Keeping people digitally informed about services and providing them with the means to access these services, creates value for those organisations who do it well. It also creates the much-needed pull to encourage customers to keep returning to digital and to reinforce the digital channel as the preferred choice for interactions.
The first generation of Digital didn’t deliver
Arguably, the first generations of public sector customer portals have failed to deliver their expected benefits; early digital solutions were developed in a piece-meal approach. Each application requested similar information from the customer but required separate logins and passwords. Faced with a plethora of single-use, or limited purpose, applications, which were not effectively interoperable, take up was understandably limited. Multiple sign-on profiles did not help the user experience.
Early online applications were often designed to streamline existing processes, with the primary purpose being to gather the information needed by back-end processing systems. Data gathering forms could be unfriendly and not mobile-responsive. Once completed, a customer’s submitted information might disappear into a processing void.
Many early digital services did not pay enough attention to the user experience and, crucially, failed to appreciate the importance of providing feedback to keep the customer informed of progress. Rather than delivering customer self-service, this feedback vacuum simply stimulated the demand for progress updates through other channels, most notable being the telephone. Failure of supply of information meant an increase in demand.
Digital customer service solutions in the private sector offer valuable lessons
Organisations that have been successful using digital have changed the dynamic between customer and service provider by:
- making customer self-service easy and convenient to do, making it preferable to phoning
- helping customers find the products and services they want easily
- sharing information effectively across the supply chain
- allowing customers to track progress of their requested service
- delivering the goods or service in accordance with the time frames expected by the customer (with expectations set by the service provider)
With digital, the work dynamic also changed. Customers could now successfully search, select, order and pay for the product or service they required. Before digital, all of these stages of a service transaction would have required customers to engage with an organisation’s staff, either on the phone or in person.
For successful companies, digital has reduced the cost to fulfil and service which means they can deliver on a massive scale. At the same time, customers have an improved and more personalised experience.
The parallels, and opportunity, for service delivery in the Public Sector should not be lost.
Making public sector customer self-service easy and convenient
Previously, the primary function of many of the customer-facing roles in the public sector was to capture customer information so it could be fed into processing systems.
Now, with a single log-on to a council portal, the customer can provide this information digitally to be used in every interaction. Further authenticated information can be provided to enable a personalised interaction with any service.
There is no need for call handling and authentication each time, as was previously needed when contact was made by phoning. Such data is provided automatically with the login profile and can be shared, based on definable workflows, across the supply chain as necessary, to help with the delivery of the requested services.
Helping customers find services easily
From a citizen’s perspective rather than the council’s, services can be grouped logically in associated areas, for example, benefits claims, council tax issues and care services, or they can be found easily by the customer using simple-to-understand terms. Service requests can be pre-populated from the sign-on profile to improve data submission accuracy and reduce data exceptions which may require intervention. Requests can be answered in real time, including retrieving personalised information from back-office systems.
Allowing councils to communicate service levels and customers
to track progress.
Using a well-designed digital solution, which is built to be mobile responsive and with end-user experience in mind, a council can acknowledge the receipt of the request, explain the next steps in a process and communicate service level expectations as soon as the request is received. As a result, the customer is kept updated about the progress of their enquiry.
Provided communication is received back upon submission of the request, response times for most services don’t need to be onerous, they simply need to be set out and delivered. Take the DVLA as an example, suggesting four weeks to confirm change of car ownership and normally completing that confirmation, via the post, in a week. The point is the communication of the service level buys time and stops follow-up calls within the period. The request is frequently completed before the customer has begun to wonder how long it has been.
Communications to keep the customer updated can be the automatic by-product of executing a step in a service workflow. It requires no additional administration effort from the service provider yet has enormous impact on customer perceptions about quality of service and the use of the digital channel.
Council users of the OneVu Citizen Engagement solution have seen reductions of almost 50% in the volume of inbound-call handling as a result of communicating service expectations via the digital solution.
By providing a single portal where citizens can make service requests or find the answers they need to specific queries, at a time to suit them, can transform the working relationship between councils and the people they serve.
Once digitally engaged with their citizens, councils can communicate regularly and effectively through the portal to further reinforce usage and benefits of the channel. By keeping citizens informed about the expected service levels, the communications vacuum is removed.
Regular and automated communication of progress via the customer engagement portal confirms that the council is dealing with the request and offers an improved level of service.
In both instances call handling demands on staff are significantly reduced which allows more time to focus on value-adding activities which boosts council productivity.