Every year around 350,000 UK citizens living outside of the UK apply for new or replacement passports. The information and application forms they need are available for download on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) website. However, when they need help to complete those forms, have questions about the process, or simply want an update on how their application is progressing, they call HGS. From our Selkirk contact centre, we provide a 24-hour helpline that makes sure travel hungry citizens in more than 162 countries get the passports they need—when they need them.
A rationalization of the FCO’s passport work, initiated in 2008, saved the British taxpayer around £10 million pounds in two years by streamlining passport administration. But the FCO is never prepared to cut costs at the applicant’s expense. HGS has provided significant support, according to Caroline Cross, Senior Policy Advisor to the Policy Implementation and Assurance Team at the Identity & Passport Service, “While we’re engaged in redefining those processes we rely upon HGS to deliver exceptional service and, at the same time, to gather intelligence that will help us to understand the impact of our processes on the applicant and whether the changes we’re bringing about are truly making things better for them, perhaps not in terms of speed of service, but in terms of clarity and consistency.”
Building Knowledge – Supporting Change
HGS grasped quickly that its primary challenge would be to provide timely, accurate information to every applicant and to reduce the number of enquiries that needed to be referred to the RPPCs for clarification. “Callers expect–and rightly so—that we will have the answers to their questions, however bizarre or esoteric, at our finger tips,” explains Richard Glanville, HGS’s Business Excellence Director for the UK. “However, that’s harder to achieve than it sounds, given the number of local variations, the complex nature of the enquiries and the high degree of change. We realised quickly that we needed to build a knowledge base that would be a constantly updated repository for all the information we’d need to answer callers’ questions. And we knew we’d need to build strong, close relationships with the RPPC’s as well as the FCO’s Overseas Passport Management Unit (OPMU)—to keep that knowledge base up to date.”
According to Caroline, this has been one of the great successes of the programme, since the existence of the knowledge base has, in itself, helped to foster the drive towards consistency.
Within our team, we have appointed individuals who are responsible for liaising regularly with designated representatives within the RPPCs to update information and share knowledge base changes.
The process of centralisation was completed, migrating responsibility for processing and completing all passport applications from consulates around the globe, first to a series of eight RPPCs (now completed) and then, eventually, to one operation in the UK and HGS continues to support it by updating all information to applicants and managing their expectations.
Acting on Intelligence
For the FCO, streamlining the operation goes hand in glove with improving the applicant experience. “By building consistency and centralising processes we’re able to audit the service more effectively, identify problems earlier and overcome them at speed,” says Caroline. “HGS’s help in this regard is invaluable.” All of this information—both data driven and anecdotal—is fed back to the OPMU team, where it is used to inform the business improvement process.
The cost of the contact centre service is met, not by HGS’s client, but by callers themselves. At present around 25% of applicants do, in fact, call the helpline for advice or information, paying to do so either through premium telephone lines or by credit and debit cards. “That means it’s all the more critical that the service we provide is fast, efficient and accurate,” says Richard.
Delivering More for Less in an Innovative Contracting Model
From the outset, HGS’s service has given the OPMU team a high degree of confidence. The FCO worked closely with HGS to build and deliver a three-week agent training course prior to the service going live but, even so, expected teething problems in the early days. In fact there were very few. From day one complaints from callers about any aspect of HGS’s service were very rare, and complaints generally—which typically relate to the passport application process or the need to pay or the service—are gradually declining. Customer satisfaction scores have been gradually improving and currently stand at 79%.