Wrexham County Borough Council – customer-focused communications – using technology to support our residents

As part of wider efforts to improve frontline services for customers, Wrexham’s County Borough Council’s customer service and digital teams worked together to tackle the challenge of helping local people remember their bin collection days. Digital projects officer Huw Ap Dewi explains how collaboration and technology helped make a difference for local people.

Communications support

The challenge

Anyone who works in a council knows how big an issue bins can be. Questions about collections days or calls about missed bins account for a large number of calls we get to our customer services team. Very often the issues are as a result of people putting out the incorrect bin or by putting the wrong things in their recycling which means our teams can’t collect them. As a council we wanted to look at innovative ways of addressing this without creating more bureaucracy for our residents, increasing costs or impacting our frontline teams. Ultimately, we also wanted to reduce the volume of calls to our contact centre.

The solution

We decided to introduce targeted email bulletins especially designed to remind people which bins to put out and explain what materials they could and couldn’t recycle. We had already been making good use of email bulletins in other areas of the council and we wanted to see whether something even more highly targeted could work effectively. We worked closely with digital colleagues to develop a bulletin that would be easy for people to subscribe to and only required people to tell us once which bin collection schedule they were on. We wanted to keep it as simple as possible for our residents to encourage uptake, and also keep it simple for our digital team so that they didn’t have to undertake complex or time consuming work to prepare the bulletins for distribution. We also made sure that the bulletins were sent out to subscribers the afternoon before bin collection rounds. We know that people often put their bins out for collection the night before so we wanted to make sure we designed something that arrived with subscribers at the point they were completing that action, rather than arrived too early and caused people to forget.

Of equal importance to the technology was an accompanying communications plan which explained how customers could sign up for these bulletins. We developed simple, key messages which we shared across a range of channels to encourage sign up and explained our new activity to service areas so that colleagues across the council could also spread the message. Our customer contact centre was also provided with full details about the bulletins so that they could directly explain the service to customers who had contacted them with bin enquiries. 

The impact

Since introducing automatic reminders in 2016 we have seen a 48 per cent reduction in calls about the wrong bins being out coming into our contact centre. We have also seen a 27 per cent reduction in bins not being collected due to contamination issues. This reduction had meant that our call centre staff have more capacity to support residents with other issues. Automating the service has also meant that our digital and communications colleagues have saved time on distributing bulletins manually.

Why it worked / how we’re sustaining it

A big reason for the success of this project is that it tackled a genuine organisational challenge. The data we had collected from the call centre clearly showed that missed bins were a problem and we used technology to directly tackle something that was negatively impacting our customers. It was also simple to use for residents, clear to read on both desktop and mobile devices and made effective use of colours and imagery so that even people quickly glancing at the message could get an easy, visual reminder of which bins to put out (garden waste reminders used a green colour palette, while general waste used grey). The technology also sat alongside a comprehensive communications plan which focused on communicating the benefits of the bulletin and integrated our key messages across a range of channels so that we could maximise the reach of our message and encourage a wider audience to consider signing up.

Lessons learned

When we first introduced the programme our digital team was manually scheduling the bulletins to send out. This was time consuming and so we decided to upgrade our platform and introduce an automatic scheduling function. In hindsight introducing this from the start would have been more effective and created less impact on our staff.

We also learned the importance of making sure the content itself addressed the challenges facing residents, as well as the technology making things easier. We didn’t notice any impact on our waste contamination rates until we added information that directly outlined what people could and couldn’t put into different bins. Once we introduced that, in a straight forward, plain English (and Welsh) way, which was also easy to read, we started to see improvements right away. Technology can make life much easier for residents, but your content still has to be strong and you still have to be using it to address real organisational problems. 

Want to know more?

For more information please contact Huw Ap Dewi, Digital projects officer, at Wrexham County Borough Council.