Posted on 1 July 2014
The Information Directorate (which emcompasses the Borthwick Institute along with the University Library and IT Services) is the first department in the University to be awarded Customer Services Excellence - and one of the first converged services (ie Library and IT Services) in Higher Education to receive it.
“The Information Directorate is a highly customer focused service delivered by staff who are professional, polite and helpful. It is a department which is forward thinking and proactive and considers the needs of all customers actively working to enhance services for those not currently engaged.”
Laura Dean, CSE Assessor.
Customer Service Excellence is a government backed industry standard that assesses whether services are efficient, effective, excellent, equitable and empowering – with the users always and everywhere at the heart of service provision. As a practical tool for driving customer-focused change it offers an external, and independent, accreditation which looks in detail at those areas that matter to customers when it comes to services - aspects such as delivery, timeliness, information, professionalism and staff attitude. The standard also places an emphasis on developing customer insight, understanding the user’s experience and robust measurement of service satisfaction. Achievement of the standard gives us formal recognition and a badge of quality, aiding promotion of the University overall as it can be used in our literature to attract and re-assure potential students about the quality of the service they will receive.
The accreditation itself was the culmination of many months of hard work - we’ve always aimed to offer excellent service, but working towards CSE gave us an opportunity to look closely at our services, processes and culture, and to make improvements to them where necessary. It was an opportunity for staff from across the three sections of the Directorate to meet, work together and share good practice.
Our approach to the accreditation process was to gather a team of CSE Champions from across the Directorate, and examine each of the criteria to identify how we met - or failed to meet - it. We had a core team who managed overall progress, and undertook the not insignificant task of preparing the documentation for submission and for the assessment visit itself - this work was led by Morag Lehrle, a Project Manager dedicated to this project, and by Jackie Knowles, Head of Customer Services. It was vital that we had buy in at all levels of the organisation.
Over the course of 18 months, we made (or formalised) a number of improvements to ensure that we met the criteria for the award - these included:
The process of preparing for our assessment was a positive one, and really brought to the surface a large amount of good practice. While the process of preparing our submission was undeniably time consuming, being ready to meet the standard across our various areas of activity didn’t actually generate a lot of extra work, it simply enabled us to close the loop on some work in progress, prioritise improvements in line with customer needs, and find the momentum to finish off and do some things we had identified we wanted to do anyway.
The assessment evaluates documentary evidence provided against 57 different criteria, and also involved the assessor meeting on-site with staff (from the Directorate and elsewhere in the University) and students to discuss their experiences of our services. With over 300 examples of evidence in our written submission and nearly 50 case studies to be shared, we weren’t short of stories to tell!
Our detailed results showed that we had four areas of partial compliance (those aspects where we could make further improvements to what we do), and two areas of compliance plus (things that we should promote and share with others as they are particularly strong areas of good practice). Staff across the Directorate are now all responsible for helping to make the improvements required, and maintaining our overall culture of putting customers at the heart of everything we do. To retain our accreditation we receive an annual revalidation visit, with a full re-accreditation visit every three years. These will usually take place in March each year. Ahead of our revalidation visit in March 2015, we will be working on our areas of partial compliance - in particular, reviewing our complaint handling and ensuring that we are measuring and reporting against our newly agreed standards.
We are particularly proud that we achieved two compliance pluses in our first year of assessment. We were commended for valuing our customer engagement highly and having developed a range of techniques to ensure that customers experiences and views are included. The assessment also identified particular strengths in learning from best practice and our staff being supported in presenting this externally, beyond the University.