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Citizens Advice Manchester: Helping thousands find support with dashboard insights

About Citizens Advice Manchester

Citizens Advice Manchester is one of the 280 charities that make up Citizens Advice. Founded in 1939, Citizens Advice provides legal and financial advice to 2.8 million people throughout the United Kingdom.

Industries: Non-profit
Location: United Kingdom

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About CTS

CTS is one of Europe’s largest Google Cloud Managed Service Providers. A cloud-native leader since 2008, it offers full-stack cloud solutions.

Google Cloud results

  • Identifies peaks and surges in demand to deploy inactive advisors to help other offices
  • Provides detailed information that helps set expectations and priorities for training new advisors
  • Replicates easily to other Citizens Advice offices, and is now being used in a number of local branches.

Call handling capacity up by 10% in a year

For many people in the UK, their local Citizens Advice office is as important as their family doctor. Providing free, independent, authoritative advice on legal and financial matters, the organization is both a first port of call for information and a last resort for those urgently in need of help. People can seek help with everything from redundancy to eviction, debt, and the breakdown of relationships. Last year it helped to solve the problems of 8 in 10 of the people it gave advice to directly, according to research by the charity.

Citizens Advice Manchester is one of the 280 independent charities that make up that national network. It offers support to Manchester’s 500,000 inhabitants, and although people can make contact online or in person, most queries arrive by telephone, with the charity’s team of ten advisors handling an average of 6,000 calls a month.

“A lot of organizations in the nonprofit sector don't have the resources available to employ in-house data specialists. But people still want analysis and reports, so the task of preparing them lands on someone else’s desk, leading to bottlenecks and frustration. We wanted a managed solution that anybody could use.”

Stuart Pearson, Chief Digital Officer, Citizens Advice Manchester

“Every time we take a call, we need to understand if a caller’s problem can be solved immediately, or if it should be referred to someone else,“ says Stuart Pearson, Chief Digital Officer at Citizens Advice Manchester. ”People usually call us with serious concerns, so it’s important that we make time to handle them with sensitivity, but it’s also important that we can end conversations to let other callers get through.”

To strike that balance, the organization looked to use call data to work out the best way to deploy resources, but reports from the charity’s telephony system were only available as raw spreadsheet data, and had to be manually processed to be understood. Citizens Advice Manchester decided to set up its own data dashboards using BigQuery and Looker Studio, with a data pipeline engineered by Google Cloud Premier Partner, CTS.

“A lot of organizations in the nonprofit sector don't have the resources available to employ in-house data specialists,” says Stuart. “But people still want analysis and reports, so the task of preparing them lands on someone else’s desk, leading to bottlenecks and frustration. We wanted a managed solution that anybody could use.”

“On the front end of the dashboard, a manager can adjust filters and see results almost instantly. On the back end, BigQuery does a huge amount of work to make that happen. Other products would lag, but we’re able to provide a responsive experience that doesn’t frustrate users.”

Stuart Pearson, Chief Digital Officer, Citizens Advice Manchester

Building a scalable, responsive dashboard with managed services

For nonprofit organizations with tightly controlled budgets, business intelligence is rarely a top priority. Citizens Advice Manchester uses the same telephony system as every branch of Citizens Advice in the UK, which works well, but only produces a limited quantity of data, in the form of raw spreadsheet files. The national Citizens Advice team used to deliver a monthly snapshot of the previous month’s work. They have since moved to a daily update via tableau, but this still didn’t fully meet the needs of some offices. Managers at Citizens Advice Manchester increasingly relied on Stuart for more directly relevant data.

To create those reports, Stuart had to request .csv files from the telephony system, process them in pivot tables, and produce a graphic for managers to understand. Requests for data would arrive almost daily, each taking almost an hour to execute manually, keeping Stuart from other tasks. He looked to create a solution that could automate the process and directly provide data visualization, so that managers could identify issues at a glance and decide how best to deploy resources.

Since the team were Google Workspace users, security and authentication integrations with Google Cloud made it a natural choice. Stuart was comfortable creating dashboards with BigQuery and Looker Studio, but reached out to CTS for a solution to deliver zipped .csv files to the back-end database in a secure, automated way. In less than two weeks, CTS put together an ETL pipeline using App Engine, Dataflow, and Cloud Functions. By exclusively using Google Cloud-managed services, CTS ensured that the pipeline would autoscale to match demand, without adding to maintenance demands.

“Once the ETL pipeline was set up, we sat down with the contact center team and worked out what they wanted from a dashboard,” says Stuart. “We took it from there, with regular meetings to tweak the dashboard based on their recommendations.” The dashboards offer a more comprehensive vision of the way calls are handled, rather than monthly averages or highly specific snapshots. Rather than request reports, then wait for them, managers can move rapidly between metrics, making new comparisons and understanding relationships. And because the dataset is updated daily, the team can identify surges in demand and respond in time.

“On the front end of the dashboard, a manager can adjust filters and see results almost instantly,” says Stuart. “On the back end, BigQuery does a huge amount of work to make that happen. Other products would lag, but we’re able to provide a responsive experience that doesn’t frustrate users.”

“This project was co-designed with the people who use it. They discussed and set expectations for themselves, while we all tried to understand what best practice would look like. It’s about more than one metric. It’s a nuanced thing, and you need detailed data to do it.”

Stuart Pearson, Chief Digital Officer, Citizens Advice Manchester

Helping thousands more people find one-on-one advice

The data that the team gets from these new dashboards, created using BigQuery and Looker Studio, has had a big impact on the way they handle calls. The dashboards help the team predict when there might be call surges, so they are now fully prepared to meet that demand. In the first 12 months of using the dashboards, the team increased the number of calls it handled by 6,000, meaning thousands more people were able to reach the contact center and find help. As well as aiding discussions about the best ways to work, the dashboards are also helping to map out expectations for new advisors and make training more effective.

The solution is making an impact on the charity’s national network, too. Across the UK, at the outbreak of Covid-19, Citizens Advice offices were inundated with calls, and the organization set up a national overflow capacity to support contact centers. The Manchester branch was able to use its dashboards to identify when its advisors were in less demand locally, and then assign them to the national effort. And other offices have reached out to implement the solution in their own areas. Because the dashboard draws on national data and the solution is built with scalable Google Cloud-managed services, Stuart can easily replicate the dashboard for any team in the UK.

“This project was co-designed with the people who use it,” says Stuart. “They discussed and set expectations for themselves, while we all tried to understand what best practice would look like. It’s about more than one metric. It’s a nuanced thing, and you need detailed data to do it.”

Tell us your challenge. We're here to help.

Contact us

About Citizens Advice Manchester

Citizens Advice Manchester is one of the 280 charities that make up Citizens Advice. Founded in 1939, Citizens Advice provides legal and financial advice to 2.8 million people throughout the United Kingdom.

Industries: Non-profit
Location: United Kingdom

About CTS

CTS is one of Europe’s largest Google Cloud Managed Service Providers. A cloud-native leader since 2008, it offers full-stack cloud solutions.