with provision of an online customer service channel. Design agency Double Eye developed a new web site driven by RedDot CMS. Slough now has a web site that contributes to vastly improved access to Council services and helps free council officers from enquiries that divert them from core tasks. Consistently rated in the top five per cent of local authority websites by the SiteMorse survey since go-live in October 2005, and the top two per cent since October 2006, the Council has received extremely positive feedback from citizens and public bodies alike.

About Slough Borough Council
Slough is a thriving town with a £2.5billion local economy. Its employment opportunities have encouraged a steady stream of people from other regions or countries into the town and the population has reached around 119,000. To support its diverse community, Slough Borough Council must provide high quality, easily accessible services. Being a unitary authority the Council has many responsibilities ranging from transport to social services through education and trading standards.

As commercial companies make continual advances in customer service provision, people expect the same levels of service from public sector organisations. Unfortunately, a best value review showed that Slough Borough Council needed to make significant improvements to meet these growing demands.
Access to Council services was poor and limited mainly to telephone contact within normal office hours. Citizens were faced with frustrating delays, frequently having to make several calls to different departments to resolve an issue. Paul Butler, e-Government programme manager at Slough Borough Council says: "It was clear we needed to give people more choice about how to access services as well as providing better-integrated service across different departments."
At the same time as Slough was assessing its customer service provision, the government was introducing targets for the electronic enablement of services. Slough's web site at that time provided a poor platform for future enhancements. It was persistently ranked in the bottom 5 per cent of local government web sites in the SiteMorse survey. This evaluates factors such as accessibility (whether users with a disability can use the site), speed of access and general capability.
Many of the problems with the Council's web site were due to the lack of a sophisticated content management system (CMS). Content from around 50 council departments had to be produced, published and managed by the web editor, making it difficult to keep the site fresh, up-to-date and error free. Without a good CMS, it was impossible to give Council officers responsibility for their own content or introduce the latest functionality and benefits of modern online systems.

Slough decided to implement an e-government strategy in partnership with Unisys. The flagship project within this programme was the development of a customer service centre that would provide a wider choice of access points to council services.
Housed in a modern retail facility, the centre would offer face-to-face access to specially trained staff; a contact centre to handle telephone enquiries, e-mails and electronic forms; and an area where citizens could access the Council's web site and use its online facilities. Providing a state-of-the-art web site that covered all areas of Council service was essential to the success of the project and Double Eye, an online solution provider, was brought in by Unisys to help deliver this.
The Council worked closely with Unisys and Double Eye to produce a detailed proposal, using carefully selected focus groups to explore customer needs. It was important that the web site met all government requirements including achieving "AA" compliance against internationally recognised accessibility standards.
A three-stage selection process – involving nine potential vendors - was followed to help Slough find a CMS that met all its exacting requirements. "RedDot’s CMS product scored the highest at every stage of our selection process," confirms Butler. "We were particularly impressed by its rule based validation of content that ensures compliance with accessibility standards; the excellent workflow that enables departments to create their own content while maintaining central editorial control; and functionality we had not specifically asked for but we could see would be very useful - such as being able to crop and resize images."
Following the selection of RedDot, there was just four months to get the new web site up and running before the customer service centre opened. "We couldn't launch our brand new service centre with self-service access points that used our old web site," says Butler. "Council staff, Unisys, Double Eye and RedDot all pulled together to meet our deadline. This was a major achievement considering the radical improvements achieved."  
A great deal of content had to be migrated from the old web site - over 2000 web pages, 500 PDF documents and 200 images. This large migration had to take place with no downtime. "The RedDot solution has very impressive facilities which helped enormously both when migrating existing content and loading new," says Jason Wilburn, director of projects at Double Eye. "In particular RedDot's import manager speeded up the process on this time sensitive project."
Slough had to find a way of meeting the government target to electronically enable all its services. This doesn’t necessarily mean making every service available through the web; it can be achieved by ensuring that service centre agents have access to a system with information on all Council services. Council departments were examined and broken down into over 900 separate services. Frequently asked questions (FAQs) and answers were created to cover every one (around 2000 FAQs in all). These were published to the web site and made available on the customer relationship management (CRM) solution used by service centre agents. This not only fulfils the government target, it also ensures that customers are presented with consistent information wherever and however they access the Council.
“RedDot CMS integrates and connects with other business applications very easily. At Slough, as well as connecting with the Siebel CRM solution, it integrates with a variety of software such as that used to create the e-forms enabling customers to initiate services from the web site,” says Wilburn. "RedDot CMS is a very powerful product. This was the first time that Double Eye has used it but, having seen its capabilities, we have since implemented it elsewhere."

In combination with the service centre, Slough's new web site is making a significant contribution to improving customer service levels. There is far more information about Council services available online and the new channels are easing pressure on Council officers, enabling them to concentrate on core tasks.
The content management functionality provided by RedDot has vastly improved the quality of information. Ross McMichael, web and intranet editor at Slough Borough Council says: "It used to be difficult to keep the web site up to date. RedDot CMS enables me to "date stamp" content so it comes off the site automatically once it reaches its expiry date. This is particularly useful for information about Council meetings and our 'What's on' section. It really helps to keep the site looking fresh and well managed. Customers and staff have more confidence in the reliability of information available on the site now they can see it is regularly updated."
Training is being rolled out across the Council to enable departments to create and manage their own online content. This will take even further pressure off the web editor giving him more time to maintain the consistency and quality of the site.
The functionality available through Slough's web site has been considerably enriched. For example, the Council consults with citizens around 50 times a year on various topics and these consultations can now be carried out online. People can even sign up for e-mail alerts to notify them when a consultation of particular interest is taking place.
"I particularly like the 'promo box' feature of RedDot CMS," says Butler. "It provides an excellent way of promoting Council services or local events. A customer may be looking at an online page about housing benefits, for example, and the promo box will contain the question 'Do you know you can report abandoned vehicles online?'  - with a link to the relevant page. It encourages people to use services they didn't previously know about."
Slough's new web site is fully compliant with all e-government requirements and has achieved AA standards for accessibility. Wilburn says: "RedDot are very proactive in adopting the latest standards and e-government specifications. As a result they make it very easy to provide compliant sites."
Customer feedback has been very positive, with many taking the time to e-mail the Council with compliments. Public bodies have also been impressed. "Our new web site has increased our reputation with other local authorities. Even the larger authorities are looking to us as a benchmark for redeveloping their own sites," says McMichael.
Slough has made an impressive move up the rankings in the SiteMorse survey, consistently appearing in the top 5 per cent of sites and recently taking the number one slot.
"By choosing RedDot's CMS we've invested in a solid product that will enable us to pursue a process of continual development. We are currently using its ability to build libraries’ pages aimed at children and young people. These pages have a different look and feel to the rest of the site. RedDot’s product provides us with plenty of potential for the future, including redevelopment of our intranet, SBC Net, for use by staff," concludes Butler. For more information
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