TAMESIDE Council is to look at transforming the way its customer services department works after the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.
However, face-to-face appointments will be kept as an option after staff admitted about a quarter of people dealt with remotely over the period would have been better assisted.
The digital first approach is being recommended after previously the drop-in service at Tameside One fund itself often swamped with all kinds of queries.
Now a review is recommending making sure anyone who can be dealt with without visiting the building is in that way on a more permanent basis.
However, if it is felt someone needs a face-to-face appointment, they can get one in the proposal, which will save the authority up to £97,000 a year.
A report to Tameside Council’s executive cabinet for its Wednesday, January 26 meeting states: “The proposed service model for the future would be based on providing the most appropriate access channel according to customers’ requirements
“It would be very similar to the current offer but with the addition of face-to-face contact where necessary and only for those where other channels would not be suitable.
“The principles would be not to re-open the drop-in customer service centre based in Tameside One in Ashton in the previous format, retain Level Two enquiries (book, pay, request a service and verification of housing benefit documents) at all Tameside Libraries, promote, encourage and support a digital-first model with the expectation that where possible, residents should self-serve utilising the Council website or other technology such as mobile applications where available.”
It adds: “Where this is not possible, provide a supported service offer over the telephone, web chat, email etc to assist customers with their enquiries and where more detailed assistance is required, for example completing a housing benefit application, a telephone call back service by appointment would be available.
“Face-to-face appointments only for the most vulnerable to ensure that residents are able to access services and assistance without disadvantage.
“There is no doubt that some customers may be more vulnerable and/or do need additional support to access services or make enquiries.”
During the period between January 26, last year and November 15, Tameside’s customer services officers provided 485 customers with assistance by telephone to complete housing benefit and council tax support applications.
And the report continues: “It is probably fair to conclude that if a customer has accessed a service by an alternative channel whilst face to face customer services has been suspended, and that contact produced the required results to satisfy the enquiry, being able to access again by that method in the future would be preferable to making the trip to customer services and queuing up at a drop in service with no guarantee of not having a long wait time.
“Overall, the proposed new model would transform the customer services offer, taking into account peoples changing attitudes to accessing services and it would enhance the previous model by the introduction of telephone appointments whilst still retaining face to face in a tailored, bespoke manner.
“By offering face to face on an appointment basis this will negate the requirement to queue up and wait to see a customer services officer at busy times which will further benefit customers.”
Despite that, Tameside has vowed to work on its digital arm after comments about contacting it and its customer experience.
And it conceded: “From the consultation, it is clear that for a new model to be successful face to face customer service should be retained.
“Customer services officers are of the view that around 25 per cent of customers assisted would have benefitted from a face to face appointment had this been available.
“The consultation responses overwhelmingly support that face to face customer service be retained under any new model.
“It is therefore proposed that a new customer service delivery model should encourage, promote and support self-serve digital first via the website or applications where available but retain other supported channels, telephone, web chat, email etc. for those who need additional assistance.
“Telephone appointments would be a feature in the model along with face to face appointments for those who require this.”