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Cheshire West and Cheshire Trading Standards Working with Expert Answers Case Study

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Case Study Cheshire West and Chester

Background This is a new local authority, formed when the ‘old’ county of Cheshire split into the two new unitary authorities of Cheshire West and Chester (CWAC) and Cheshire East. The new authority needed to establish new ways of delivering services, often with new systems and procedures underlying them, but with reduced resources to support them. Among the services which needed to be reviewed was the service provided to residents by the county’s regulatory department. One area the CWAC team were looking at was that of questions arising from consumers: consumer law in general, rights and remedies are the subject of queries handled by the Trading Standards Office. The number of queries being brought to the department was increasing, while the means to deal with them was shrinking. It would not be long before the resource required to handle all the queries brought to the department would be far greater than the resources available within the county.

The services that could be provided were limited on other ways. For example, while residents of the CWAC geographical area were entitled to free advice on consumer law, very often queries were received which did not fit neatly into the remit of the Trading Standards Office. Queries were being received both from private individuals and from businesses, many of which could not be answered directly.

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Although the team could not answer ineligible queries, they still had to deal with the calls, listening to the caller, identifying the nature of the question, then explaining why it could not be answered by the team, and finally signposting the caller to possible sources of help. All this was taking a considerable portion of the team’s available time, to the detriment of the real services they were trying to provide. The CWAC team were increasingly aware that there was a growing public need for reliable, straightforward and affordable legal information and advice at an early stage of situations, so that issues could be resolved before they became major, expensive problems. Frustratingly often, the only signposting the team could provide was towards legal professionals, who could often be prohibitively expensive for ordinary citizens. The result was dissatisfaction on both sides: members of the public felt that they were receiving little constructive help, while the members of the CWAC team felt that they were wasting a good deal of their working time, without being able to provide the desired level of service to many of the people who approached them.

there was a growing public need for reliable, straightforward and affordable legal information

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A potential solution Expert Answers approached CWAC, through a Business Development Adviser, to ask whether the new Expert Answers service could have a link placed on the CWAC website to lead Web visitors to the EA site. This was initially simply part of a marketing exercise whereby a number of local authorities were approached, to gauge the response that might come from such a source. While recognising that such a link would be useful to the growth of the business, the Adviser said the request would have to go through Regulatory before a decision could be made, and contacted the appropriate person. Once the Regulatory team began to look at the Expert Answers offering, they saw the potential for an answer to their own problems in the model. Expert Answers could provide a means to deliver a comprehensive service which overcame many of the restrictions and limitations of the service which the county could offer, while members of the public could very easily be signposted towards Expert Answers without taking up valuable time. The CWAC team were keen to discuss ways in which the Expert Answers service could be used within the authority.

Expert Answers was more than willing to discuss how their service could be used to provide the needed resource for the members of the public who were, in all good faith, bringing their questions to the CWAC team, only to be told that they did not meet the criteria. Both parties felt that they were in a “win-win� scenario. Extensive discussions followed, and a practical solution was devised.

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In practice CWAC provides a great deal of information about its services on its website: many of its clients look there first before contacting any department direct. Following the discussions with Expert Answers, a new page is inserted to filter out those web users who meet the criteria of the CWAC team. Others are directly signposted to the Expert Answers site. When a visitor to the CWAC website arrives on this new landing page, they are asked to type in their postcode: this identifies those who are inside the CWAC authority area. These people are told that they can access free information and advice on consumer matters by contacting the Trading Standards Office: the contact details are given. Should they wish to ask their question online, they can also use the Expert Answers service, which is identified as a paid-for service before the visitor clicks on the link. People whose question does not fall within ‘consumer matters’ are also signposted to the Expert Answers site at this stage. People who are not CWAC residents, identified by the postcode they have entered, are taken to another page, where they are told ‘Sorry you are not entitled to free advice, but you can ask your question through a paid-for service, here.’ The link takes the visitor to the Expert Answers website.

All questioners who arrive at the Expert Answers site from the CWAC website benefit from the same service as is offered to people who arrive from any other source.

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Benefits to CWAC The project came about because the CWAC team were increasingly aware of the problems experienced by their own team members in trying to handle an ever-increasing number of callers, and a high proportion of ineligible questions. By tying in to the Expert Answers site and service, the CWAC team now has  a very simple, easy way to deal with the calls that still come through  no need to identify any particular legal service  fewer calls on their time, as many online queries are diverted before they ever get to the team This has meant that the team can devote more of their time to delivering their core services, thereby improving the standard of service they can achieve.

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Benefits to the end user The new arrangement means that those members of the public who do have queries eligible for help from the CWAC team are attended to more promptly, and even more thoroughly than was possible in the past, as the CWAC team have fewer ineligible calls on their time. For those people who want to pose their question immediately, at any time of day or night, whether their question is eligible for the CWAC team or not, they can choose to use the link to the Expert Answers service. People who use the Expert Answers service benefit from:  prompt attention - usually within hours, or even within minutes  low-cost information - the client sets the price they are able to pay  relevant advice - the questioner sets the scope of the entire exchange  professional legal advice - the experts providing the Expert Answers service are all qualified legal practitioners As this is such a new service, results such as numbers of queries answered, customer satisfaction levels and so on cannot yet be given: this case study will be updated when possible.

We would like say thank you to CWAC for granting permission to use the cases study and to Anglesey for using our Question box.

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Case study outlining relationship between Expert Answers and Cheshire West and Chester

Solicitors Online - Free legal advice  

Case study outlining relationship between Expert Answers and Cheshire West and Chester