Companion membership of The Institute

“Now I always look forward to receiving all Institute information"

Companion member Shirley Thorne talks about why she joined The Institute and what she gains from companion membership.

Applyfor individual membership.

 

Shirley’s responsibilities at Hampshire County Council include five information centres, the council headquarter's switchboard, the disabled parking scheme, managing the ‘paper fulfilment’ arm of the Hantsdirect contact centre and supporting more than 100 partnership sites.

Fortunately, tremendous support is provided by three skilled managers and excellent frontline teams.

How did her career in customer service start?

In the late 1980s, after family commitments and small business partnership, Shirley decided it was time to build her own career. She brushed up on her secretarial skills and qualifications and landed a PA role at the county council.

“I’d always wanted my work to make a difference and being chosen to manage a new information centre in Winchester provided the first opportunity. Success there started the ball rolling.”

Training and development – a personal priority

“Despite a track record of developing frontline staff I was frustrated that, although they were empowered to represent their employer, there was no professional qualification on offer.”
Shirley Thorne (Hampshire County Council)

“Training and development has always been a personal priority,” says Shirley. “So as customer service grew in importance it was my mission to chase opportunities for my staff.

“I became an NVQ assessor initially to encourage them to study, before assessing for the corporate training unit and achieving Management Level 4.

“I wholeheartedly support vocational qualifications and when The Institute won the contract to modernise the Customer Service NVQ a colleague and I welcomed the chance to put forward our ideas.”

Opportunities in customer service
“By 2000 customer service was a household phrase,” she recalls. “Despite a track record of developing frontline staff I was frustrated that, although they were empowered to represent their employer, there was no professional qualification on offer.

“Through collaboration with Winchester University, the council developed a Certificate in Higher Education (Public Services Information Management). About 70 frontline staff – mature students from Hampshire’s local authorities – have taken advantage of this, many continuing to degree level.”

What attracted her to individual membership – and how does she benefit?

“My involvement with The Institute began after I was given the daunting task of establishing a countywide customer service development group drawn from all 15 Hampshire and Isle of Wight councils. This group would deliver frontline services from all reception areas to a set of consistent standards.

“I learned about The Institute from one of our district councils (an organisational member) and was instantly attracted by the access to information, ideas and research.”

He employer encouraged her to seek professional membership so Shirley contacted The Institute. Soon after she heard she had been accepted as a Companion Member.

“I was surprised to receive a call at home but that was typical of a very personal approach that impressed me.

“Now I always look forward to receiving all Institute information especially customerfirst – I have quite a library now and regularly share them with colleagues to inspire ideas.

“We also use Institute research to inform some of our own strategies and plans.”