Words by Patsy Richards and John Benger
Patsy Richards, Customer Director the House of Commons, and Transformation Director, Strategic Estates at the Houses of Parliament and John Benger, Clerk Assistant, and Managing Director of the Chamber and Committees Team recently completed their Industry and Parliament Fellowship Programme exploring customer service and service delivery across a range of sectors.
The House of Commons has not traditionally thought of itself as having customers, but the need to put ourselves in our customers’ shoes was a very clear theme that emerged from the Governance Committee’s review of the House of Commons conducted during 2014. We had already fortunately been thinking about this in our department at the time, but knew we did not have the commercial background and experience to be sure what we were advocating, other than our gut instincts. Fortunately, they turned out to be correct; the numerous professionals we have met over the four years since the start of our Fellowship have had three things in common - an abundance of common sense, a willingness to get stuck in with good humour, and the badge of a customer service professional - knowing good and bad service when you see it.
A critical, fundamental theme soon emerged. To deliver great service, you need to nurture and empower your staff – for they deliver your services and are closest to the customer, and to service issues. Since our IPT Fellowship we have introduced an Ideas and Innovation Scheme, and our Staff Recognition Scheme in the House of Commons, to listen to staff and to reward great service.
Throughout our time on the Fellowship Programme more sophisticated tools emerged. Virgin Atlantic (VA) showed us their customer journey – with emotions that dip with the stress of getting to the airport but peak when you settle in your seat with a G&T - and again when the cabin crew move through the cabin. Here in the Commons, we have developed three master journeys now, for Members and their staff, democratic visitors to Parliament, and for our own staff joining and induction. They may not have the highs and lows of the Miami flight, but we discovered over 350 ‘pain points’ we are trying to fix. VA also sent us down one of their escape chutes, but that’s another story.
Additional organisations shared their experiences with us, including the insurance company LV=, they told us about how their staff are empowered to help customers who may be in a real fix – and Transport for London explained the extensive customer research they have done to help ‘keep London moving’. We also visited Carillion, and their customer experience centre that had won awards and ran contracted out FM helpdesks – and we wish all the best to the friends we made there. Ocado was a fascinating visit; more an IT company than a supermarket, which has developed a business model around acting in real time on customer feedback; and like others, seeking this feedback pro-actively. Many organisations had call service centres with staff who were absolutely expert in dealing with customers; customer service is a real skill and attitude that we now realise is key on front line services. Our last visit, in March 2018, was to O2 in a Slough about to be engulfed in snow, in their fabulous UK HQ, to hear about their personalised services. We are incredibly grateful to those who took time out of business days to educate us so generously. Some colleagues have even come back and spoken to our teams, including our General Election buddies, improving directly the service that newly elected Members of Parliament receive in their first days. We have now formed a small customer team at the House of Commons seeking to improve customer experiences and measure customer satisfaction across the piece. From being an organisation where the word ’customer’ raised an eyebrow, we now even have moveable feedback (‘smiley’) consoles which are gathering rich feedback from customers; in the Commons and the Lords. If anyone reads this who hosted us – thank you. We’ve had a great journey and learned a lot. Please come and visit us again when you are in Westminster. Is it wrong to admit that we have switched our personal custom to many of you, if we weren’t indeed already customers?