Bucks County Council officials have been praised for the way in which they have trained staff to deal with people who have hearing loss.
The council sent 72 contact centre and business support workers on a half day course last year in an effort to improve the techniques they use in responding to callers with hearing problems.
The training, and subsequent follow-up actions, were declared such a success that the council’s contact centre has recently been awarded the “Louder than Words” charter mark from the charity Action on Hearing Loss.
Now Steve Bignell, operations manager for customer contact at Bucks County Council, is calling on other local authorities to follow suit.
He said: “Staff felt very engaged.
“The feedback I received from them was probably the best I have ever had after any outsourced training.
“It opened people’s eyes and they felt empowered and better equipped.
“The process gave a real insight into the difficulties and challenges that people with hearing loss experience.”
The centre, based at County Hall in Aylesbury, handles 350,000 calls and emails from the public a year relating to a wide variety of council services, including social care.
Mr Bignell said: “Some time back, we identified a need for us to be better at handling queries from people who are hard of hearing.
“There are several techniques we can use to handle these calls, and we decided there was a need to train staff, so we arranged the course through Action on Hearing Loss.”
The course centred on identifying causes and types of deafness, and identifying ways to improve access for people who are deaf or hard of hearing.
The contact centre was then given a set of actions to follow by a consultant sent in by the charity.
Actions included buying a portable hearing loop and using alternative forms of communication such as text messaging.
Katie Richardson, a customer services adviser, said the skills she learnt have assisted her hugely in her work.
She said: “I really enjoyed this session and due to working in an adult social care role within the contact centre and being interested in learning some more hands-on skills, this course led to me enrolling on a sign language course through Adult Learning.”
David Sloan, head of sales and business development at Action on Hearing Loss, said: “A staggering one in six people across the UK are affected by hearing loss, so businesses and organisations have a duty to ensure that they communicate appropriately and effectively with each and every one of their customers in order to best meet their needs.
“Thanks to the commitment of Bucks County Council’s staff, our consultants returned for audit within a matter of months.
“We are delighted to confirm that their hard work has paid off, and award them our ‘Louder than Words’ charter mark and a place on Action on Hearing Loss’ ‘Roll of Honour’.”
Martin Phillips, county council cabinet member for community engagement, said: “According to Action on Hearing Loss, one in six people in the UK experience hearing difficulties.
“That is likely to mean that many thousands of the people calling our council contact centre will benefit from this initiative, and I congratulate staff for arranging this and carrying it through so well.”