The target for Elevate was to process new claims and change events within 17 days (combined performance). Actual performance was 43 days in April and 39 days in May. This was totally unsatisfactory performance and poor customer service. There were a disproportionate number of documents and customer contacts being received by the service, incoming post contained far too many complaints and appeals, and queues at our Customer Services One Shops were mainly worried customers chasing the progress of their claims. Once claims were eventually assessed, customers then didn’t understand their posted entitlement letter and returned to our offices for clarification, creating even more non value visits from a customer point of view.
It was clear to us where the problem lay. Benefit claims can be processed within one hour if they are complete with all information, but they were never complete. The information gathering process we were using was slow and ineffective, with letters ‘ping ponging’ from our back office to customers in the post. A 38 page complex claim form was being filled in c by the ‘least expert’ person – the customer, and mistakes were made on the forms. All of the expertise was in the back office and customers had no access to it. And in the back office, the culture was that customers were an inconvenience and an interruption to daily work.
The client wanted improvement in the time taken to assess benefit claims and in customer satisfaction. To achieve this, we had to change the way we delivered the service.
What Was The Challenge?
The challenge was to overhaul the way the benefits service was delivered to the public. This was not a straightforward task, as staff had become accustomed to working in the back office and, in many ways, customers had become a piece of paper them. Our staff had lost touch with the fact that they were dealing with people’s lives. We needed to restore the direct interaction between the customer and the benefit expert.
Customer journey mapping of claiming benefit indicated a painful journey. Customers would submit a claim form, often incorrectly completed, which would make its way to the back office to be worked on. Staff in the back office staff would write to the customer asking for supporting evidence to verify their claim. The customer would then return to the One Stop Shop, hand in their documents and go home again. Eventually the back office staff would review the documents and decide that something was missing, and write to the customer again, forcing the customer to return to the back into the office yet again. Once benefit was eventually awarded a letter would be sent to the customer explaining entitlement. The customer wouldn’t understand the complex entitlement letter and come in yet again. In some instances a claimant could visit the office at least three or four times before eventually completing the process.
Our solution was to implement ‘Benefits Direct’. Benefits Direct was first piloted in Barking Learning Centre (BLC) One Stop Shop in August 2011. Six experienced benefit officers from the back office were transferred to the front counter. With expertise now on the frontline, officers are able to deal with customers claims from the initial application through to the award of benefit (end to end). Claim forms are checked by the expert and a ‘shopping list’ of further information or evidence requirements is given to the customer. The customer then goes home to get the information and returns to the office. The very same Benefit Officer is on hand to award benefit and explain entitlement to the customer. In many instances a customer walks into the office in the morning and walks out one hour later knowing that their benefit claim has been assessed, with understanding of their entitlement letter. Following a successful pilot in BLC, the Benefits Direct service was extended to our second One Stop Shop in Dagenham, in November 2011.
In November 2011, we also launched our new ‘on-line’ service (MyAccount). Customers who visit either One Stop Shop are assisted by Customer Services Officers to register for MyAccount and then assisted in completing an on-line claim form, which is housed in MyAccount. The on line form is interactive and only asks relevant questions based on answers given. In some instances, a complex 38 page application form is cut down to a 2 page form. A Customer Services Officer then prints a Request for Further information (if one is required) and discusses with the customer about returning with the information as quickly as possible. If no further information is required, the customer is routed straight over to the benefits expert and has their claim paid there and then. In these instances, the end to end process of awarding Housing Benefit is completed within an hour and customers have been amazed.
Further potentially unnecessary visits to our One Stop Shops are prevented, as the customer also goes away with logged on access to our On-Line account (MyAccount) and can serve themselves in the future.
Benefits Direct has improved the customer experience for claiming benefit. The time taken to pay new claims and action changes in circumstances reduced from 43 days at the beginning of the year to just 11 days at the end of 2011/2012. The overall time to process new claims that are submitted by post is around 20 days whereas claims that are administered at our One Stop Shops by Benefits Direct are dealt with on average between 5 to 8 days. Changes are dealt with between 8 to 12 days.
Customer feedback has been extremely positive. At the end of each visit, customers are asked to rate our service as either Excellent, Good, Fair or Poor. Well over 95% of customers rate us as either ‘Excellent’ or ‘Good’
Staff satisfaction and motivation has also increased. Staff who were reluctant to volunteer for frontline duties at the beginning of this project no longer want to return to back office duties.
Expensive paper claim forms no longer need to be ordered and our on line claim form simplifies the claiming process no end by eliminating the unnecessary questions for our customers. Resources in our Business Support section have been diverted to other duties as claim forms no longer need to be scanned onto our Document Management System.
The Department for Work and Pensions Universal Credit Implementation team have visited the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham and were suitably impressed with the front line service we provide to our customers and have taken away the principal of our ideas for use in the implementation of Universal Credit.