Solihull Connect is Solihull Council’s Customer Contact Service. Whatever the enquiry, the staff always aim to get it right first time – and they usually do. This is thanks to the breadth and depth of knowledge of 30 call handlers in the Solihull Connect Contact Centre and 25 team members based at various walk-in locations ready to talk to people face to face.
“A lot of our advisers have worked in other parts of the council, including housing and benefits, and they bring those specialist skills with them,” says frontline team manager Baillie Carleton. “Everyone on the team is good with people, and has a broad and varied knowledge of council and partner services.”
Staff are recruited based on their experience, skills and overall desire to work with the public.
When a new member of staff joins, they go through an extensive training programme that includes a customer care course to equip them with the skills to manage diverse and sensitive situations.
“All staff recognise that when an individual contacts us about a specific subject like benefits this may be related to bigger, distressing issues around debt and vulnerability,” says Baillie. Advisers take a holistic approach to ensure the correct support is give when needed.
Staff deal with a wide range of topics and maintain their service knowledge in a number of ways, including attending a weekly briefing/training session every Wednesday morning.
The aim is to resolve all queries at the first point of contact to avoid people having to get in touch with Solihull Connect again for further information or services.
The team works closely with the South Solihull Community Advice Hub, which incorporates many local support agencies, such as Age UK Solihull and Citizens Advice. Moving into The Core, Solihull’s community building, and sharing the same space has offered both the hub and Solihull Connect teams fresh insight into each other’s services, and the opportunity to actively collaborate and share knowledge and experience so people only have to tell their story once.
A typical example of how successful collaborative working can be is when an elderly man, in discussing his query about housing benefit, indicated there were other issues and concerns affecting him. The adviser dealing with the query utilised all their knowledge and the relationships they had built with colleagues and partners to get support. This resulted in the man also receiving the appropriate social care support he needed to cope at home, which he had previously felt unable to request directly.
The service has evolved since its creation, and continues to change in response to shifts in local people’s priority issues and the way they like to get advice and information. This includes developing alternative channels that offer people more choice in way they can contact the service.
Not only can people get the information they need and make transactions at any time, day or night, through Solihull Council’s upgraded website, the Live Chat instant messaging service has recently been launched.
The shift to greater online access also has benefits for the council by being more efficient and cost effective.
Currently in development is the Digital Connect project, which will integrate services for people to use through a personal online account.
In addition the new Solihull Connect Local at Elwood Place, Smiths Wood, brings self-service into the heart of the community through touchscreen computers. Not only does this offer local people more choice about how, when and where they contact Solihull Connect, it encourages them to use other information and support available.
Secrets of our success
- Recruit and develop multi-skilled professional customer service staff
- Take a holistic approach, putting lives before services
- Continue to learn from customers, colleagues and specialist partners
- Listen to and share feedback to improve future service delivery
- Monitor trends and ensure services meet the current and future needs
- Review all access points for services to ensure they are accessible, offer choice to customers and have the flexibility to meet changing demands