The Chelmsford Citizens Advice Bureau has a catchment population of approximately 160,000 people, made up of residents and those working within the local Borough. Clients approach the Bureau for a range of advice that includes housing issues, debt problems, legal matters and consumer rights.
Advisers need an extensive array of knowledge and are given between six months and one year’s training in order that they might be equipped to deal with the diverse issues they will be seeing on a day to day basis. With around 30 part time advisers and a further 15 about to commence training, the Chelmsford CAB is one of the busiest in the region.
The issues that clients bring to the CAB are diverse. Some will require ongoing input from an adviser but others present with queries that are straightforward and, when armed with the right information, such clients are able to deal with the situation themselves.
In a busy Bureau it is in both clients’ and advisers’ interests to ensure that requests for information are tackled quickly and efficiently, thus reducing waiting time and allocating resource to more complex cases.
During 2004 pilot studies placing information kiosks in selected CABs were commissioned. With their expertise in this area, LapSafe® was approached to supply this equipment. At Chelmsford it was decided that the CleverKiosk™ should be positioned in the open waiting area to give clients immediate accessibility; despite issues of client confidentiality the benefits were judged to far outweigh the concerns. From the outset, client reaction to the CleverKiosk™ was extremely positive.
The CleverKiosk™ supplied by LapSafe® was literally ‘plug and play’; within two hours the LapSafe® engineers had completed installation and the CleverKiosk™ was ready to use. With a simple user interface and straightforward navigation, no training was required for staff or clients.
The touch screen with its large buttons meets accessibility guidelines and provides a portal to many and various information based websites. A printer is connected to the CleverKiosk™ allowing clients to print out information as they wish. Russ Mynott, head of Chelmsford CAB, was anxious about how this new technology would be received by older clients but his worries were needless.
From day one, it became evident that many clients using the CleverKiosk™ were over 60. On the very first day of use one such client expressed to staff how easy the CleverKiosk™ was to use and how they had enjoyed the experience, despite never having sat in front of a computer in their life! Reliability has been superb with zero down time.
The robust build enables the CleverKiosk™ to withstand the rigours of public life without even taking a scratch. The Bureau has also seen unexpected benefits, such as being able to determine which websites are visited most. This gives staff an insight into the type of areas where clients need information the most: for example, a bullying website was visited by clients on several occasions over the course of only a few days, leading staff to the conclusion that there may be a local problem as yet unresolved.
Use of the CleverKiosk™ has meant that simple queries can be dealt with easily and quickly. Whilst client to adviser interview numbers have dropped, overall client advice has increased. Statistics show that of 16 kiosks currently situated in CABs throughout the UK, Chelmsford has had the highest use with 830 visitor sessions over a 3 month period.
Russ Mynott cannot over emphasise the significant impact that the CleverKiosk™ has brought to the Bureau: “This is an incredibly valuable resource for us. Many of our advisers work only one day a week, yet on the kiosk we have the highest throughput of clients of any CAB in the country.
The kiosk gives us the ability to respond quickly and effectively to simple queries or ancillary issues, whilst dedicating precious resource to those who have more complicated presenting problems and need in-depth assistance to resolve their situation.”
The success of the CleverKiosk™ in the Chelmsford CAB has led the team to think about potential uses outside the office. Remote access by clients is one option that is under investigation but in the meantime the Bureau has plans to roll out an email advice service that will throw open its doors to the virtual world.
This is not without problems, especially in determining location of the client, but Russ is confident these issues can be overcome and that the service will be of great value to Chelmsford Borough residents.
Other potential uses of theLapSafe® Products CleverKiosk™ include placement in libraries. Computers have already proved their worth in these locations and there is no reason why CleverKiosk™s cannot do the same.
Mobile libraries also have the potential to take the kiosk to outlying communities or those with mobility problems. TheLapSafe® Products CleverKiosk™ has revolutionised the way in which advice is provided by the Chelmsford CAB. As IT impacts on everyday life, all the Bureaux are keen to harness this technology for the benefit of every client.