Tower Hamlets Council gets dramatic about customer service

The London Borough of Tower Hamlets has promoted best practice in key customer service issues, such as dealing with challenging customers and preventing or defusing awkward situations, using innovative drama-based training sessions.

Training specialist Steps Drama delivered the afternoon sessions at three conference training days which the council ran for the one hundred and fifty employees who deal with customers either on the telephone, in a contact centre, or face-to-face in one of the council’s four one-stop shops.

“We already provide a high standard of customer care but we have restructured our customer service teams and we wanted to get people together to reinforce the message that each customer is an individual,” said Claire Symonds, Customer Access Service Head at the council. “We provide a 24/7 front-line service, and it’s difficult to take people away from that, so we ran three events with fifty staff attending each day.”

Held outside the work environment, at the ‘Museum in Docklands’ near Canary Wharf, the conference events highlighted the council’s future plans for developing its customer service and reinforced its published standards for customer care. Facilitated workshops were also held to encourage the customer service professionals to work together more effectively.

“Prior to the events, Steps interviewed staff in our contact centre and one-stop shops and they used this information to develop some very impressive drama scenarios which they acted out at the conferences,” said Claire Symonds. “These scenarios provided practical demonstrations of customer service skills. They were very realistic and they highlighted some challenging situations.”

The interactive scenarios presented by the Steps actor-facilitators showed staff in a fictional council dealing with enquiries and also with angry and abusive customers, both face-to-face and over the telephone.

The scenarios sought to portray learning points such as the need to put the customer first; treating customers as individuals and not numbers; taking responsibility; having empathy; listening, not taking things personally; staying professional; being respectful and sensitive; getting the facts; presenting solutions and knowing the council’s policies and services.

Steps also arranged a separate voice training workshop at each of the conferences, to help the council’s customer service staff enhance the clarity and energy of their vocal communications. The hour-long workshop covered aspects such as posture/alignment, breathing and articulation.

“We received overwhelmingly positive feedback from the conference days,” said Claire Symonds. “The drama sessions highlighted best practice in customer care and we believe this will have a positive impact in further enhancing the professionalism and effectiveness of our teams.”

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