IEG4 Insights

Delivering sustainable services, reducing carbon footprint and improving Customer experience:  An update on Southwark's digital journey

Posted by Norman Lockie on Apr 30, 2024 9:06:02 AM
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"Automating high-volume customer interactions within Exchequer Services allows customers to readily access important information, and has meant the Council were able to reassign resources to other areas which contributed to a 22/23 in year collection improvement of 1.4% and arrears collection of £5.2m up by £2.6m from 21/22"  highlights Norman Lockie, Head of Income Operations at Southwark Council

At Southwark Council, we have a constant desire to drive digital transformation with innovative ideas and technology. The borough sits within inner London and has over 148,000 properties, along with buzzing hubs of cultural institutions and organisations.

Retaining and building upon this solid foundation is a constant effort, but necessary as the council strives to ensure that customers feel their voices are being heard with easy-to-use streams of interaction and engagement.

To do the area and its people justice, it is essential that the community continues to feel connected and proud of the space they live in. Modernisation and connection sit at the heart of this.


Interconnected strings

Within Southwark Council is the Income Operation service, which sits within Customer and Exchequer, handling all manner of tasks around Business Rates, Council Tax, Housing Benefit overpayments and Rent Collection. Digital has become an integral part of this area of the council, with its own strategy which fits into the wider Technology & Digital Inclusion Strategy at Southwark. Digital inclusion is important to make sure customers have a touchpoint with us and ensures no one is left behind.

As part of this strategy, we knew the department would have to undergo a significant transformation in terms of its digital service offering. With such an important task, finding the right partner and creating a partnership built on mutual understanding of customer communication was our starting point. To maximise our efforts, we chose IEG4’s OneVu Citizen Engagement platform to give us the extended resources and expertise to deliver enhanced services in Income Operation.


A platform built on automation

With the council’s previous experience in developing automation within other departments, it was crystal clear that it would be the golden key to the project. The first step was implementing automation into high volume customer interactions like Change of Address, Direct Debits and Single Person Discounts. This was quickly followed with automated Payment Arrangements, Student Exemptions and Refunds. This allows customers to quickly and easily notify the council with any changes which could affect their liability or payment method. This replaces the need for officer intervention, freeing up council employee time and streamlining the process for the customer.

Automating these aspects allows customers to readily access the important information about financial liabilities and debts, while speeding up the process. Beforehand, a change of liability would’ve resulted in a new Council Tax bill taking up to 11 days. Now, with the new automation, the bill is issued, and the customer’s account updated all within the space of 24 hours. No longer do customers have to wait around or chase for updates. As a result the council were able to reassign resources to other areas which contributed to a 22/23 in year collection improvement of 1.4% and arrears collection of £5.2m up by £2.6m from 21/22.

Furthermore, the platform manages the entire council tax e-billing process within their own secure MySouthwark customer portal, powered by IEG4’s OneVu platform. This automatically notifies customers when documents are ready to view, just like online banking. By automating this process, there has been a significant cost saving on reduced telephone contact, printing and postage, as well as a reduction in carbon footprint which makes sense for everyone.

The portal has proved very popular with customers too, with over 60,000 users signed up to e-billing. This alone equated to nearly £100,000 of cashable savings. We have also seen a rise in the usage of our online forms including 28,000 changes of address, 5,500 student exemptions and discounts, and 4,000 refunds – illustrating that the new platform is reaching the right people who need our help. Savings of over £500,000 are conservatively estimated with over £150,000 realised during FY 22/23 alone.

It is important that our digital services are accessible for our team at Southwark, too. For staff, training was straightforward and quick to deliver. The platform embodies a low-code capability to allow complex automations to be implemented rapidly, but its design is intuitive which means that all staff can pick up the platform simply. Building the automations involved revenues staff and their technical knowledge to enhance the design and technical development, testing and implementation. This enabled the platform to be as rich and as effective as possible in its delivery of services.


Driven by the customer

Such technology is customer-driven at its heart. This means that the platform works around the customer and their requirements, rather than the other way around. Information can be viewed at the customer’s convenience and communication with the council can be done at the time they need. Consequently, Southwark has witnessed a large reduction in the number of customers contacting directly, thus reducing the demand on the Customer and Exchequer contact centre by 50%.

A real-time survey has been developed within the e-billing and customer portal to give customers the opportunity to also express their thoughts on their interactions with the council via the platform, as well as suggest alternative times for contact. At first, we received a lot of feedback from users when experiencing difficulties, which allowed us to refine and redesign the platform accordingly. However, in a more recent Council Tax customer satisfaction survey, 75% of customers provided positive feedback, signifying just how integral the customer voice is to the improvement of our digital journey.


An ongoing transformation

Transforming our services as a council is an ongoing job, involving collaboration with our suppliers and other councils to build upon our learnings and create further complex automations. This includes customer self-service payment arrangements and automation for landlords, by bulk uploading change of addresses and integrating Open Banking with automation in the assessments of arrears payment affordability.

Constantly innovating the way we communicate with our customers is the core of our digital roadmap, and we realise that this approach is pivotal to our development within a complex digital society. There is a wealth of tools available to us to ensure that we engage people and look after the community in a way that will make us all proud of living in Southwark.


Topics: benefits, automation, revenues, citizenaccess, Innovation, Customer

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