Let me take you back to a great team I worked with, when we were stuck in dysfunctional patterns (still sadly familiar in many organisations today) – and ask you how we got out of it.
I’m going to come back on Friday and give ‘the answer’ – what we actually did. I’ll answer any questions in the comments!
> Shepherd’s Bush Advice Centre served the most excluded and vulnerable people in the borough with different types of expert advice.
> We were open very irregular hours due to staff availability and demand
> There were loooong waits and limited time appointments for customers. Nothing got fixed in the 20 minutes they got with a random specialist adviser (not matching their need), so files were made and appointments set up with the specialist
> This caused another load of hassle, as people missed appointments etc
> People often waited up to four hours to be told we didn’t provide the service they needed
What would *you* do to make improvements? We made some small ones – then a big leap!
#publicservice #transformation #improvement #lean
One thought on “What does ‘service transformation’ look like? A challenge for you!”
So – some brilliant answers on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/feed/update/urn:li:activity:6774595988050055168?commentUrn=urn%3Ali%3Acomment%3A%28activity%3A6774595988050055168%2C6776030599821053952%29, thanks to everyone who responded. I won’t respond or evaluate them all but many of you would have got to the answers quicker than me, or better! By the way, digital was not yet really a possibility back in these days – we did make a basic website (yes, that’s it in the slide carousel!!) but most people didn’t have access. Phones were also not really a major issue. And I’m glad, because it helped us to focus on the heart of the situation – not on ‘solutions’!
So, what did we do? First, a lot of continual improvement steps. I bought a book of cloakroom tickets and handed them out to the waiting queue, then called people by number.
That allowed me to gather data on waiting times – and predict. So I was able to tell people when they could pop back (or even hold their place if they missed the slot).
I (as the security guard/receptionist) became better at triage, and asked people their problems first so I could reliably tell people we didn’t help not to wait – and where to go instead.
We improved the appointment-setting – we had bespoke appointment cards made and a computer template so we could print the address and it would appear in a window envelope. We made a business case to buy books of first-class stamps (yes!) so that instead of the post being collected by the council service, driven to the other end of the borough, processed the next day then sent out by second-class franked mail (often taking four days in total and meaning they got the appointment card after the deadline), they received it on the next street over, the next day.
We looked at better filing and record-keeping (even considered a two-storey revolving automated paper file system that would have necessitated knocking through a floor!), but it was just too costly.
We started putting up a sign saying which specialist advisers were on generic open surgey that day, so people needed employment advice might come back when it wasn’t the housing adviser on duty.
We made a list of what we did and didn’t help with – and where else to go for the latter, so people could self-direct.
We even did a customer survey to find out more about our customers (more first languages reported than, I thought, existed – 127, if I recall)
Oh, and we put in a water cooler, better signage in the toilet to reduce blockages (you don’t want to know), better signage. I went on a customer care course – ‘dealing with difficult people’.
All of these, of course, were problem ‘solving’. The big leap came when we ‘dissolved’ the problem.
At an awayday, we broached the topic of moving from our limited opening hours to being open 9-5, Monday to Friday. Staff were horrified. It was stressful enough being on open duty sessions the requisite twelve hours a week! How could anyone be expected to cope with 37.5 hours a week?! Full time reception duty?! But, we agreed to a two-week trial.
We never went back. The first morning was tough (how had people learned we would be open from 9am Monday?!) – 40 people arrived and waited for up to four hours. But… even on that first day, things were different. I was able to go and call the *right* adviser to meet need immediately. The adviser was able to spend longer (we had removed the appointment time limit). There was less circulation of filing, because some cases had actually been resolved! And no rota and appointment setting, because they had their own diaries and arranged any repeat visists necessary. (I quietly mourned my neat process for the impossible task of scheduling, my bespoke printed appointment cards).
And, over time, what had been a huge stress now… changed. If there were more than two or three people waiting, people carried on with their day and came back later. Everyone could see the adviser they needed, usually first time. First meetings stretched to one hour, even two or three – advisers could sort out the issue on just one occasion! The reception began placid, so many dramas went away – almost… boring?
By ‘levelling the flow’ and creating the possibility of customers-self-directing, and capacity to actually meet demand at the point of contact, the entire dynamics of our customer service. And it felt great.
Two codas to the story. First, someone mentioned Buurtzorg, which I interpreted as self-organising. The centre had been self-organised in the past, running on a syndicalist cooperative basis (as many legal advice places still do). Nothing much was different then, except apparently there was less staff unhappiness.
Later, after the brilliant manager I worked with left, they became a ‘team of equals’, with the longest-serving and highly respected (and very decent) adviser being ‘first amongst’. It was in this period that their budget reduced, demand went up. And, with some regret, they decided they had to revert back to limited opening times in order not to be overwhelmed…