Enhancing the customer's experience

In 2015, South Somerset District Council joined the south-west cohort of the Design in the Public Sector (DiPS) Programme, run by Design Council and supported by the LGA, to support its work developing a ‘whole council’ approach to service transformation.

Design in the public sector

The council’s transformation programme was at an early stage when joining the DiPS Programme, and the team sought help with its high-level business case for investment by embedding a citizen-centered and design-led approach.

The Challenge

South Somerset, like many councils, faces considerable financial, managerial and technological challenges which will not be met effectively through uncoordinated and incremental improvements at a single service level. In a climate of reducing government grant, and with new opportunities from digital, mobile and cloud technologies, the council wanted to find different ways of working which will protect resources for the ‘frontline’ and continue to be an organisation ensuring South Somerset is a good place to live and work.

The council’s Transformation Programme aims to enhance the customers' experience and enable the council to respond to their changing needs and preferences. This will be achieved through changing the way its current service team structures are organised and by making more use of Electronic Document Management (EDM) and web-based technologies.

The design challenge posed was to increase the number of resident enquiries resolved at the first point of contact by improving the performance of the council’s current arrangements for customer handling. In addition the council must continue to respond locally to community issues and priorities and enable local action and involvement.

Engagement and action

The DiPS programme provided a useful framework for exploring and developing some of the key issues for the council’s transformation programme as part of its high-level business case. In particular, the workshops provided a challenge to the team’s work through application of the various Design Council tools and techniques in real time. Significant weight was given to the importance of vision and leadership and the effects of stakeholder interests and influence over design and outcomes for people. This helped to strengthen the business case through a series of stakeholder meetings to clarify the overall vision and design principles for the transformation programme.

During the programme the team commissioned a piece of ethnographic research based at three of the council’s community offices. This provided a richer customer insight to traditional customer surveys, contributing to the team’s understanding of more vulnerable residents, the benefits of joining up service provision and the opportunities to reduce the cost of contact.

The research explored the uses of the Community Office, customer perceptions of the service provided, and customer journeys to visiting the Community Office in person. For example:

Community Offices seemed to be providing a particularly valuable service to those with personal factors which may make it difficult or time consuming to communicate over the phone.

Face to Face was felt by these customers to be very important for them in being able to articulate their needs – the main motivation for visiting the Community Office in person was the peace of mind it gave them.

Customer Advisers were highly trusted by users of the service.

This work confirmed the importance of the service user perspective in detailed service design as the programme progresses and highlighted how changing the nature (and cost) of the service could be communicated with customers and staff.

Results – update November 2016

The high-level business case for the council’s Transformation Programme was approved by Full Council in March 2016 which established the the principles and vision for the Council Transformation Programme, together with the resources and governance that will lead to the adoption of a new operating model and refreshed technology platform.

The current phase is to develop a blueprint which includes a detailed organisational model with benefits realisation and implementation plans. In short, it will give a detailed understanding of what a genuinely transformed council would become.

South Somerset logic model


Charlotte Jones
Performance manager
South Somerset District Council