North Yorkshire Council

LGR One Front Door 

Briefly describe the initiative/ project/service; please include your aims and objectives

The Government announced in July 2021 that the eight councils in North Yorkshire would become a single unitary authority, with formal sign off by Parliament in March 2022. This gave us a challenging timeline of just over a year to develop our customer ‘front door’ for the new council, launching in April 2023, while keeping up the ‘day job’ of providing excellent customer service: The problem: to manage upwards of a staggering 720,000 calls across all eight council services and 30 million website hits from 600,000 residents annually, with minimal disruption in services and continued support throughout and following the transition to a single unitary council

The aim: to provide a cohesive approach to customer services, whilst behind the scenes there were still 8 teams and 8 versions of services, to ensure that our approach was right, that we had the right resources in place, and that despite there being 8 teams and 8 versions of services behind the scenes, that customers didn’t have to fight through that. The ambition: to be the first council to move from 8 websites (11,211 pages), 8 phone numbers, 8 ways of taking payments, 8 approaches to customer contact centres – to one, for Vesting Day, creating a seamless ‘front door’ experience for our residents, businesses and visitors by offering a single route to access services by phone or online. The advantage of our approach was that we solved the problem of a good customer experience early, rather than much later into our transformation journey, and are now in a better position to improve and grow our customer experience than if we had left eight websites and several phone numbers as they were. This approach is now proven and repeatable by others in the future.

Our innovative multi-channel approach took expertise from colleagues across all eight councils and comprised the following:
• Telephony, ensuring appropriate resourcing was in place to deliver the Day 1 vision: a single telephone number which is resilient and does not disadvantage customers in terms of charging or costs;
• An AI IVA (intelligent virtual assistant) solution for telephony, which allows voice routing of contacts by locality and service type to the appropriate area contact centre rather than by push button;
• A single North Yorkshire Council website, providing a digital front door to expanded range of services, both as ‘information, advice and guidance’, and as a route to online transactional forms;
• Webchat on the website that can route customers to key information to answer customer questions quickly and efficiently;
• Replacement of two former council’s online forms in order to close down their old websites;
• Creation of a multi-channel classification structure, allowing use to report across disparate teams and channels for the first time;
• Creation of a ‘contact us’ tool, that signposted and triaged customers to the right contact information, including an ‘agent’ version that allowed agents to know where to transfer calls behind the scenes;
• A signposting pattern, that was applied online and on the IVA, ‘signposting’ customers to the right information in the right area; and
• Automated telephone payments, to ensure that customers can continue to make over the phone payments.
In order to achieve these ambitious goals for our 600,000 residents, we realised early on in the whole Local Government Reorganisation programme that we also needed to set and embed principles and patterns for customer facing services and systems to follow, ensuring that we not only had One Front Door for our residents, but also provided a wholly customer focused new Council. 

What are the key achievements?

Despite incredibly tight timelines and a small but dedicated team, North Yorkshire Council successful delivered a way for their residents and customers to engage with their new council seamlessly and without delays, regardless of where they lived or which legacy council they were part of. We met the challenges around a single customer journey head-on, and managed to remove all legacy branding and references to make our customers feel they were in a new council, without impacting service delivery, bringing residents and staff together on the journey to a unitary council and beyond. Using a multi-channel approach to achieve this, and the same consistent approach across all mediums, the customer experience remained positive, with a single front door hiding the varied, non-aligned services in the background. We managed to provide our customers a one seamless customer journey, even if behind the scenes, 8 teams and 8 systems still underpinned the process.

The Website: One of the biggest tasks, and most successful, was implementing the new North Yorkshire Council website. We could have had 8 websites to traverse with a superficial front door – 8 flavours of information behind an additional new website front, but we knew we could do better than that. For our website, we achieved what no other council before us has – a single new website for our launch day that left none of the legacy websites running.

This consisted of a massive content writing effort (11,211 pages analysed, harmonised and rewritten by 4 full time staff and 6 working on it alongside other work). We created a new digital pattern to ‘signpost’ customers to the correct information, for example, bin collection calendars. We also implemented a new forms platform for North Yorkshire Council which went live with 72 new services and were built to GDS design principles and accessibility standards.

Chatbot: The webchat solution embedded within the website is able to route chats based on the page the customer launches it from on the website, guiding customers more quickly and efficiently to the information they need.

Telephony: For our telephone channel, it was important for us to provide a number that was appropriate for the new council and represent all of the county and not just a location in North Yorkshire: we secured a new single telephone number (0300 131 2 131) which was published on Vesting Day and in the first month alone we received 57,334 calls (highlighting how well received the new number and council ‘front door’ was with our customers).

Interactive Virtual Assistant (IVA): We adopted an AI-based telephone IVA that allowed customers to tell us what they were calling about and where they lived, so that we could ‘signpost’ to one of our 8 legacy call centres. Following a successful Go Live at 9am on Monday 3 April 2023, this has allowed the routing of contacts by locality and service type to the appropriate council contact centre. This was either automatically routed to existing IVR locally, or direct to an agent via a complete rebuild of all IVR layers and integration of telephone systems. The system allows priorities to be added to certain options on the IVR which ensures that some calls can be answered as a priority across the different locations. The efficiency of this solution ensures contacts can be transferred between contact centres, and from contact centres to backoffice teams seamlessly, incurring minimum internal cost for the new council and without disruption to customers. The IVA had a 96% success rate for calls routed by it in the first month alone, and has been built so that it can continually be updated with changes to services and requests.

Contact Us Tool: For customers needing to find out contact information, we created a ‘contact us’ tool on the new website which used the same pattern to select a topic and identify a location in order to present relevant online and telephone service options. It was also resilient enough to ensure that calls can continue to be received and answered even in the event of an outage across the network.

Whilst the back-office was still in a state of transition and couldn’t be consolidated until post-Day 1 transformation activity commenced, the signposting tool ensured the customer journey remained seamless. The alternative would have been to implement a switchboard number, requiring a heavy resource of 29 FTE at a £780k cost to the new Council. Challenged to limit cost without reducing service and customer satisfaction, the new IVA technology came in at 68% less and provided a much more streamlined journey.

Having undertaken this approach and proved its success, we can now share it with future councils undergoing local government reorganisation so that they can also create a more seamless customer experience for their new council. 

How Innovative is your initiative?

Squeezing the whole process – from understanding the scope, to developing the principles, to identifying the customer bases, to then implementing our vision in only 12 months was a big gamble, but we were rewarded with a highly successful delivery of a cross-channel, single Front Door, and a set of patterns that we can not only re-use over and over, but also share with other organisations.

We managed to create a cross-channel pattern that worked for all channels in the same way enabling a consistent customer experience. The alternative would have been a presenting 7 web pages for every customer to crawl through which is confusing, time consuming and frustrating without tailored contact options for the service they want to contact us about. The signposting patterns were our way of presenting a single front door, and wherever our ex-services split into 8, it could ask for a locality or area so it could direct the customer to the right version of that information. By using the answer the customer gives (what do you want, where do you live), the solution was able send them to the right content or agent, through the website, the phone number, and the ‘contact us’ tool. Designed once, applied to multiple channels, we are able to get customers to the right version of information the first time, rather than navigating through the myriad 8 legacy authority processes in the back office.

The ‘one front door’ solution is also able to manage multiple agent groups across all locations and allow agents from different locations to be members of the same agent group. These are skill-based, and membership of the skill groups have the capability to be managed remotely. The AI-based telephone IVA not only allows customers to tell us what they were calling about and where they lived (so that we could ‘signpost’ to one of our 8 legacy call centres), the solution was also designed be able to present different options for customers at different times of the day, and different times of the week, to support both daytime and out of hours services, and allowing the Customer Contact Centre to better manage resource and customer demand. We also ensured reporting is available on overall demand and performance of the centres (individually and collectively) including the agent along with the
customer satisfaction score (CSAT), so that we can continually monitor and improve our customer service.

We set a target of no more than 20% of all calls reaching the fall-back team where the IVA failed, but by piloting the IVA to train it in ‘real life’ with real customers, we were able to reduce that to only 4% in the first month. The Customer Contact Centre is also able to manage further ‘training’ themselves with new information on services and customer demand due to the patterns we created within it. Through dedication and innovative use of technology, new patterns and a multi-channel approach, we not only managed to implement our Day 1 vision of One Front Door, but we gave the Transformation programme a head-start by creating standard replicable patterns that can be applied to different channels: using the same approach on the web, our online contact tool and telephone.

We were also able to apply this to other projects within the Local Government Restructure Programme: creating a new corporate intranet accessible to all staff regardless of network access, which signposts staff to legacy information that is still legally required; adopting the same patterns and GDS standards to all internally facing digital forms (for example, statutory information security breach form). We also developed existing technology, like Granicus, to enable the delivery of 72 customer facing forms which was required to support the switch off of legacy websites for Day 1 where the forms were inbuilt into those platforms: we were able to use the Government Digital Service (GDS) standards and patterns to ‘lift’ the forms in terms of quality, accessibility, and ease of use.

We also went a step further by consolidating our online forms and developed them to replicate GDS standards and look and feel. We were then able to host a webinar with Granicus, demonstrating the improvements for them to share the benefits with other councils to use. We even managed to use local government Drupal products (the open-source websites developed by local councils as a group) and develop some templates of our own, which, once shared, can be replicated again and again by whoever needs them. 

What are the key learning points?

Despite the significant challenges presented prior to starting on this ambitious journey – the limited time, the limited resource, the requirement of not one but 8 customer bases – the success of the final LGR One Front Door solution demonstrates how ambition and drive can overcome challenges, using innovative thinking around technology use to set standards and patterns that create efficiency and improvements across the board. Striving to deliver the best and most streamlined customer journey pushed us to think beyond ‘safe and legal’ for Day 1, and lay the foundation and building blocks of a customer-focused organisation and corporate target operating model: understanding the key use cases helped form the patterns that the rest of the organisation would need to follow – our One Front Door principle.

The Customer-centric approach was non-negotiable once signed off at the very beginning of our Local Government Restructure programme, and through this were able to review, monitor and manage legacy and ongoing demand into the council. Whilst legacy performance data indicates patterns of flux in customer demand throughout the year, seasonal trends still need to be understood and baselined following a full year of the solution in place. It will continually need to be trained to accommodate new services, transformed services and seasonal activity by the benefit of creating a solution around principles and patterns is that digital channels can be managed directly by teams and services.

Without a specific case study, we needed to create a pattern and approach (including resource requirements, implementation, and timescales) that could be used again and again enforcing a consistent way to do things. We set principles (for example, what ‘must’ be on the website for our customers) and then set all the required patterns with aligned use cases (so if a customer wanted a particular type of service, they would be signposted to the right place). This initial ambition ultimately gave more consistency further down the line and helped the rest of the programme by aligning and then embedding the rest of the programme principles.

Furthermore, the patterns we applied to different channels, using the same approach on web, our online contact tool and telephone, can be shared with other councils going through, or about to go through a local government restructure – by adopting similar approaches, templates and patterns, they will be able to achieve similar or even better results. The Day 1 contact centre was fully staffed as a ‘safety net’ team, with all relevant staff training in the new products (website, contact us, chatbot) provided, but the success of the launch of the One Front Door products soon became evident in the performance of the first month of IVA, where the success rate of matching what people saying to the correct answer was well above expectations. Agent data collection via MS Forms has fed into a data and intelligence dashboard produced for Day 1, bringing together the demand activity across all the digital customer channels: phone, email and website across most service areas. This was a key goal, as reporting in some former areas was limited, and in order to make improvements moving forward, access to cross channel reporting of demand is really important

Additional Comments

It would have been easy to push customer principles to the back of our minds and into the post-Day 1 transformation activity pile, but we wanted North Yorkshire Council to start as it meant to go on – putting the customer at the heart. And despite the tight timescales, and the stretched resource, we turned an aspiration into reality, and embedded consistency, tone of voice, streamlined customer journeys, and a positive experience of the new brand as it will continue to be