Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 320-328)


22 MARCH 2007

  Q320  Paul Rowen: It is said the DWP does not record the number of complaints.

  Mr Herdan: Measurement of complaints is fundamental. I am not in favour of setting targets to reduce numbers of complaints because that encourages organisations to suppress them and encourages staff to hide complaints in order to get a good score in their annual appraisal. We do not encourage that. What is important is to have a good method of making it easier for the public to complain and a good method of collecting all that gold dust, really valuable intelligence, about what your customers are saying both through survey work and also from mystery shopping, which is also fundamental to find out what is going on in your organisation. In my job one of the key things is to milk all of that information and use it to shape services. We have also now started an initiative called Service Recovery which is American terminology about looking at those people who, when they respond to a survey, say they are satisfied but not very satisfied. You are looking at people who are not actually complaining but who are not overjoyed with the experience and trying to get behind them, so those people waiting in the queue at immigration who did not complain but were not happy bunnies. It is a question of trying to get behind some of that data and say what could we do to shift those people from satisfied to extremely satisfied. Tesco would be in the same territory.

  Q321  Paul Rowen: How much did it cost the passport agency to bring about the changes? You were able to raise your fees but lots of other government organisations cannot. What would you say is your actual total costs?

  Mr Herdan: These are matters of public record. The fee has risen very significantly and that has been partly due to the customer service provision but not only. When I arrived in the Passport Service the fee was £21 for a passport and it is now £66. Some of that has been due to the customer service improvements. The first increase, which was to £28, was entirely about getting ourselves into a position where we could provide a decent service. Much of the fee increase more recently has been about security improvements rather than customer service. Also we introduced premium services, same day passport renewal services and fast track services where the extra cost of providing that service is directly recovered from the customer. If they chose to have the premium service it costs £100. It is a lot more expensive for us to do that service but the customer is choosing so it is giving customer choice and they choose to pay for it. More people want that service than we can accommodate so we are usually having difficulty accommodating the numbers who want that service, which is about 8% of the total demand.

  Chairman: I went through the fast service for a day and I spent the whole day queuing.

  Q322  Mr Prentice: I went for a fast track service as well and my photograph was rejected by one of your people because my glasses clipped my iris. I said to them "You are not going to send me out of the building again?" and he said "No, there is a photo booth down there and you will be able to get new photographs." I went to the photo booth but I only had notes on me and no change and there was no change machine. I was forced to speak to the reception people and I said I needed change of £5 to get a photograph taken so I could get a passport and they said to me "Sorry, we do not give change." I said "I shall give you a £5 note, you just give me £3 back." There was this kind of dialogue and I eventually got my £5 changed. That is my anecdote.

  Mr Herdan: That could have been better.

  Q323  Mr Prentice: In the memorandum we got from the British Medical Association they said, and it sounds very like a new labour mantra, "With patient rights should also come patient responsibility", and the patient's charter was a rights charter only, with no mention of responsibilities.[9] My question to you is when you were thinking about re-launching the Charter Mark did you consider setting out the responsibilities of the customer as well as the standards that the customer could expect from the organisation?

  Mr Herdan: That is interesting. Not as a blanket across the public sector but individual organisations should be doing that; it is absolutely right. If you think about the Health Service—I am a director of a hospital board so I am familiar with some of the customer services in the health service—one of the things that makes the health service inefficient and creates problems in customer service is the number of people who do not show up for their out-patient appointments, something like 10%, which is a waste of resources and in the end impedes customer service because those slots which could be taken by other people are lost. I do think there is a two-way thing there. Hospitals should make adequate numbers of appointments and booking appointments in a good timescale but people should be responsible and they should show up when they have their appointments.

  Q324  Mr Prentice: The hospital appointments example is a good one. Are there any other areas in the public sector where a person's responsibility should be set out quite explicitly?

  Mr Herdan: In our organisation it is about people's responsibility to complete the process as we have defined it. If we say you need to fill in the form with that information, we expect people to do that and if they do not they will inevitably get into the cycle of rejection. In your case, if you do not follow the photo standards that we have published and your glasses are over your eyes, we would deal with it accordingly.

  Mr Prentice: It was my fault.

  Q325  Chairman: Your inquiry was extended from the narrow Charter Mark issue to look more broadly at whether we can measure consumer satisfaction. It partly came out of what this Committee recommended should happen. Some of us have been to Canada and were quite taken with the way in which the measurement of satisfaction with public services was actually the key way in which services were assessed. They had been going on for many years with this concept called the Common Measurement Tool. We were struck by the way when we were talking to the Canadian public officials they were entirely talking about the way in which the measurement of services had changed over the years. They all had their objective to improve satisfaction over so many years and so on. You were asked to look at some of this to see if we could move in that direction here. What did you conclude on that?

  Mr Herdan: I was very taken with it as well. I used the opportunity and because I have contacts with my opposite numbers in Canada I talked to them. I talked to the head of the Canadian Passport Service about their experience. I asked were they part of this and they said yes, they were part of the annual survey which goes towards this customer satisfaction index which gets published in Canada. They did not find that particularly helpful because it did not tell them anything they did not already know and was a year late in arriving, so a year delay between survey and the results. It is quite a fast-moving business like ours is but they do use the Common Measurement Tool. They do use this sort of set of standardised questions as part of their own survey work augmented by other questions and they found that extremely helpful and they were very, very positive about it. They said they did think that had been a good thing and had driven up their customer service standards which had not been as good as ours had been. I was very impressed so that is why I recommended, first of all, that the Charter Mark should be designed around the five drivers of customer satisfaction which came out of the Canadian research, to a large extent, and some other work in the States and in the UK. We should look at embedding in customer surveys for the public sector some of these standard questions so that you could get a degree of comparability at least within all hospitals or all police forces.

  Q326  Chairman: It is far more of a common methodology being used across the piece. Who would validate that?

  Mr Herdan: The way I think it would work, certainly in the context of the Charter Mark scheme, is the external accredited organisations would be validating that those surveys had been done as they should be done, that those questions had been asked and what was coming out of it. You could also have, in the normal reporting within government departments, the government departments sponsoring these different agencies impose that requirement in order to make sure that it happened. Then the Cabinet Office—if we stick with the model which we should have with the Cabinet Office holding the ring on all of this as the central co-ordination—would make sure it was happening across the piece.

  Q327  Chairman: To go back to where we started, this is the disadvantage of constantly restarting schemes. The virtue of the Canadian scheme is it has been a fixture for years so you are comparing like with like over a long period of time. Our constant tendency here, to uproot things all the time and start again, means we do not get that.

  Mr Herdan: We certainly need to run this for a number of years to get the benefit, I agree with that. We have some comparable things with staff attitude surveys. Because there is only a limited number of companies that run these, if you get a MORI survey of staff attitudes they will give you public sector norms based on years of data from a number of other organisations so you can actually benchmark yourself and your own staff responses. It links, as was mentioned, to the way they serve customers, whether they are satisfied with their jobs. You can get that norm and see if you are doing better or worse than the norm across the public sector. The idea of the same kind of thing could apply for these services.

  Q328  Chairman: Have we failed to ask you something you would like to tell us?

  Mr Herdan: No. I do not know if I have done justice to the report but I would like to think I have. I am very concerned that this should get re-launched soon. For me there is a bit of urgency about taking the opportunity and moving with it. You are absolutely right that the linking of this common measurement framework, some sort of common measurement tool, to the Charter Mark is important. I would encourage you not to get too hung up about whether you change the name or not because I do not think that is terribly fundamental but it is an issue that has to be dealt with.

  Chairman: Thank you for this report, it has been very helpful to us, and thank you for coming along and talking about it which has been extremely helpful. You better get back and find those lost passports now!

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