To address Sandwell Council’s corporate wide transformation programme the self styled ‘A Team’ from the Revenues and Benefits department conducted a brainstorm . Aiming to meet continuous improvement standards, the ‘A Team’ identified that the department was not achieving desired levels of customer service for housing benefit enquires.
The critical concerns fell into three specific areas:
- Voice of the customer – the customers were not receiving a right first time service
- Critical to quality – the customer should receive the correct forms for the service sought
- Cost – unnecessary costs were being incurred by the department in sending out incorrect information and forms
The team collected data relating to housing benefits claims, which showed that:
- The team were sending out 4,836 claim forms and associated information annually, in response to calls left on the automated form request line at a calculated cost of £6.53 each. (Annual cost £31,579)
- Of these 66% (3,172) were not returned by customers. (Proportionate annual cost £20,713)
Of the returned claims, 1,070 were found to be ineligible, following clarification with customer over the phone. This re-work was calculated at £168 per week. (Annual cost £8,736)
- The percentage of right first time service to customers was only 16% i.e. 773 form requests.
How the issue was tackled
The team had previously built up their understanding and practise of the core continuous improvement tools and techniques during a three day training programme – delivered by a specialist team from Lean Education And Development.
Having defined the issue the team then used a structured A3 methodology along with other Lean techniques to establish the current state. By using and analysing data available to them they identified the levels and types of waste within their current business process. This created the starting point for problem resolution.
The team then applied a series of root cause analysis tools that consequently allowed the team to investigate and develop counter-measures to resolve the identified wastes and deficiencies in the service offer. As a result the team recommended a wholesale change in the way in which the claims management process was delivered. This included changes to policy, working practice and standard operations. In the main an upfront telephone intervention meant that the customers had an immediate response from the council, which quickly clarified their eligibility for benefit without having to work through forms that may not be relevant to them and ultimately may be declined. This avoided delays in processing the request whilst paperwork was tied up in the postal system.
These counter-measures and anticipated benefits were presented to a senior management team who agreed to the new process and confirmed that it should be implemented.
- Voice of the customer – This improvement in the process will create a move from a current state 16% right first time for the customer to a future state of near 100%
- Cost – the team calculated that by getting it right-first-time for the customer meant that re-work would be eliminated and the cost of sending out forms to ineligible customers would be removed. Total annual savings would be £35,268
- Recognition – the successful completion of this project provided sufficient evidence to allow all team members to become qualified in Business Improvement Techniques at level 2. The assessment of these qualifications was fully undertaken by Lean Education And Development assessors
- The “A Team” are now able to tackle further issues in a structured way thus embedding the culture of continuous improvement
- Corporate response – the corporation are sufficiently impresses with the success of the Revenues and Benefits projects to date that they are now making the training and recognition programme a corporate standard for all corporation staff
- Cost to the corporation – all continuous improvement development of staff and assessment are fully supported by the Train to Gain initiative and meets the costs of the embedded full time team provided by Lean Education And Development