Local Government Customer Services Officer

The Job and What's Involved

A local government customer services officer is the first point of contact for members of the public asking for information about the services offered by a local authority.

Enquiries might relate to matters such as council tax, housing benefit, leisure facilities, environmental issues, planning applications or electoral registration. In some cases the customer may be making a complaint.

Customer service assistants can be found in many areas of a local council. Within a social services department, customer service assistants might be involved in providing reception support and advice to visitors. Working in a council's one-stop shop, customer service assistants might help provide guidance on council and other local services.

A local government customer services officer working at an information desk may:

  • Look up information for customers on a computer.
  • Circulate new information to other colleagues as soon as it is received.
  • Deal tactfully with complaints and provide feedback to the relevant department.
  • Ask for and check official identity documentation.
  • Tell customers about any extra benefits or entitlements they may not know about.
  • Operate an appointment system or ticketed queuing system.
  • Process payments made to the council.
  • Where necessary, refer customers to another department or outside organisation.

Local government customer services officers working in contact centres answer enquiries by telephone.

Where possible, customer service advisers in contact centres provide callers with the information and advice they need. They may use a computer-based system to look up information and to carry out tasks such as renewal of library books.

For complex enquiries, they can refer callers to specialists, such as trading standards officers.

In busy periods staff take calls in quick succession. When there are fewer calls, there may be time to carry out other activities, such as answering e-mails or web-based enquiries, administrative tasks, training activities and making outgoing calls to request feedback - checking that tenants are satisfied with recent repairs, for example.

Various job titles are used. As well as call centre agent and customer service adviser, titles include call centre operator and customer adviser.

Some local government customer services officers work standard office hours, Monday to Friday. However, many contact centres and some council offices have extended hours of opening and operate shifts across evenings and weekends. Most councils offer flexible hours, job share and part-time contracts.

Most customer services officers work in council offices and contact centres, which are usually clean, bright and open plan. Others work in leisure centres, social services offices and community centres.

In contact centre settings, advisers wear headsets, allowing them to talk on the telephone whilst using their hands to operate a computer keyboard.

In some jobs, local government customer services officers need to travel from their main office to work at community centres and other locations.

In some cases, customer services officers may be required to wear a uniform and name badge.

Starting salaries for a local government customer services officer may range from around £13,000 to £15,000 a year.
With further experience, this may rise to between £15,000 and £21,000 a year.

A senior local government customer services officer may earn around £25,000 a year.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Councils throughout the UK employ customer services officers and they are taking on growing numbers of call centre agents or customer service advisers. Increasingly, these telephone information and advice services are provided through call centres (sometimes known as contact centres), which may be run directly by the local authority, or by a private contractor working on behalf of the local authority.

Job vacancies are advertised in Jobcentre Plus offices, Connexions centres and local newspapers, on local authority websites and on www.lgjobs.com. Many councils also publish weekly, bi-weekly or monthly jobs bulletins produced by local councils, available from libraries, community centres and other council buildings.

Education and Training

Entry qualifications vary depending on the local authority. Councils may:

  • Accept applicants with no specific qualifications.
  • Ask for two to four GCSE's (A*-C), including English and maths.
  • Look for higher-level qualifications, such as A levels or a BTEC National Award in central and local government or Certificate/Diploma in public services.

A useful starting point could be the Diploma in society, health and development or the Diploma in public services.

Because customer services officers deal with the general public, personality and communication skills are often seen as more important for the job than specific qualifications. In some areas, the ability to speak one or more languages used in the local community is useful.

It may be possible to enter via an Apprenticeship.

Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.

Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at www.apprenticeships.org.uk.

There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For further information visit My World of Work www.myworldofwork.co.uk/modernapprenticeships, Careers Wales www.careerswales.com; and for Northern Ireland contact www.careersserviceni.com.

Experience in customer service or information management may be an advantage.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Most training is on the job and involves becoming familiar with the local authority's work, its committees, services and policies, as well as with local and national legislation, such as the Data Protection Act and the Freedom of Information Act.

Some local authorities encourage their staff to take NVQ's in customer service at Level 2, 3 or 4 or Institute of Customer Service Professional Awards.

In call centres, training may also cover telephone techniques and computer skills. Call centre agents may be encouraged to work towards NVQ Level 1 or 2 in contact centre operations or Levels 3 to 5 for contact centre professionals.

Some authorities also operate a formal staff development system that involves employees progressing under the regular supervision of a manager.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A local government customer services officer needs:

  • A good command of English, with a clear, easily understood voice.
  • The ability to work quickly and under pressure.
  • To be able to understand and explain complex regulations.
  • A polite, helpful attitude.
  • The ability to work on their own initiative.
  • A good memory.
  • To be able to keep calm in difficult situations.
  • Computer skills.

Your Long Term Prospects

Within the customer services department, promotion may be possible to customer services manager or to a more specialised post.

Customer services officers may also be able to move into a similar role in another local authority department.

Promotion within a call centre environment is normally to team leader, responsible for supervising a dozen or so operators, and then to management.

There are also opportunities to transfer into other careers within a local authority. It would be possible, for example, to apply for a post as a trainee social worker, administrator or trading standards officer.

Get Further Information

Institute of Customer Service (ICS),
2 Castle Court, St Peter's Street,
Colchester, Essex CO1 1EW
Tel: 01206 571716
Website: www.instituteofcustomerservice.com

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