Features: August 8th, 2013

Councils are steadily moving customer contact online and away from the much more expensive face to face, letter writing and phone call channels. Channel shift is not easy to achieve and it requires both creative thinking and attention to detail. This feature describes how Firmstep’s Achieveforms was deployed in just four weeks and now supports the green waste service which has generated over £600,000 income.

With the Government ending its funding to Councils for green waste collections, North Kesteven Council wanted to find an alternative method of funding these popular services to those residents who wished to continue using them. In late 2012, the Council proposed launching an opt-in garden waste collection service, with a charge of £25 per year.

The Garden Waste Collection scheme received Council approval in November 2012, with development of the application process starting in late January 2013. The aim was to make the application process live within a month, to enable residents to sign up for the new service from end of February 2013.

The Council also wanted to make this service as accessible as possible for residents, to encourage sign-up to the service. As such, it decided to enable residents to register and pay for the service either using an intelligent online form, or by telephone, to minimise paper-based processing of applications, and to automate the process as much as possible to drive efficiency.

Integration matters

To deliver the service, the Council’s IT team needed an e-forms solution that could be easily used by residents across a range of PCs, tablets and smartphones, which would also integrate with its various back-office systems, including the Council’s Civica payments processing system, Civica APP Flare environmental services system and Property Gazetteer, to ensure matching to correct addresses for bin collections.

Karey Barnshaw, Customer Engagement Manager, North Kesteven Council said: “We had seen demonstrations of Firmstep’s solutions, and were aware of neighbouring councils’ use of the company’s e-forms solution, AchieveForms, so we felt the solution was capable of meeting our needs.”

The integration went smoothly, and was completed in a month, ready for the target go-live date of the end of February 2013. Little training was needed: the forms are intuitive, and the same basic type of form is used by residents self-serving online, and by service agents in the Council’s contact centre when handling residents’ calls, with just a minor difference in the payment processing.

According to Karey Barnshaw, the take up of the service was fundamental to its success: it had to be easy to sign up for, to ensure that people wanting to use the service could do so without problems, and without requiring significant support or extra staffing at the council. “The compressed timescale for the launch was a challenge, but we were able to meet the requirement, with the service meeting and exceeding expectations straight away,” she said.

Rapid take-up

In the 10 weeks since its launch at the end of February 2013, 25,000 households (over half of those served by the council) have signed up and paid the £25 annual fee for the garden waste service, generating service income of over £625,000 for the Council.

52% of the 25,000 signed up online, reducing the need to recruit extra staff to handle subscriptions by phone. The council also found that 23% of those who signed up online did so from a mobile device, showing the importance to councils of having self-service channels that work on mobiles as well as conventional PCs.

In terms of lessons learned from the deployment of the service, Karey Barnshaw said: “We found that communications with our residents has been really important. Working with the local press and our customers, advising them early on about what we were doing, as well as why we were doing it, helped to get buy-in to the scheme at an early stage.

“Having the right software available was a critical factor in the success of the project. The e-forms solution from Firmstep meant that we were able to deliver the service in an efficient way for the council while offering customers a choice of different access methods. Also having the right staff in place, from the Refuse Collectors, Garden Waste Advisors, Multi-Media Access Technicians to the Project Manager and Head of Service, all have made a significant impact on the project to help have made it successful.”