14th December 2009 - UPDATED 22nd February 2010

Council Customer Satisfaction Surveys

On 20th November, a Forum Member sent the following email to Cllr Borthwick:-

“Dear Sirs/Madam,

Last night I received a phone call from a company asking me questions on what I thought about my rubbish collections.

Some questions I would like you answer on the subject.

  • I have my details removed from the electoral register so I don’t get my info sold/passed on to anyone, he told me that the council had given his company my name and phone no: Why were my details given to him?
  • How much am I paying in council tax for this waste of time service from this consultancy. (as soon as I hear the word CONSULTANCY I know it involves a rip off and over priced services)
  • He started asking questions using the 1-5 , are you happy with such and such, a pretty useless system that gets answers you lot want, I put it to him that I couldn't answer the questions like that because it didn't cover my thoughts, the phone then went dead. Surprise, surprise answers too much for this Mickey Mouse survey. Again how much am I paying for this and how many other surveys are you conducting using MY money?”

Cllr Whittaker (also supported by Cllr Roger West) referred the matter to the Partnerships and Improvement Department, Bournemouth Borough Council, who responded as follows:-

“Our telephone research agency, Hill Taylor, has confirmed that the call was made by them on behalf of the Council. The agency are a registered data holder for the purposes of market research and buy in contact details from legitimate commercial sources. I have already asked them not to contact you again for any future Council surveys. However if you have any further queries about the data they hold you are very welcome to contact Barry Wilson at Hill Taylor on 01395 222242 for more information.

The Council conduct this survey every month at a cost of approximately £1000. It covers a number of different services and helps us monitor how well we are performing so that we can improve or adjust our services where necessary. In the past as a direct result of residents’ feedback, this survey has resulted in a new evening cleaning shift being introduced in the Town Centre and new area based teams being brought in to combat fly tipping. Even at a time of reducing budgets, customer feedback remains important as we need to monitor and be aware of the effects of changes in service provision on customers.

I hope this clears things up a little...

.....Consultation and Engagement Manager”

Cllr Whittaker points out that information could be collected through the usual channels, e.g. Councillors, BH Life and Area Forums. The Council’s Consultation and Engagement Manager also confirmed:-

“Just to clear up the issue around releasing names and addresses - the Council did not release (Name of Resident) name and contact details. The telephone research agency are a registered data holder for the purposes of market research and buy in contact details from legitimate commercial sources. I have asked the agency not to contact (name of Resident) again for Council surveys and supplied (him) with their contact details should he want further information from them about the data they hold.”


“...Thank you for your comments about the Council’s customer satisfaction surveys.

As with anything there are pros and cons. The overwhelming benefit of using telephone surveys over other methods is the reliability and representativeness of the feedback as well as the quantitative format which enables service managers to use the data to compare and monitor service performance over time. However as you have pointed out there is a cost attached.

At this time of budget pressures it is quite right to question the value of the various services and activities we engage in and I welcome a debate around what value the Council wishes to place on enabling residents to help shape services. I’ve spent some time putting together the attached briefing note to fully explain the rationale behind our use of telephone surveys for customer satisfaction monitoring purposes. I hope you find it useful.

I’d also like to remind you about our E-Panel which we are currently seeking to develop as a new low cost survey option - see www.bournemouth.gov.uk/epanel. At the moment take up from residents is still very low so any help that Members can offer in promoting it would be much appreciated.”

Briefing note re customer satisfaction surveys:

Why do we monitor customer satisfaction with services?

The Council’s customer satisfaction monitoring programme (Measuring Up) gives service managers and Members measurable and comparable performance management data based on customers’ satisfaction levels with some of our key services.

The research measures customer satisfaction through a series of ongoing monthly telephone surveys with residents. Managers set specific quarterly performance targets for their services and use the survey results to benchmark and monitor performance against these over time.

How are the results reported?

Results are published quarterly and exception reports are provided to the Cabinet and the relevant Overview and Scrutiny Panels. The full results are also published on the Bournemouth 2026 Consultation Tracker and promoted on the Council’s main website and the Council Information Bulletin (CIB).

What are the outcomes?

Customer satisfaction monitoring gives

  • Service users direct input into shaping services, in a sound and on-going way.
  • Members information on service satisfaction levels and the opportunity to input into the setting of improvement targets.
  • Managers the data they need to determine where resources should be focused and prioritised in terms of service improvement.

In recent years, the Measuring Up programme has contributed to decisions to introduce service improvements such as:

  • Extra staff brought in to deal with drop in satisfaction with ‘time to answer call’ at the contact centre.
  • The introduction of an evening cleansing shift to help combat falling satisfaction with litter in town centre.
  • Area based teams responding on a 12-hour removal target to deal with falling satisfaction with ‘fly tipping’.
  • New staff members recruited and trained to deal with low satisfaction with ‘speed at which calls answered’ in benefits.
  • A £30,000 chewing gum removal programme to improve satisfaction with the service

Which services commission the surveys and how much does it cost?

The following services participate in the Measuring Up programme on an ongoing monthly basis:

  • Benefits (one quarter per annum only)
  • Cleansing and waste customer contact centre
  • Highways maintenance
  • Housing landlord
  • Recycling collection
  • Refuse collection
  • Street cleansing
  • Council communications

The telephone agency’s fee for conducting these ongoing regular surveys is currently approximately £25,000 per year.

Other services also benefit from the Measuring Up surveys by having the opportunity to add extra questions at a more cost effective rate as and when the need arises.

Why use telephone interviews to gather feedback from local people?

Telephone surveys have a very high response rate of approx 80%. This is primarily because the respondent is not required to be pro-active in any way ie does not have to make the effort to go out to a meeting, seek out information, remember to post something etc. A high response rate is a key way of eliminating bias in survey results and thus making the findings more reliable and representative of the wider population.

Other methods of capturing customers’ opinions are less representative of the population e.g. postal surveys only get between 20% and 40% response rates (even with reminders) and tend to get too few responses from younger working residents. The telephone survey methodology not only gets a much higher response rate but also enables the interviewer to work to a quota e.g. for each age group etc to ensure that there is an even spread of people involved.

By using telephone surveys to monitor performance, service managers can be sure that the feedback they are basing their decisions on is reliable and representative of the wider population. Service changes introduced on the basis of ad-hoc customer complaints and feedback alone could in some instances lead us to make a wrong decision or use resources unnecessarily if we do not know how many other customers are of the same view. It could be for example that only a very small number of people feel that way or attach as much importance to the issue.

In the early days of Measuring Up we did try out postal surveys as an option but the number of responses was too low to be of any value to managers.

There is obviously a cost attached to employing a telephone agency to conduct the interviews. The Council minimises the cost by using agency staff only for making the phone calls – all other elements of the survey eg questionnaire design, analysis and reporting are done by the Council’s own Consultation and Engagement team. This saves the Council up to two thirds of the usual commercial rates for telephone surveys.

Why not use Council staff to conduct telephone interviews?

Some people have suggested that money could be saved by using Council contact centre staff to conduct telephone interviews during quieter periods. Whilst this may at first seem like a good idea, the benefits to using a telephone agency over our own staff are:

  • To be comparable over time, interviews need to be conducted at the same time for each phase of the survey. If not, seasonal and other influences may distort the trends that emerge from the data.
  • The industry standard is that at least 75% of your interviews should be conducted in the evenings to ensure that your sample is not overweighted by unemployed, retired people and home makers.
  • Agencies use a specialised CATI system which minimises potential data inputting errors as interviewers input data directly into a tailored programme. Staff would have to use pen and paper and then input the data afterwards into Excel which is time consuming and much more prone to error. Staff would need training in how to ‘code’ answers for data entry.
  • Experienced interviewers know how to field questions which come up all the time. For example: Ethnic monitoring - Why we can’t do this by post etc.
  • Agency staff’s experience makes them better at getting ‘take-up’ and thus a better response rate. This makes the overall results more representative.
  • Respondents don’t always respond in the way we’d like them to ie answer the question we’ve asked. Trained interviewers will persist with the question until it is answered using the scale required. Untrained interviewers tend to interpret the answer (especially as they are not being quality controlled ie. overheard or observed by other professional interviewers) which makes the results unreliable.
  • There is clearly an issue around interviewer bias (albeit unintentional) if staff involved in the service are administering the survey. Even staff not directly involved in the service are more likely to be loyal to the Council as a whole.
  • Telephone agencies are able to co-ordinate and overview calls via their CATI system so that no one individual is called more than once in a six month time period (this is across all surveys and services).

Why can’t we just rely on other types of customer feedback such as contact with Councillors, Area Forums or BH Life?

We welcome feedback from these sources. They can provide us with useful ideas and alert us to areas of potential concern for further investigation. However none of these are an effective means of monitoring service performance in their own right because:

  • You can’t ‘quantify’ this kind of feedback so managers can not use it to track and compare performance over time.
  • It’s much more likely to be people who are dissatisfied who will make the effort to write in, attend a forum or contact their Councillor. Satisfied people have less motivation to so. This doesn’t give us any indication of how many of the wider population are satisfied or dissatisfied.
  • Only a very small proportion of people will ever go to a forum, contact their Councillor or respond to an article in BH Life. We can not be sure how representative the feedback is and whether all groups of residents feel the same unless we do a wider random survey involving greater numbers of people.

Our Forum Chairman, Les Deller, adds:-

“I have been watching with interest the correspondence concerning the council’s telephone surveys.

Having been subject to a somewhat unpleasant series of attempts by the caller to get my wife to take part in the survey, which in the end the caller accepted we would not take place, I cannot see how this method can be considered ‘reliable and representative’. As Mr Finch clearly stated and which I am sure would be the attitude to most council customers, it is not something that the council would be expected to undertake and anybody receiving a call would probably conclude, as my wife did, that it was not legitimate and either not take part or not give an accurate response to the questions raised.

As Councillor Whitaker stated our Forum usually has +100 residents at its meetings and has in the past covered such matters as the introduction of the recycling and we may well in the future cover litter and graffiti. I am sure that the committee would only be too please to agree some way in which the Forum would allow residents to voice their comments on the services provided by the council to assist in the monitoring of performance. In fact believe that this is part of the role of Forums.

As a council tax payer I feel that there must be better cost effective ways of obtaining customer satisfaction views, not least through elected councillors and Forums thereby saving £25,000 per annum.”

On 4th December, the councils Media and Communications Officer sent the following statement to The Echo:-

“Thank you for your enquiry regarding the cost of telephone surveys to obtain customer feedback.

In 2008/09 the Council spent £34,000 on telephone agencies to gather customer feedback across a wide range of council services. Also, we estimate we will spend approximately £32,500 on telephone agencies by the end of the 2009/10 financial year.

Comment attributed to Councillor Stephen MacLoughlin, Leader of the Council:

“As a local authority providing services to 163,000 residents it is important that we take views into account when making decisions which affect them.

“We have a legal duty to consult and involve local people. One of the most effective ways of doing this is through telephone surveys. They have a very high response rate and are designed to find out residents’ priorities so that we can plan for example, how we allocate resources and improve our services. This survey influenced our decision to introduce an evening cleansing shift in the Town Centre and a new area based team to tackle fly tipping.

“Customer feedback and giving residents the opportunity to influence decisions is important to the council, especially as we deal with the public sector financial squeeze. This is why we are currently consulting with residents on a range of proposals to save money which may well result in changes to certain services. We encourage everyone to visit our website and have their say - www.bournemouth.gov.uk/budget.”

Residents can visit www.bournemouth.gov.uk/budget to have their say on a range of proposals to save public money. We are also looking for people to join our new E-Panel and take part in email and web-based surveys. Anyone interested in joining our E-Panel and helping shape the future of Bournemouth can find out more on our website.

Kind regards,

Media and Communications Officer”

This matter will be discussed at Forum provisionally scheduled for 11th February 2010.

In the meantime, if you have been contacted by this company, please contact info@tmsthareaforum.info or your local Councillor with your comments.

And finally, from Councillor Ron Whittaker:-

“Thank you but it is not my intention to keep this correspondence going, have made my views perfectly clear, I don't think this is value for money, more so nor do I think residents or our staff will, with all the pressure of budgets at present,

Interesting this afternoon talking to students from the university, they referred to why not invite students to undertake the survey at no cost to the council? Said would pass that on. Yes appreciate the £12k relates to the particular survey we have been corresponding on, but with a further £13,000 being spent on as you say other services, when looking at that list, I think most are covered by members contributions, which is free.

Perhaps the request by the council in this week’s TAKE PART BLOG might generally be the very questions that the council are paying out to the agency - all to be had FREE through the echo blog.”