In this section
The Valuation Office Agency has put Customer Service at the centre of what it does. In 1993 the Adjudicator’s Office was established to look into complaints made about the Valuation Office (Agency). In the mid nineties each Valuation Office nominated a person to be responsible for Customer Service issues and, in 1998, after the establishment of the Group Structure, a formal role was introduced, that of “Group Customer Service Manager” (GCSM) for each group.
The role has developed since its conception and, although different groups require different types of assistance from the GCSM, there are basic duties common to each GCSM. The GCSM will often be the first point of contact when a complaint arrives in the Group office.
Ideally the GCSM can resolve the complaint by speaking to the complainant, visiting or writing to them. The GCSM can seek guidance from the Customer Service Team (CST), at Chief Executive Office (CEO), for advice on dealing with a complaint. If the complainant is dissatisfied with the way their complaint has been handled, as opposed to a valuation issue, the matter can be referred to CEO to deal with at the second level of the complaints chain. The third level of the complaints chain is the Adjudicator’s office. Our Code of Practice on Mistakes, as set out in the leaflet, “Putting things right for you”, sets out the customers’ rights.
While there is much commonality in how GCSMs function it is difficult to be too prescriptive about the role as needs vary from Group to Group. A description of the role as used in trawl applications is shown below.
Valuation Office Agency (VOA) Charter – to ensure the public are aware of the VOA standards as set out in the Charters and to monitor the Group’s performance in complying with them.
Complaints and positive feedback - to act as a focal point and catalyst in offices of the Group to ensure that mistakes are used as a learning opportunity by giving feedback and developing best practice and to deal with any complaints within the time limits set out in the Charter and Customer Service Manual or as requested by CST and or CEO.
Compensation - to identify where compensation payments (within the Code of Practice) might be appropriate and notify and seek advice from CST and or CEO.
Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA), which replaced “Open Government”, - to ensure that all staff are aware of the provisions of FOI, about access to information we hold, and consider the implications and limitations placed on all staff by the Commissioners for Revenue and Customs Act 2005. Also assist with any enquiries under this act and facilitate the reply being sent within its statutory deadline.
Enquiries - to acknowledge and reply in full to all enquiries from local Billing Authorities.
Additional Duties – these include promotion of the use of plain English, jargon free communications, attendance at Management meetings and acting as a focus for staff ideas.
NVQ Level 3 Customer Services- to acquire this qualification and undertake Assessor training.
GCSMs on appointment will be required to obtain this vocational qualification.
Evidence to assist in obtaining the award will be drawn from day to day work examples, most often in documentary format. Typically these might be copies of letters sent to customers, minutes from meetings, both internal and external where the GCSM has had input, and any innovation the GCSM has brought to delivering good customer service. Evidence is also obtained by observation and by written testimonies from colleagues and working partners.
Prior to commencing the award you will be allocated a mentor who will normally be a GCSM colleague who holds the NVQ Level 3 qualification and is qualified as an assessor.
NVQ Level 3 in customer service embraces the following units.
- Units 7. Understand customer servce to improve service deliveryOrganise, deliver and maintain reliable customer service.
- Unit 8. Know the rules to follow when developing customer service.
8 Optional Units from
Impression and Image
- 13. Make customer service personal
- 14. Go the extra mile in customer service
- 15. Deal with customers in writing or using ICT
- 18. Use customer service as a competitive tool
- 19. Organise the promotion of services or products to customers
- 23. Deliver customer service on your customer’s premises
- 24. Recognise diversity when delivering customer service
- 25. Deliver customer service when using service partnerships
- 26. Organise the delivery of reliable customer service
- 27. Improve the customer relationship
- 32. Monitor and solve customer service problems
- 33. Apply risk assessment to customer service
- 34. Process customer service complaints
Development and Improvement
- 39. Work with others to improve customer service
- 40. Promote continuous improvement in customer service
- 41. Develop your own and others’ customer service skills
- 42. Lead a team to improve customer service
- 43. Gather, analyse and interpret customer feedback
The speed at which you will progress through the scheme will depend on how quickly you amass evidence, but normally this can be achieved during the first year in the role. Apart from the appointed assessor looking at the evidence you provide, the award will not be finally made until the evidence, and recommendation of your assessor, receives the approval of an external verifier.
Moving into the GCSM role can be daunting especially if you come from a background not allied to this type of work.
This section of the manual is designed to provide some background to various features associated with customer service and the GCSM role. Whilst there is no formal induction process there are various training courses to help in the role as well as guidance and advice from the Customer Services team at CEO.
Various training courses exist to equip GCSMs who are new to the role to function at their best.
Please remember to agree your training requirements with your Line Manager each time you embark on a course and also to record attendance as part of your personal development. A Learning Plan for GCSMs new to the role is available from the Learning Home Page.
Becoming competent at all aspects of complaints handling is one of the main requirements of the GCSM role. A half-day overview is available to people new to the job, which introduces the code of practice, sets out basic procedures and gives advice on letter writing. Training will then be an on-going process combining guidance from the Complaints section of this manual and advice from more experienced GCSM colleagues and the Customer Service Team at CEO.
Effective letter writing incorporating basic English skills is an almost daily feature of a GCSM’s role.
Whilst a spelling and grammatical check is available under the ‘Tools’ icon in Microsoft Word and its use is always recommended, this does not aid the structure and layout of effective letter writing.
CEO (CST) can deliver this training at changing locations throughout the network depending on where demand lies and when there are sufficient numbers of GCSMs requiring training to make this feasible. The CST Manager on 350 1804, can advise. Additionally Letter Writing Skills and Basic English Skills are available as a self-help package by accessing our Intranet site. Also see Letter Writing and Plain English section in this manual
The role of GCSMs requires them to make presentations to internal and external customers.
Typically this might be at management meetings within the Group for internal customers, or to Billing Authorities for external customers.
The presentation skills course is designed to enable individuals to acquire basic presentation skills providing the confidence necessary for effective transfer of information. The course is usually run over two days at various locations depending on demand. During the course you give a presentation on any subject, which is recorded for your own records, and the other course members in your group will be invited to comment on the style of presentation.
The feedback and the comments of the course facilitator can help improve your skills and you are given the opportunity to give a second presentation, ideally showing you have taken on board the comments from the previous day. Areas for improvement often include the pace of the presentation, the style of delivery, obstruction of exhibits and how well rehearsed the presenter is on the particular subject.
Feedback from GCSMs who have attended this course is that the improvement on the second day is normally dramatic and the course is worthwhile.
This course does not currently feature in the Training Events Catalogue but can be booked by contacting the Learning Team Administration Manager on 330 7890.
GCSMs will be required as part of their role, to investigate complaints fully to ensure all of the complainant’s questions can be answered and the Agency has obtained enough information to provide a full and balanced answer and to decide whether compensation is due. Whilst GCSMs are non-judgemental, it is a key part of their role to ensure that lessons are learned for the future and the need to spread good practice cannot be overlooked.
Investigations can be in a variety of formats ranging from examination of a file or case papers to a full written report from the appropriate member of staff. Occasionally it will be necessary to ask questions across all pay band ranges to obtain further information or clarify existing facts.
Questioning, or interviewing is a technique. To obtain helpful answers questions will need to be phrased in such a way to elicit information. The Interviewing Skills course provides training in how to ask ‘open’ questions thereby producing open responses, rather than closed or negative responses. The course also provides training in a sympathetic style of interviewing without creating friction or distress, and how best to plan an interview.
The need for technical training will depend upon one’s background and the current issues in the Agency.
GCSMs will often be the point of contact for requests for all kinds of information from statistics, to copies of proposals (appeals) and extracts from our operational instructions. This part of the role has been made easier, from an administrative point of view, with the publication of much of our information on the Internet. Operational instructions and practice notes for instance can be viewed from the publications page of our website which means there is no longer the administrative process of copying documents and issuing invoices to the requestor to cover the cost.
For requests for other types of information GCSMs will need to be aware of the following:
Requests for the release of information are often passed to the GCSM. Special rules apply to the release of data held on computer systems. Companies are not included within the Act but the normal rules on disclosure (see below) will still need to be observed. Where requests are received in respect of the release of data about living individuals the Act will need to be consulted. See manual section on Data Protection Act.
Requests will be made for the release of information held. The requests may come from a variety of sources. In broad terms taxpayer information cannot be released to a third party under Section 18 (1) of the Commissioners for Revenue and Customs Act 2005 without the specific consent of the respective Council Taxpayer(s), Ratepayer(s) or Taxpayer(s) concerned which it may not be practical to obtain. The Freedom of Information Act 2000, the Data Protection Act 1998 and the Environmental Information Regulations do not override our duty of confidentiality to the respective taxpayer.
Regarding telephone enquiries asking for information about outstanding proposals / appeals our policy is that we do not provide this information unless we are confident the caller is the council taxpayer, ratepayer or an authorised agent, and that this type of request should be confirmed in writing.
In certain specific circumstances copies of the information held from Particulars Delivered (PDs) or Stamp Duty Land Tax may be supplied but this is only where the enquirer is a party to the transaction either as a transferee or transferor. A charge may be made for this service via VO 8344(e). The Data Strategy Team will supply guidance on charging.
Enquiries relating to the disclosure of floor space statistics should be referred to the Agency's Data Manager, who is part of Data Strategy Team, at the Chief Executive’s Office.
Department for Communities and Local Government publishes annual floor space statistics for England.
GCSMs are responsible for recording requests made under FOI Act and assisting “Information Owners” where appropriate in conjunction with the guidance supplied by the Customer Service Team at the Chief Executive’s Office. See section on Freedom of Information and Process Map.
The GCSM is an important member of the management team, as he or she will have a good understanding of:
- how the Group or Business Unit is performing against some of the Agency’s main performance indicators.
- customer service standards set by Charter
- ongoing Customer Service issues in the Network or Group which may alter policy
- Group problems highlighted by complaints and surveys
- The Code of Practice on mistakes and delays
- Customer Service Excellence and / or Charter Mark standards
Actual involvement in management affairs will vary from Group to Group but generally speaking GCSMs will attend management meetings to advise on customer services matters and to ensure that the customer’s point of view is represented in any decisions made.
In all Groups the GCSM, as a member of the Group Management Team, will attend Group Management meetings to update the meeting on matters such as the achievement of customer service targets within the Group, matters of concern arising from complaints and progress on any projects within the Group such as Charter Mark award where this is appropriate. The opportunity should also be taken to update the Group on feedback from customer surveys and performance against customer service standards such as CCR and telephone statistics – see Customer Services Administration.
It should not be forgotten that District Valuer Services (DVS) and other specialist teams such as Specialist Rating Units (SRU), Minerals, Network Support Offices and Utilities can also call on GCSMs for advice and guidance on customer service issues. Regular attendance at team meetings is recommended, however where several GCSMs cover one subject or geographical area a practical approach can be adopted and attendance taken in turn as long as appropriate liaison takes place.
GCSMs will be expected to represent the Group Valuation Office(s) at various meetings organised in conjunction with Chief Executive(s) Office (CEO) (Customer Service Team). Meetings take place quarterly with full day meetings in CEO around February, May and September and the annual 2-day GCSM conference falling in late November. In addition, CEO (CST) meet on a monthly basis and there is a standing invitation for a GCSM from the network to attend - attendance is organised on a rotational basis by CEO. Prior to attending, the nominated GCSM contacts the GCSM network to take forward to the meeting any recent points of concern and will feed back to the network any resulting advice. Representatives can arrange for another GCSM to attend in their place if he or she cannot attend for any reason.
Most GCSMs attend Group Whitley Meetings. Again the function is to inform on Customer Service issues as they affect the Group and to address areas of concern
It is the aim of the Agency that all Groups will obtain Customer Service Excellence when their Charter Mark Award expires. To this end the Agency is currently working closely with our chosen assessor, EMQC (East Midlands Quality Centre Ltd), on the most practical approach to assessment. Corporate evidence has been compiled on themes common to the network; this has now been accepted as a foundation upon which Group applications can build.
In most Groups this task is the responsibility of the GCSM who might be assisted by a local team.
The Customer Service Excellence (CSE) Assessment was launched on 10 March 2008 by the Cabinet Office. For more information about CSE visit the website cse.cabinetoffice.gov.uk
GCSMs are expected to be involved in the issue of Customer Surveys which are used to test customer satisfaction following the settlement of an appeal or after an inspection. The areas surveyed are from non-represented ratepayers in respect of Rating and Council Taxpayers in respect of Council Tax. GCSMs also organise an annual customer survey of Billing Authorities for rating and council tax purposes.
GCSMs will organise the despatch of questionnaires, which in the first instance are returned by customers to the service provider before eventually being sent back to the Group via CST. CEO publishes an analysis of results for each Group. GCSMs should prepare any additional local analysis that might be necessary (such as narrative comments on the questionnaire) and feedback to the Group and local teams dealing with Rating and Council Tax.
Since 2002, the outcome of the survey, in terms of the percentage of customers reporting satisfaction, features as a measure in the Group scorecard that will feed directly into the World Class Key Performance Indicator (KPI) for customer satisfaction. Results are published in the Forward Plan and Annual Report.
The Group Management Team
The GCSM network has proved to be a particularly effective means of communication. For example many rating agents operate on a nationwide basis and often send identical requests to each Group. It is possible, by utilising the GCSM network, to provide a co-ordinated reply from all Groups or a central reply.
An address list of all GCSMs is regularly updated by the CST Team in CEO and sent to GCSMs. The names of GCSMs in post are available on the Internet under ‘Where to find us’.
In addition the GCSM network has also proved extremely useful in providing help and guidance to those GCSMs who are new to the role. Additionally the network is very useful in spreading best practice. New GCSMs are encouraged to set up an email distribution address list of GCSM colleagues to facilitate this contact.
On appointment, new GCSMs, with assistance from CEO (CST), will be allocated a GCSM ‘buddy’ who will act as a mentor. It is recommended new GCSMs spend at least one day with their mentor soon after appointment. Requests for shadowing a GCSM on a more permanent basis should be forwarded to CEO (CST).
GCSMs are divided into two groups for the purpose of cluster meetings known as the Northern and Southern clusters. The purpose of cluster meetings is to discuss any recent issues that cannot be covered by the GCSM/CEO (CST) meetings or conference.
GCSMs will need to develop or maintain close working links with members of the Management Team. In most cases either the GVO or GM will be the GCSM’s Line Manager. In some instances there is an overlap between the work of the GCSM and GM and careful liaison will be needed to ensure that both individuals are not working on the same task. The GCSM will need to keep the Management Team informed over the progress of complaints and compensation.
It is a part of the GCSM role to act as the link between the Group, Specialists and Billing Authorities (BAs). In dealing with the Service Partnership document these links will be established and the GCSM should, in conjunction with the local Change Manager, build upon these and encourage BAs to contact them even though the enquiries might be wide ranging.
At certain points, particularly with the advent of Rating Revaluations, BAs may request assistance from the Agency in relation to Ratepayers. This can be in the form of delivering a presentation to an audience invited by the BA, or they may simply be forwarding a request they have received from another body. GCSMs should, in conjunction with Management Team colleagues, respond positively to such requests. Existing material, which might be used to support these events, may be obtained from GCSM colleagues, CEO (CST) or CEO Communications and Customer Insight (Comms).
All members of VOA staff have a duty of confidentiality to a taxpayer under the Commissioners for Revenue and Customs Act 2005 (CRCA) Section 18 and cannot release information relating to a taxpayer to a third party such as a BA. Advice on this matter can be obtained from CEO (CST) via the customer services Inbox.
During March the Agency will draft and distribute to Groups a standard Service Partnership document, which has been prior agreed with BA representatives. This may need to be made bespoke for each separate Billing Authority. The past history is that GCSMs visited individual BAs (sometimes accompanied by other staff within the Group) to present the document and obtain the BA’s agreement by means of a signature. This has proved onerous in Groups with large numbers of BAs and lately the trend has been to meet several BAs as a cluster at a central location.
The Service Partnership document contains the standard, usually in terms of timeliness to which the Agency will provide its service to BAs, and vice versa. The document also contains a list of contact points (BA and VOA) together with the BA version of the calendar of overnight generations.
A similar Service Partnership agreement exists between the Agency’s IT section based at Worthing and BAs. This is established centrally.
BAs should access and download their update schedules and full Rating and Council Tax Lists in Excel format via BATRANS.
GCSMs may be asked for advice with IT problems and/or to demonstrate how to navigate the system. For further technical advice or guidance contact IT Services Division.