Chapter 4: Process
61. Officially from March 2013 the Enquiry Point became part of the COPFS Customer Care Unit in the Corporate Service Group which is headed by the Deputy Chief Executive.
62. Day to day structure of the Enquiry Point is as follows:
63. The Enquiry Point Manager is responsible for maintaining services, monitoring performance and involvement in projects where it is felt that input from the Enquiry Point could be beneficial. This post is supported by an administrative manager who oversees the day to day running of the service, for example monitoring system performance (calls waiting, etc., arranging rotas, advising and supporting staff, training, etc.
64. Enquiry Point operators are responsible for answering calls and dealing with them until resolution or up to the point of transfer and updating the Enquiry Point database.
65. At the start of this review (November 2012) we were advised that there were 10 part-time vacancies for Enquiry Point operators and that this was having an effect on performance. This can be seen in the 'Waiting Time' analysis at Chapter 9 - 'Monitoring Performance' which showed a vast increase in time for calls to be answered. By the end of 2012, 8 of these posts had been filled including 4 modern apprenticeships8 with a further 5 part-time posts advertised in February 2013. Management expect performance to improve and pressure to decrease on experienced staff.
66. There is a dedicated VIA Officer who takes transferred calls from victims, witnesses and bereaved nearest relatives. This post was an addition to the Enquiry Point as a need was identified initially for dealing with calls in relation to cases that were marked no proceedings. The post can also take calls for VIA cases nationally and is able to provide more information than Enquiry Point operators by9:
- providing general information and advice about how the criminal justice system works and what can be expected in relation to the particular case type;
- providing updates on the progress of the case (including court dates, bail information and sentencing decisions);
- arranging for witnesses to be shown round the court before a trial;
- discussing any additional requirements (for example, access to court or needing an interpreter);
- obtaining the views of eligible witnesses about special measures that might help when giving evidence;
- offering details of organisations that can offer practical and/or emotional support, facilitating contact where appropriate.
67. Enquiry Point operators have generally been recruited externally due to poor take-up from COPFS staff possibly because most posts are filled on a part‑time fixed term basis. Managers advised that part‑time10 is the preferred option as they feel it is easier to manage and maintain continuous services.
68. Recent adverts for staff have been on fixed term basis with a possibility of permanency which means that the maximum period of employment under this contract is four years11. As highlighted below it is felt that fixed term posts have implications on turnover of staff. IPS consider that with posts being advertised on a fixed term basis there is a bias towards external recruitment as COPFS staff are only likely to transfer to such posts on a permanent basis.
69. A further implication is the learning curve in the time it takes staff who are unfamiliar with COPFS practice to become proficient. If posts were filled by staff who already have knowledge of COPFS policies and systems there would be a shorter timeframe to become fully productive as an Enquiry Point operator.
70. Reviewing performance can help forecast future activity which can be translated into staffing and methods of meeting demands eg shift patterns. Consideration should be given to volume of contacts broken down by time of day, day of week and time of year; waiting time; length of time on call; responses to stimulus eg press coverage etc.
71. The system used by the Enquiry Point provides managers with this type of information which is used to address patterns in activity and thus allows them to forecast future activity although in real terms there have been no major trends or patterns identified.
72. In response to a change in patterns rotas may be changed, staff may be asked to work additional hours or changes may be made to staffing compliment. For example, it was initially expected at planning and set up stage that there would be a need for 32 full-time equivalent operators but as a result of reviewing activity before full implementation this was quickly reduced to 21 and then again to 14, the current staffing compliment for Enquiry Point operators (see also below at overtime/additional hours).
73. There has been a history of high turnover of staff in contact centres and it is known to be a concern for managers in charge of such a service. However, in the current economic climate one would expect this to reduce as more people hang on to jobs.
74. We were advised that over the last year and a half vacancies were filled on a fixed term basis. Information provided to us showed that staff turnover in 2012 had been 1.4 on average per month (or 7% attrition rate) with an unusually high turnover in quarter three. Management considered that recruitment through fixed term appointments was a factor in this as staff leave to take up permanent posts but the current Civil Service recruitment rules in Scotland do not allow permanent recruitment other than specialist posts.
75. Staff at the Enquiry Point indicated that they felt increased pressure due to staff shortages and they acknowledged management difficulties associated with this. Recent recruitment included four modern apprenticeship posts where employment will last for at least 2 years which should help alleviate this issue and fixed term posts have been advertised with a view to permanency which can be continued up to a maximum of 4 years. Management expect performance to improve and for pressure to be reduced on existing members of staff.
76. The average attrition rate in the Enquiry Point compares favourably with industry standard attrition rates.
77. Absence can have an effect on how well a service is provided. Management of the Enquiry Point monitor absence and follow the COPFS sickness absence policy. Amendments will be made to rotas or staff will be offered additional hours if there is a need for cover.
78. Figures provided showed that August and September 2012 had the highest number of absence days. This coincides with the higher turnover of staff during that period where results show that performance fell (see Chapter 9, Monitoring Performance). As indicated above management hope that recruitment of staff will help improve performance.
79. Details of overtime/additional hours showed that in year ending 31 December 2012 a total of 299612 additional hours were worked by Enquiry Point staff. This works out at approximately 58 hours per week.
80. Figures provided by COPFS Finance Division showed that in periods 1 - 9 (April to December) of financial year 2012/1313, 9.4% of staffing costs related to overtime/additional hours.
81. We wondered if there was an increase in additional hours as a result of high absence and the unusually high turnover of staff in quarter three, however, it was noted that the first quarter also showed a high number of additional hours worked.
82. With the number of additional hours worked and overtime costs we did consider that it would be worth looking at staffing ratios especially at a time of structure change when the Enquiry Point will be taken under the control of the new Customer Care Unit. In the interim, however, a further 5 part-time posts have been advertised.
83. All new staff are expected to complete the COPFS corporate induction package. They are also provided with a standard training pack which includes:
- Cisco agent user guide
- Telephone techniques and hints
- Mandatory e-learning modules
- Reading materials relating to COPFS processes eg solemn, summary, direct measures, witness citations, etc./li>
- COPFS common terminology and jargon
- Crown Office circulars
- Explanations of different courts
- List of towns in different police divisions
84. Further to this they are all given time for a court visit, a visit to a working office, COPFS systems training (PROMIS, SOS, etc. and are provided with on the job training using the telephony system and completion of the database.
85. Research performed by Contact Babel14 showed that mentoring, real work call-taking and buddying were most effective methods of providing induction all of which is used by the Enquiry Point.
86. Enquiry Point staff advised that the training pack required updating as some have instructions/circulars that others don't. This has come about through new instructions/circulars or change in process being emailed but not all staff copying them and including them in the pack.
It is recommended that the Enquiry Point Training Pack is reviewed and updated to include all new practices and guides.
87. Staff also advised that there was a lot of reading material and it was difficult to get time to read these effectively or do the required online training especially when there is a shortage of staff. They also indicated that there has been a lot of change in COPFS practice and structure recently and it has been difficult to keep up with this.
88. New staff in the Enquiry Point are expected to complete induction training within 4 weeks. However, in reality staff advised that it takes longer than this to become fully productive as they need to be well versed in COPFS policy and practice eg if someone asks what they should do if they cannot attend court as a witness due to illness or how long is it expected to take for a case to be processed through court.
89. This was something that was identified as part of our own customer feedback where it was felt that some operators were 'better than others' and that this could be a result of 'training needs for newer members of staff' or 'depend on experience'.
90. IPS noted while listening into calls during a visit to the Enquiry Point that enquiries are very varied and can be challenging. This again was identified as part of our own survey where COPFS staff indicated that they appreciate the enquiries are wide-ranging and can be difficult.
91. The industry standard15 to become fully productive is much higher at around 10 weeks so perhaps staff should be given a longer time to become fully versed in all aspects of the COPFS. Staff we spoke to would welcome additional time for training.
It is recommended that consideration is given to allowing additional training time to allow Enquiry Point staff to become fully versed in all aspects of COPFS practice.
92. Other training is identified through performance appraisal and attendance on courses is approved and arranged through the administrative manager however, again staff indicted that it is difficult to get time to attend out of office training especially during staff shortages.
93. Given the unusual situation of 10 part-time vacancies in November 2012, 8 of which have now been filled with a further 5 recently advertised, there will be a proportion of lost time as new recruits learn on the job and experienced staff support them therefore there may be an impact on performance during this period.
94. One particular area of training that staff felt would be useful that is not included in the training programme relates to dealing with emotional callers. Although these callers are likely to be passed to the VIA Officer, Enquiry Point operators still have to take the initial call and would welcome inclusion of this type of training.
It is recommended that training on how to deal with emotional callers is identified and included in the Enquiry Point training programme.
95. Call monitoring is useful for coaching and development. It can be done by double jacking; silent call monitoring or call recording equipment.
96. The Enquiry Point uses call monitoring as a training tool. Managers can listen into conversations and look out for good conversation indicators such as those described in COI's 'Better Practice Guidance for Government Contact Centres':
- Initial greeting
- Customer acknowledgement
- Using courteous statements
- Displaying empathy
- Keeping customer informed when keying in information
- Listening effectively
- Quality of voice tone and pitch
- Effective use of questions
- Adhering to script
- Using positive words
- Reaffirming call outcomes
- Ending the call - offering additional help to the caller
97. In addition all calls since the establishment of the Enquiry Point have been recorded. Calls identified by managers as particularly good or bad are used as part of a training programme. This is useful use of the available material.
98. The COPFS performance appraisal system is followed in the Enquiry Point. All staff received their annual and interims report on time where objectives were agreed and training identified.
Keeping Staff Informed:
99. Managers advised IPS that staff are kept informed through team briefings and email. However they acknowledge that team briefings are not held regularly as there is difficulty taking staff offline due to the constant need to cover phones in order to provide a good service. In attempts to address this the administrative manager now tries to speak with three staff at a time and refers to a list of items to be discussed. This is a sensible alternative.
100. Staff we spoke to indicated that team briefings are not held often enough and in fact they had not had one in three months at the time of our visit. They see team briefings as a good forum that allows them to be kept up to date and raise issues or suggestions for improvement. They indicated that they would like more communication and would like to be involved in team building exercises.
101. There has been considerable change in COPFS practice and structure recently and team briefs are very good way of communicating such change. It is therefore important that staff are kept up to date and feel involved.
It is recommended that in accordance with COPFS policy efforts are made to carry out team briefings at least monthly.
Autumn 2012 People Survey
102. The COPFS people survey 2012 showed an 86% response rate from Enquiry Point. In the main the scores are slightly higher compared with the overall COPFS analysis.
103. Low points for the Enquiry Point where there is a lower score than average COPFS score include: having choice in deciding how work is done; manager's openness to ideas; recognition of a job well done; working as a team to find ways to improve the service and come up with better ways of doing things. These reflect what has been said above regarding team briefings where there is little opportunity to raise issues and suggestions for improvement.
104. Low points where the percentage of positive responses are low (below 30%) include: the feeling of being involved and deciding how to do the work; how learning and development has helped improve performance and develop career; opportunities to develop; how well change is managed. Again this reflects lack of involvement and how staff feel about training.
105. High points where the percentage of positive responses are high (over 70%) include an interest in the work; understanding of COPFS purpose and objectives; consideration of life outside work; clarity of what is expected; good work/life balance. This indicates that staff know what is expected of them and that they have a good work/life balance probably since the majority work part‑time.