A thank you and an update from the Customer Service Programme team working on Housing repairs, Highways and Waste Services

Many thanks to those that took part in this research activity with Birmingham City Council. By speaking to us about your thoughts and experiences with the council, you have added great value to the work of the Customer Service Programme and our plans moving forward.

During February and March 2022 the Creators team carried out a short project focused on Highways, Housing Repairs and Waste Management service areas called a ‘discovery’. You can find out more about what a ‘discovery’ is by clicking on the following webpage – How the discovery phase works.

The aim of this discovery was to gain an understanding of the experiences of residents and staff. We wanted to explore how residents use council services and how staff provide them, including what works well, what doesn’t work so well and what can be improved.

What we did

  • We conducted research interviews with 26 residents across Birmingham
  • We wanted these 26 people to represent the city of Birmingham. We were able to get a good mix of people ranging in age, ethnicity, gender, household tenure, disabilities and those who use the internet confidently, or with help from others
  • We spoke to 33 members of staff from various departments across the city council, at different levels of seniority
  • We also looked at existing satisfaction and complaints data.

There were 4 key themes from our research

1. Communication is key

“Things just go into a big black hole.”

a user reporting a missed bin collection

Residents spoke about a lack of communication from the council. In some cases, the council didn’t follow-up to inform people on the progression of a request or issue. Residents would rather know that things are going to take longer than expected (or not happen at all), than not be told anything.

2. Decisions aren’t made transparently

“You get a different reference number which restarts the clock.”

a user making a highways complaint

It’s not always clear to residents why things happen (or do not happen). There is a lack of trust of the people making decisions, from members of the council to contractors who provide services on behalf of the council.

3. People expect the council to be proactive

“If it’s not on the ticket, they won’t do it.”

a user reporting a Highways fault

The best examples of good council services are when the council is proactive in dealing with resident requests. People feel like they have to report lots of granular detail when making a request to the council, or else nothing will be done.

4. People should be treated empathetically

“The person I spoke to didn’t understand or care.”

Someone accessing benefits support

Whilst there were some examples of good service, there were also examples of residents feeling as though they weren’t treated in the way that they expected when engaging with the council. People want someone to take ownership of their enquiry, rather than passing it on to different staff across the council.

Target experience

We set out to understand the common experience of residents who come into contact with Birmingham City Council and to establish a high-level target experience for us to strive for that is intended to be broadly applicable to any service area.

We have developed high-level visuals of what a ‘target experience should look like, as well as an experience map, which are based on evidence from the research we have undertaken during this process.

Figure 1

Figure 1 above shows that people should be able to check online to see if the council already knows about an issue, and what is being done about it, for example, when someone spots a pothole.

Figure 2

Figure 2 above shows the council being proactive, and delivering good customer service that is accessible for everyone.

Next steps

The target experience has been designed to be a useful tool that is relevant to all service areas and can be easily applied. Over the coming months we will be sharing this work across the council and exploring how to put it into practice to improve resident experience across the board.

We are currently working with the three service areas (housing repairs, highways and waste) to understand what recommendations to take forward to the next stage. The Customer Service Programme will work with the teams to collaboratively deliver prioritised changes, testing and improvements. Some of the recommendations will go into a backlog for future delivery and some will be deprioritised.

We will continue to update on activity and progress through our regular weeknotes on this blog. If you would like any further information about this work please email [email protected]

Many thanks to George Hanlon (User Researcher – Methods) and Christina Webley (Senior User Researcher – Methods) for co-authoring this update.