Plymouth City Council opens tech-savvy ‘one stop shop’ for public services

Plymouth City Council invests £1 million setting up a high-tech 'retail' space for queries about public services, kitted out with iPads, PCs and self-service machines.

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Plymouth City Council has spent almost £1 million setting up a high street shop with new technology to improve the services it offers to residents.

The two-floor retail space (pictured), which Plymouth calls its ‘First Stop Shop’, is kitted out with 50 PCs and 13 self-service machines, supported by software from BookingBug and Knowledge Base bought from G-Cloud.

Where visitors were previously given ticket numbers and asked to queue, now they are met by staff with iPads as they come into the shop.

The vast majority of queries are dealt with there and then but if necessary they are booked in for a meeting, allowing them to go away and come back when convenient.

The council is using an appointments management system from BookingBug which provides useful data on demand, appointment lengths and other customer metrics, project manager Aaron Osborne-Taylor explained.

“It’s making our back office processes much more streamlined. Now we’ve got customer data and metrics being used to better understand demand types and appointments lengths, so we can refine the service and how to make it tick,” he told ComputerworldUK.

“It’s much more difficult to capture and analyse on our traditional systems. The management information aspect is as big for us as the ability to book and manage appointments,” he added.

The council said it wanted to import best practice from retailers and banks, particularly in terms of customer experience, getting away from the need to queue and allowing people to get what they need immediately.

“It’s about improving the journey for the customer, taking away long waits, uncertainty and lots of need for contact,” Osborne-Taylor said.

He said the space was opened in November and has already handled over 8,000 customer queries.

The 62 customer service staff are trained to help with the whole range of public services the authority offers, such as benefits, parking permits, blue badges, council tax and planning applications.

There are nine customer service booths, six interview rooms and one meeting room for more complex queries.

The council is working to improve its website and online services over the next six months so people can take the digital route ‘by default’ instead of needing to visit its physical premises, Osborne-Taylor added.

Plymouth also plans to introduce SMS reminders for appointments in the coming weeks.

“This project is very much from the world of retail, indeed it’s ahead of a lot of retailers and provides a better experience than many of them. The council has cut its costs and made a much better customer process,” BookingBug CEO Glenn Shoosmith said.

“It’s also generating a lot more data like no-shows, late arrivals, how long until served, satisfaction, appointment length and so on at the back end, so it simplifies the process end-to-end so they can report back centrally. The more they can understand about the customers, the better.”

Image credit: Plymouth City Council

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