End of year weeknote#12 Customer Service Programme

A product owner’s year of reflection

It’s been the most intense year for the Customer Service Programme. Just over 10 months ago, we started our ambitious journey in delivering Birmingham’s new customer strategy. This aimed to improve the customer experience for our customers, businesses and visitors to our wonderful city.

Our first step was to launch the customer strategy to both our customers and staff working within the council. We shaped the strategy by talking with staff and customers to get their views on whether the strategy themes met their expectations. We also spoke to council staff about adopting the principle of putting customers at the heart of everything we do.

The Customer Service Programme team has adopted a customer needs mindset. We have shaped our services through the lens of the customer. We have ensured that a user-centred culture is embedded across the programme and in every interaction, customers have with services.

We have looked at how we deliver services to our customers, focusing on the user needs and pain points. We have had some brilliant insights from our discovery work.

We have gained a real understanding of:

  • customer needs
  • how we currently deliver services across several channels
  • the technologies we use
  • what it would take to deliver excellence in customer experience

We have driven real customer change through several channels. On the website, we have developed and demonstrated the new strategy and governance on how to write for our customers.

 The approach consists of:

  • an audit assessment of the current content
  • analysis of the metrics and data to measure the content
  • creation of service content improvement plans
  • removing outdated content, forms and PDFs  

We identified the user pain points and implemented a planned approach to resolution through ‘pair-writing’ (content re-writes). We did this with service area leads across Waste, Bereavement Services and Housing to start off with.

We also tested this approach with our customers and those who have accessibility needs. This helped bring a human-centric design approach to the content available on our website.

Programme achievements

It’s been a fast-paced year with many deliverables to meet the strategy needs.

Customers have been at the forefront of programme delivery. This has included discoveries in Bereavement Services, Housing, the Child Employment Team and many others.

It has also focussed on embedding new ways of working and skills and knowledge transfer within the programme team, to sustain what will become business as usual thinking. We have promoted transparency by working in the open as we move forward.

We have been building up a backlog with over 200 recommended opportunities for improvement across several services. We have identified ownership, value, benefits and opportunity to change the customer experience.

In some cases, we have leveraged technology solutions. This can support the recommendations identified and take us on the journey towards achieving the gold standard.

Pace and acceleration have been at the highest level I have seen. We have really probed under all the stones within services. We have:

  • looked at the data and insights
  • conducted user research with customers
  • interviewed staff
  • captured and documented ‘as-is’ user journeys and processes
  • reviewed legislation
  • delved into our culture
  • reviewed customer satisfaction levels
  • looked at back office technologies and digital offerings

All of this has aided us in obtaining a deep understanding of how we could resolve some of these pain points, offering key recommendations to services followed by a series of next steps.

Timeline highlights

Here are some take away thoughts we have had from the leadership team and our customers:

Assistant Director, Child Employment Team:

“What a stunning piece of work. Really thorough, really professional…I have worked in a number of local authorities and this is the best example of this type of work I have ever seen. All credit to the team.”

Deputy Leader:

“Strong achievements of the programme, particularly in Children’s Licensing, which was long overdue and well needed. It demonstrates the impact of the Customer Service Programme approach and the work being done”

Head of Housing Management:

I would like to thank the Customer Service Programme for the work they have completed to assist us in understanding the Housing end to end customer journey.

“The passion and professionalism from the programme team is commendable as they drive the Housing services in understanding and meeting the needs of our tenants.”

“The discovery work the Customer Service Programme has completed on Housing repairs and the wider Housing services end to end will go a long way in shaping how the services need to be delivered, demonstrating excellence and a best-in-class customer experience for every single tenant.” 

As a product owner, it has been important to shape the thinking of the wider organisation.

We have been:

  • writing weeknotes
  • delivering show and tells
  • producing commitment videos from the senior leadership team across the council
  • playing back findings to the senior leadership teams
  • establishing our new customer panel

We have also been sharing with colleagues the work we have been doing on the Customer Service Programme. We are building momentum, cultural and mindset changes based on the discoveries and alpha stages of our agile approach. This has sometimes led to difficult conversations, but not moving away from what the user research and needs have evidenced.

This has been further supported by the excellent customer standard workshops. These will be running up until March 2023.

We have already reached out to 28% of the workforce, demonstrating the principles of our customer charter. We have also been engaging in discussions on how the actions we take in delivering services should align to our promises within the customer charter.

What to look forward to in 2023…where do I start?

The sessions we have had with service areas and the Overview & Scrutiny Committee over the last two weeks has really helped further shape the priorities for Phase 2.  

We need to quickly start planning to kick off early next year across a number of service recommendations, some of which are already inflight.

We have scoped the priorities for:

  • Bereavement
  • Highways
  • Waste and Housing

All these service areas are now ready to move onto alpha phases.

We will continue the work we are doing around improving the digital content and working with the service areas.

We will ensure that we have accountability and ownership for our work. We will also review the times agreed for completion as we improve the content. This is so that it becomes sustainable in keeping the content as close to real time as possible.

We will end the year closing off the work we have been doing with the Child Employment Team. We have been documenting their “to be” processes and common components for their:

  • licence types
  • future state vision
  • goals
  • a roadmap for the service which includes cultural change activities

We also have to plan next year for voice automation. This will enable customers to use their voices to request services from the council, with integration to our line of business systems.  

Finally, I must say thank you to everyone who has supported the Customer Service Programme over the last year.

I would especially like to thank the Customer Service Programme delivery team, who have demonstrated:

  • real passion
  • collaborative working
  • a customer mindset
  • development of skills within in an agile and multidisciplinary team

This has been a new way of working for most of them.

I would like to thank Methods, our delivery partner, for their support with:

  • activities
  • embedding the cultural changes in adopting new ways of working
  • upskilling the BCC programme team
  • working with us in a one-team approach with the same goals

We really appreciate your support in achieving our goals collaboratively. We are also very proud of what we have achieved and accomplished on the programme over the last year.

Have a fantastic Christmas and a happy new year all!

Sheraz Yaqub, Product Owner Customer Service Programme

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