In August 2015 the Fish Health Inspectorate (FHI) achieved the prestigious Customer Service Excellence (CSE) Standard, and I want to show you how we did it.
About the standard
The CSE Standard is run by the Cabinet Office, and recognises organisations that are “efficient, effective, excellent, equitable and empowering”. These organisations must put the needs of the customer at the heart of the service they provide.
The standard is tough to achieve. Your organisation is tested in 57 criteria across 5 service areas, which are:
- staff attitude
To pass you must provide evidence to achieve at least 80% compliance across these criteria, and you cannot fail a single one. Also it places great importance on measuring customer satisfaction and how you use these insights to improve.
Assessment is through evidence and an audit. However there 2 thing areas which set CSE apart: it relies on you displaying a culture of customer focus throughout your staff, and it expects you to set future targets.
Finding an assessor
We started in 2014 and had to choose one of the four suitable assessment bodies. We did this based upon how simple their evidence submission process was, and how many other organisations they had certified.
We chose G4S as they provided a pre-assessment service and had an online evidence submission system. This meant we’d get areas for improvement before the final assessment, and assessors could easily review our evidence prior to visiting to save us time.
Getting evidence together
We then collated evidence for all 57 criteria. Once gathered, we simply uploaded them the G4S’s secure evidence database. This system also let us add comments to justify evidence, which was helpful as some areas were being implemented for the first time.
As the assessment is across 5 categories, some of our evidence was used in numerous areas. Also the assessor reassured us that you’re not expected to fully comply will all criteria of the Standard on your first attempt. Working through the criteria we realised many pieces of our evidence were already in place – such as policies created by the Civil Service, and Cefas. Some evidence was present but just required additional or formal documentation.
However we didn’t have evidence for every criteria. To fill some of these gaps we had to develop a customer satisfaction feedback process, which required new tools. One of these is Customer Thermometer. This service allows us to cheaply get feedback on all our interactions with customers by email. They can quickly and easily log a positive, neutral or negative response with a single click of a button. And the results are even published in real time on our FHI Facebook page.
This system meant we could then collate feedback about how well our team was providing service to customers. This feedback was used to start creating targets for dealing with responses, which we now publish on GOV.UK, and for publicising the expectations all customers can have of our service and staff.
Getting through the assessments
In March 2015 we’d gathered enough evidence and booked our pre-assessment. The G4S assessor arrived, went through all of our documents, questioned staff, and outlined areas for improvement. From his feedback, we prioritised improving 7 criteria to meet the Standard. The pre-assessment also helped us to identify criteria that would be long term goals.
A few months later, and after a lot of work, we nervously applied for the final two day formal assessment. We felt anxious on the first day with our assessor, as he chatted with both staff and our customers.
As much of our evidence had been pre-assessed, the assessor had more time to watch our activities and interactions with customers. So he quickly gained a practical understanding of the varied roles and duties we deliver.
On the second day he accompanied our Inspector on a fish farm visit. The assessor asked tricky questions and also talked to the customer. The inspection went well, especially as it involved an enforcement action, and we nervously awaited the outcome decision.
The final decision
The assessor spent an hour alone reviewing our case. He then called us together and quickly delivered the verdict; we had passed. But we would only receive the formal outcome once his report was audited by the Cabinet Office.
Given the months of hard work and preparation, this meeting was the highlight of our assessment. The assessor complimented our attitudes, professionalism and commitment to provide a good service to all customers. He noted that this was hard given our regulatory role.
The assessor also explained areas where we had only partial compliances. And talked through his future recommendations about where we should focus our efforts.
A week later we received official confirmation that the FHI had been awarded the CSE Standard. We were especially proud that we are the first team in Defra’s Executive Agencies to achieve it, and join others including Natural England and the Environment Agency.
The FHI is now in a rolling 3 year programme of annual assessments to maintain the Standard. An independent assessor will expect to see continuous improvement in criteria where we got partial compliances. So we've decided to focus the first year on meeting 3 of these criteria.
Should you go for it?
The experience has been brilliant and made our team focus more on the customers' needs. The Standard is also a useful existing framework which can be used to benchmark yourself against. It helps build team and individual skills around the key areas of customer focus and satisfaction - an important area for government. We’d recommend applying if you are a customer facing team, as ultimately it is an independent validation of your delivery standards.
It’s also nice that you get to use the CSE Standard hallmark on your publications. This gives customers confidence that they are dealing with a high performing, customer focused team, and is a sign of what we've achieved.
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