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Reducing avoidable contact in Sevenoaks

Sevenoaks District Council are seeing a sustained increase in calls coming into the council. They are currently exploring what the calls are about, why people are calling and how they can encourage more residents to self-serve. Their aim is to reduce the number of ‘avoidable’ calls. This would give the team more time to deal with other calls, where they can give support, solve problems, and help those who cannot access services online or are more vulnerable.

Sevenoaks District Council asked SDS to help them understand the drivers for the calls and identify any avoidable contact.

Analyse existing call data

To begin with SDS analysed the call data already captured by Sevenoaks. This showed the sustained increase in calls over a three-year period from 2019 to 2022. Other data showed that over half of the calls to the council were coming into the Customer Solutions team. The main activities for these calls were using CRM, the switchboard or giving general information. Further exploration of what these calls are about and the drivers for these calls was needed.

Listen to a sample of calls

SDS listened to sample of call recordings to gain a deeper understanding of what the calls were about. Customers were either calling to complete a transaction, such as a payment, booking, report something or to seek advice and speak to someone.

In general customers were satisfied with the outcomes of the calls they made. The customers who were less satisfied were those for whom something had gone wrong with a service before they called. For example, if a report had already been made but nothing happened or they were waiting on a call back which never came.

Many of the transactions people were calling about such as the payments and booking could potentially be done online if this was made available. Some calls were clearly failure demand – unclear communications, chasing because things delayed or not happened.

Customer Solutions Team views

SDS then facilitated three workshops with Customer Solutions Staff to capture their views on the calls they are receiving. Many felt that customers called them because they are easy to contact and they know they will be able to speak to someone. Often people don’t attempt to look up information or help themselves before calling.

‘Customers call about everything and anything, whatever you are not sure about, the answer seems to be call the council’.

‘Every service area has got busier, and everyone comes through us, customers are not helping themselves (self-serving)’.

The team felt that many of the calls they answer to take payments, make bookings, and transfer customers could be avoided. If customers were able to self-serve by doing these transactions online it would give them more time to deal with calls where they feel they add the most value, where they can solve problems, support and advise and get an outcome for the caller.

Capturing detailed call information

With the help of the Customer Solutions team, SDS then built an e-form using MS Forms to capture more detailed information about the calls. The Customer Solutions team tested the form and then completed the form after calls for a period of 4 weeks, capturing information on 1811 calls.

The majority of calls were first time enquires. One third of the calls monitored were for Direct Services – waste , recycling, pests etc. While Council Tax made up a further quarter of all calls.

31% of all calls monitored were to make a payment, 24% were to speak to someone and 22% were seeking information. Where a reason for the call could be identified, a quarter (25%) were being made because there was no other way to contact. 21% were being made because customers found it easier or were in the habit of calling.

Next Steps

SDS made several recommendations based on all these activities, including:

  • Reviewing the garden waste process as this is generating a lot of calls.
  • Creating an online process for bulky waste bookings and encourage residents to use this
  • Review payment systems and encourage residents to pay in other ways
  • Reviewing outbound communication materials

Of course, reducing avoidable contact also involves encouraging customers to self-serve online by making more services available online, ensuing these services meet user needs, promoting these online services and educating customers on the benefits of using online services.

If you would like to find out more about this project, please get in touch