Changing the attitudes of staff, by using an innovative training film, has helped Plymouth City Council to provide a better service, cut customer complaints, improve employee morale and motivation and create a more enjoyable and supportive work environment.

Morale in the council’s customer service team had dipped following a period of change and consolidation but it fell further when a re-zoning of the waste services in the city caused the weekly number of waste-related calls to rise from 2,000 to 16,000.

Ian McPherson, Customer Service Manager of the council’s contact centre, said: “We were busy already, handling up to 3,000 calls per day on issues such as council tax, housing benefit and social care. To address the low morale, we looked at what other councils were doing and decided to use a training programme called FISH! which instils a workplace philosophy that encourages greater motivation.”

FISH! is the world’s best selling training film. Exclusively distributed in the UK by Video Arts, it shows how the fishmongers at Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle bring energy, commitment and fun to their work. The film has been translated into 17 languages and is an established resource for motivation, engagement, innovation and ‘culture change’ training.

Martin Addison, Managing Director of Video Arts, said: “FISH! is a global phenomenon in the training world. It offers simple principles such as ‘choose your attitude’ and ‘make their day’ and these have struck a chord with employees throughout the world and enabled organisations to create positive change at work.”

Ian McPherson initially provided training for the council’s 70 customer services staff. However, word spread internally and other departments – including HR and Revenues & Benefits – asked for their staff to be trained too. 360 people have now been trained. Plans are already in place to train a further 100 and more departments have requested the training. All directors and assistant directors have been invited to attend a session.

“I’m not a trainer but FISH! comes with advice on delivering a training programme and it includes a DVD of training techniques and examples, as well as customisable PowerPoint slides and documents,” said Ian McPherson. “It’s very easy to follow the guidelines. Afterwards, we send a weekly email to all participants, for six weeks, to remind them of the key messages from the film. Each team votes monthly for the individual who has shown the best ‘FISH! behaviour’ and that person wins prizes including cuddly toy fish and a certificates. The fish are extremely sought-after and people are very proud to win them.”

The use of FISH! has dramatically reduced the number of complaints from customers about how they’ve been treated.

“We used to get four or five calls per month from customers complaining about how they’d been dealt with,” said Ian McPherson. “For the last four months, we haven’t had a single complaint. This is amazing and it shows that our staff are making a real effort. Investigating these complaints used to involve a great deal of manpower, so the drop in complaints alone has more than paid for the cost of the programme. Our staff use the FISH! philosophy in their customer interactions and we’ve found that they’re generally happier and they’re having a lot more fun in the office. FISH! has brought people closer together and it’s created a more congenial and supportive work environment. I don’t know of any other training programme that can match this.”

Ian McPherson adds that the programme has had a positive impact on working relationships at the council.

“Despite these difficult times for the public sector, our motivation is very high and working relationships, particularly those with the management team, have blossomed,” he said. “People enjoyed having a laugh and a joke with senior managers during the FISH! sessions. It helped to show that the senior team are human. Also, after the election and the budget, we’ve been able to sit down as a team and say ‘my attitude is going to be positive’ and this has really helped us.”