By Georgianna Young, Customer Service and Business Support Manager at Waltham Forest Council
The Blue Badge scheme is a key service to so many people. It provides great support for people with disability or mobility issues, but often the application process can be off-putting and stressful. This is something my team immediately set out to change when I joined Waltham Forest Council.
I am a manager of the Families Business Hub at the council. That team that sits within our customer service directorate, which also includes councillor and executive support, libraries, registrar's, contact resolution centre, service improvement team, and also the business hub which provides support for finance, HR and Payroll.
We process around 4000 Blue Badge applications a year, which isn’t many compared to some authorities, but that doesn't detract from our desire to provide the best applicant experience possible.
An out-of-date application process
I joined the Council, in May last year, and one of the first tasks my head of service sent me was to look at reporting and data for all the teams within my area.
My background is mobility, so naturally I picked on mobility as one of the first departments to dive into. It's something that I was already familiar with and I knew what I was looking for in a well-managed service - anybody involved in concessionary travel knows what an emotive subject this is to residents, councillors, and MPs.
As soon as we began looking into the data of the service, alarm bells rang immediately.
It was clear that we weren't meeting the expectations of our applicants and we were providing a poor customer experience. There was a huge volume of calls into our contact centre, and sadly, the large volume of complaints was not only from residents but also from elected members and MPs.
I saw feedback from customers that they simply didn't know what was going on. They would submit their application to us and then hear nothing.
Equally there were challenges for the team. There was no visibility of how many applications there were in progress, and I had no idea what state they were in; were they waiting for payments? Are we waiting for information had we received payment and not issued? There was a complete lack of workflow.
It was very difficult for us to do any kind of quality control measuring on what we were doing and we didn't really understand or know where to look because of the disorganisation.
Creating better visibility
Things had to change. In 2021 we took a first step by procuring IEG4’s Digital Concessionary Travel System. The reason for this being its ability to address challenges that needed fixing for our residents.
We needed the ability for our customers to see the progress of their applications, a self-service portal where they could have 24/7 visibility, tracking and support. There was also a directive to reduce call volume and the portal facilitated that by directing people to make enquiries online.
We were also operating through historic processes. Although 90% our applications came in online, we still had an enormous amount of paper forms to deal with. So, I wanted to try and capture data in a way that would reduce that even further.
We also wanted powerful case management for the team, with dynamic workflows that enabled everyone to see exactly what was happening and when with just a few clicks.
A lot of local authorities will recommend 12 weeks for an application, but I believe this is outrageous, when you consider that a simple little plastic badge could be the difference between somebody leaving their home or not. 12 weeks to process an application is, in my eyes, unacceptable.
I had to look at how we could track performance against my processing time. What targets can we set so that every time we touch an application, the wait for feedback won't exceed two days - customers deserve that quality of service.
With the concessionary travel platform, we found a solution that managed to join these elements together.
Putting everything into place
When it came to implementation, I had to be clear about what we wanted and needed to gain the support of the wider council.
Our supplier was instrumental in pulling together information around the architecture and security, in order for us to create a clear plan for our technical design team. The information they provided was second to none.
Our project started late August 2021. We completed procurement in October, and we went live on the 16th of December. Go-live quick, painless, and very well supported.
Despite being live, a project team continues to check in with me regularly, and to this day I still feel like I have their guidance whenever needed.
We're not finished yet. We're still on a journey.
Now we’re live with the new Blue Badge application process it's been a storming success with our customers and with our team. Next, we're going to start work on freedom policies with taxi cards to follow shortly after.
Overall, I have to say my experience with working with a concessionary travel platform has been nothing but positive. The software is incredibly user friendly and easy to learn, and the team are always on hand for any support required.
Blue Badge is such an important service to so many, and as a result it requires a trustworthy and robust solution to ensure that customer expectations can not only be met, but they can be exceeded.