Headlines: June 18th, 2009

Some councils give high levels of customer service, but others do not. Communities Minister Shahid Malik has called on all councils to make best practice in local government the standard practice. He wants councils to get it right first time to ensure the public receive the modern service they expect.

The call on councils to raise their game comes with the publication of Getting it Right, and Righting the Wrongs which sets out findings from a review that looked at how public services can keep up with the standard of customer service offered by the best. The team drew on experts from the public, private and third sectors, including Tesco, Consumer Focus and local government.

The review team has produced a toolkit to help councils and their partners measure their current service, find out what their customers really want and help them identify ways to improve, including when things go wrong. The toolkit will be road tested in nine pilot schemes.

The toolkit was devised on the basis that the public have a right to expect the best from their local councils. While services are improving, the expectation of the customer continues to rise. This means customers want to be treated as individuals, and when things go wrong, they want the problem to get sorted, fast and without fuss. The level of customer service should not be any different whether it is doing the weekly shop, booking a holiday or paying council tax.

The review identified key areas where improvements would make the biggest difference to the standards of customer service delivered. Councils should commit to a Service and Remedy Pledge which clearly sets out how they will get it right, and right any wrongs. Front line staff are the key to raising standards and there needs to be a recognition that good people are more important than process. Partnership working is also vital to ensure that customers have a seamless experience and have to apply a minimum of effort to get what they want. It is also important that services are tailored to the needs of the customer rather than the convenience of the council.