Case study: Salford City Council inject crucial £20.3 million into local economy with BetterOff platform
Local Authorities across the country have had to quickly adjust to the changing climate over the last few months amidst COVID-19. Salford City Council were no exception, and as March 2020 began with the first lockdown imminent, the Customer Service Team had a huge job on their hands to ensure that vital information and services were still readily available to their citizens, whilst ensuring that safety was paramount.
Spirit of Salford helpline
When face to face services shut down in March, Salford’s customer service team sent home 52 members of staff with laptops. Aware of the pressure to ensure vital services remained open, Salford built an online contact centre overnight – “Spirit of Salford”. This helpline was created for people who needed help with services such as gas and electricity, food parcels, mental health and more. Over a few months, this service expanded and Salford added health improvement services to the call centre – most recently, they have started taking calls for Salford’s own track and trace function (separate to the national track and trace service).
After a few months of a lockdown, a gradual reopening began towards the end of August – whilst still continuing to push people to use their online services. Their five customer service centres all reopened at different times, with reduced opening hours and only a small number of staff went back into work physically, with the majority continuing to work from home and monitor calls to the Spirit of Salford helpline. Members of staff frontlining the centres have made a point of ringing citizens back when they come, to ensure that they are not staying in the building for any lengthy period of time whilst also taking the opportunity to direct people to their website. Since going into further lockdowns, the centres have remained open on a limited basis.
Salford Staff working from home
The large number of staff now working from home has provided Salford with a huge internal culture change. This change has seen a few members of staff retiring earlier than expected, which has meant that Salford have also been recruiting during this period. On the most part, the facilitation of a good work-from-home system has meant that this adjustment has worked well for staff. As Digital Leaders of 2018 and winner of Digital Council of the Year 2018, it is unsurprising that Salford have made the most of digital platforms, such as Microsoft Teams, in order to create cross-department communication. The use of digital platforms here has been particularly effective across the five different customer centres, of whom would usually not be in such high communication. Danielle Ainsley, Locality Team Leader at Salford City Council, describes an “in it together” attitude across the staff, which has meant that everyone feels like they are more of a team than they were before.
Calls have gone through the roof with Salford’s own track and trace service – they’re working with the public health sector which they’ve never done before, it’s all very new for the team.
Citizens and their increased digital use
Whilst there has been an emphasis on using digital tools, there are of course, members of the public that will have struggled with the increased digital reliance. Salford have ensured that use of the customer service buildings remained, on an appointment-only basis, to ensure there is access to services for those that are not digital.
As a digital-first Local Authority, Salford City Council have been using BetterOff since July 2018. BetterOff was implemented in Salford as part of their digital-first offering to their citizens, reducing waiting times and increasing efficiency across the board by enabling citizens to self-serve their benefit assessment and applications.
During this time, the platform has provided Salford with an accessible alternative to face to face meetings. BetterOff combines national and locally administered forms with comprehensive advice and support for users in re-entering work. By facilitating digital self service, BetterOff reduces footfall in contact centres, allowing advisors to devote their time and effort to working with vulnerable claimants who cannot self serve. In turn, allowing claimants to have the support they need whilst reducing the impact of cuts to welfare advice budgets. This has been pivotal for lockdown as Salford were able to largely continue as usual, as they already had this contact-free offering in place.
Off the back of the lockdown and Government guidance in 2020, Salford’s BetterOff platform has had a meteoric rise in usage –
April 2019 vs April 2020:
278% increase in unique users
217% increase in sessions
Comparing March-May 2019 versus the same 3 months in 2020, Salford’s BetterOff platform saw:
Entitlement calculations done: up from 191 to 1115. Increase of 484%.
Number of user accounts created: up from 434 to 2341. Increase of 440%.
The increase in BetterOff usage has also supported the 70% rise in monetary gains for Salford, from a total of £12 million in 2019 to £20.3 million in 2020. This has provided a big injection of money back into the wider community at a significant time of need.
On the most part, due to BetterOff’s contact-free approach, Salford were able to leave the platform to perform on its own, allowing staff to focus on other important areas such as their Spirit of Salford helpline. Staff at Salford have been pushing citizens to use digital first, if they cannot be helped via the phone. Salford’s website helps reduce contact by directing users to the BetterOff platform on pages such as benefits and council tax.
In lockdown, Salford introduced “Cloud Coffee & Chats”. These replicated the original, face-to-face Coffee & Chat events that took place in customer service centres once a week. The move to digital has ensured that customer service advisors are still able to have one-on-one meetings with Senior Advisors.
With the nation in lockdown once again, Salford have found themselves in a confident position that they can provide their citizens with all the vital services whilst providing safety across the board and adhering to government regulations.