St.Helens Council spearhead the launch of new Welcome to Excellence Course

St.Helens Council has always worked hard to ensure that its customers are highly satisfied with the services it provides and, as such, is currently a top rated four-star Council. With such a variety of customers (residents, businesses, visitors, students etc) and so many partners to work with, it can be a challenge to get it right every time, but being a four-star Council doesn’t mean it stops trying! Over recent years, this focus on the customer has continued to grow and in 2006, St.Helens Council recruited Julie Fox, as a Customer Focus Project Co-ordinator to drive improvements in Customer Focus and co-ordinate the Council’s approach. One of the key responsibilities of this new post was to create a programme of training that could be rolled out across all Council staff.

Julie says: “There were small pockets of training taking place but no co-ordinated approach. I wanted to establish a training programme that was really specific to the public sector and we had a few other stipulations as well. We wanted a programme that was well recognised, would provide an accreditation for staff and one that was proven to make a difference in the areas where the programme had already been rolled out.”

With a background in hospitality and tourism, Julie had herself taken part in ‘Welcome Host’ training some time ago. She approached local providers 'Lancashire and Blackpool Tourist Board' last year to investigate the possibility of creating a bespoke training scheme aimed at the needs of local councils and has been really impressed by their enthusiasm for the project.

Interest in the idea mushroomed and after winning an innovation bursary from the North West Improvement Network to pursue the development, Julie received grant funding and support from the Merseyside Capacity Building Group (MCBLG). This group is made up of Merseyside authorities along with the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service and was set up to share the good practice currently happening in the area and to build capacity on a Merseyside basis. The support from the MCBLG led to further local authorities getting involved in the project –Wirral Council, Sefton Council, Knowsley Council and the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service.

A small working group of Training and Development and Customer Services staff then began working with Regional Tourist Board Partnerships Ltd to design the customised course.

Julie says: “The new course is based on Welcome Host and contains a lot of the original activities, but with a bit of a twist. The material has been refreshed with up to date facts and figures and has been customised to make it relevant to people working in local authorities including the overall context on the role of local authorities and the importance of Customer Focus at the heart of everything we do.

“There has been quite a culture change in the public sector in recent years with much more awareness of the need to involve customers with the planning and delivery of services, encouraging feedback and two-way dialogue and really helping residents to get involved with the way money is spent and services are offered in their areas. The increasing importance of customer satisfaction is now very evident in the various performance indicators we measure our services against and performance assessments we undergo. Now councils are aiming to have much more interaction with customers and to get a real dialogue going to make sure that they are providing what their customers want. It is a time of real transformation for local authorities and this new course will help embed that into our culture.”

Within St.Helens Council, it is planned that ‘Welcome Host for Local Authorities’ will eventually be delivered to all 8000 existing staff, with new recruits attending the course as part of their induction process.

Julie says: “We are taking a department–based approach to the roll out of the training, with in-house trainers for some quite service-specific departments such as Adult Social Care and Health, Planning and Registrars and Children and Young People’s Services.

“By taking a department-based approach, the trainers can balance the messages of the course with any sensitivities related specifically to their own area of work. For example, if you are in Social Care and dealing with an emotional and sensitive situation, this needs to be taken into account. Their training needs to be about more than ‘smiling at the customer.’ However, the core customer care messages remain constant and can easily be applied right across the whole spectrum of local authority services.”

St.Helens Council will begin rolling out their initial courses in Spring 2008.
It is encouraged by feedback from Knowsley and Wirral Councils, both of which have already started running ‘Welcome Host for Local Authorities’ courses.

Julie says: “The feedback has been fantastic. Staff have really enjoyed the courses and got tremendous benefit out of them. One aspect that people particularly enjoy is that the courses are interactive. A lot of other training is very systems specific but the Welcome to Excellence training is interactive and that adds to the overall impact. We are already considering adapting the Welcome All and Welcome Management in the near future.”

“I am very excited about this course and I am certain that ‘Welcome Host for Local Authorities’ can make a very significant difference to authorities throughout the UK, helping them to put excellent customer service at the core of their operations. It’s about time Councils in the UK are recognised for their dedication to customer service and their determination to get it right despite the challenges we face.”

For further information, contact Julie Fox at St.Helens Council on 01744 671761

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