Consideration was given to a report that provided a progress update on the Council’s Customer Access Strategy
In discussion, the following points were raised:
(a) Although not forcing all residents to interact with the Council digitally, the improved effectiveness of the online service would encourage those who preferred to conduct their business with the Council online to do so, thereby releasing capacity and improving effectiveness for those residents who preferred to contact the Council by telephone or book an appointment to visit in person;
(b) It was noted that the proposal to offer a Home Visiting service was to be launched imminently and would offer the most vulnerable amongst the Council’s residents the opportunity to meet with Council staff in their own homes. Visiting Officers had been trained in a number of different subject areas and had developed the expertise to offer assistance and signposting on a wide range of matters. The Home Visiting Service was widely welcomed by Members;
(c) With regard to partnership working, it was confirmed that the Council had increased its work with local partners (for example Citizens Advice and the Community Voluntary Service), with a view to offering vulnerable residents a more expansive and joined up service;
(d) Concerns were raised regarding how the Council could ensure that its message would reach those most in need. In response it was confirmed that a new text messaging service was to be introduced and that Local Ward Members were key in advising their local residents and Town and Parish Councils of the services available and how these could be accessed. In expanding upon the point, a Member highlighted that Town Council offices were open during the week and there was scope for the District Council to access its residents through this means. Finally, all Members recognised that the Strategy currently omitted to make reference to the fact that residents should contact their local Ward Member(s) if they were unable to gain a response from the Council;
(e) Some Members raised their concerns about the lack of a fully operational Reception facility at Follaton House. In reply, it was confirmed that a Virtual Reception was proposed to be introduced in the New Year whereby members of the public could access the building to use telephones and computers to initiate contact with Council staff. In addressing concerns that an unmanned reception was unsatisfactory for many residents and the consequent detrimental impact on tenants, a Member stated that travel to Follaton House was not easy or convenient for many of those living outside the Totnes area. As a result, improving other methods of contacting the Council benefitted many residents and released resource to help support residents in other ways;
(f) A Member queried whether the new digital service had specifically taken account of those residents with partial or total hearing loss. In response, it was confirmed that, although the Council’s telephony system was voice only, Council staff had access to video calling and that once initial contact had been made, staff could arrange to contact the resident via a video call which would assist hearing impaired residents who were able to lip read. It was agreed that this service should be advertised as being available;
(g) As a general point, a number of Members regretted the reference to ‘customers’ and not ‘residents’. Given that residents had no choice as to the local authority that they were served by, it was felt that the corporate emphasis should be on ‘residents’ as opposed to ‘customers’.
It was then:
1. That the Customer Access Strategy principles and approach (as set out in section 3 of the presented agenda report) be approved;
2. That the approach and actions to implement the Customer Access Strategy (as set out in section 4 of the presented agenda report) be endorsed; and
3. That the actions taken to improve the performance of the Contact Centre (as highlighted in Appendix A of the presented agenda report) be noted.