As a long-standing employee of Abavus I have heard the terms ‘channel shift’ and ‘transformation’ used again and again in conversations with clients or in presentations that I  prepare for them. They’re impressive-sounding phrases with energy and edge, but I do sometimes wonder if the real meaning of these terms, particularly from a customer’s perspective, may be getting lost. What do we actually mean when we talk about channel shift and transformation? And, crucially, what do they mean to our customers? I come from a family of swimmers so channel shift always makes me think of changing tides, and in some ways that’s a good metaphor for what we are actually talking about. In this blog post I want to talk a little bit about what channel shift and transformation mean to me as a consumer. You might think that I’m stating the blindly obvious but keep reading because it’s always worth a recap!

Where do I start? As a citizen I typically engage directly with my council on a very ad hoc basis. Last year I think in total it was twice. The first time was to report a small fly tip that had been annoyingly left in a secured area relatively close by to my house, the second to request someone from environmental services to remove a wasps’ nest that had attached itself to my shed. Excluding core services such as bin collection, education and so on I would estimate that the council engaged with me directly a similar number of times – once to tell me what my council tax charge would be (letter by post) and again to tell me what the bin collection times would be during the holiday periods (leaflet delivered through the door). That’s the full extent of my direct dialogue with the council over the last twelve months.

So, in common with many people, whilst I am a user and recipient of many council services, my direct engagement with them is limited. However that doesn’t mean that my requirements aren’t stringent or that I am not bothered about the service that I get. As a tax payer I want and expect a number of things to happen every time I engage with the council (or it engages with me).

1. Seamless and quick process. I’m perfectly happy for the process for engagement to be fully automated and without any human interaction. In my dealings with commercial organisations I’m used to automation. I just booked a summer holiday for my family online without human interaction, and that is likely to be the single most expensive investment that I will make this year. So it’s very rare that I actually need or expect to speak to an advisor and I am very happy with an automated approach as long as it is easy to access, simple to navigate, secure to use and ultimately enables me to resolve my enquiries quickly. However sometimes companies put in self-service options which can be cumbersome and annoying to use and it’s clear that they’re there purely as a cost cutting measure rather than for the benefit of the customer. Whatever  automation is in place needs to clearly be for my benefit as well as for the council’s.

2. Relevant information when I need it. I want to receive information from my council that is useful, relevant, timely and easy to retrieve months on from publication. I don’t want to be bombarded with information that quite frankly doesn’t interest me, but I do believe that regular communication about a limited set of issues would be useful to have. It’s good if this information is pushed out to me but in a way that I can control.

3. Finally, it’s about value for money. When jobs are hard to come by and pay increases even harder I, in common with many consumers, am making sacrifices throughout my household. In view of this I want to know that my council are doing the same by acting effectively and providing a quality service but in cost-effective manner.

So back to the original question: what are ‘channel shift’ and ‘transformation’ and what do they mean to me? As you can see I welcome the shift in channels as it’s something I’m used to in many other areas of my life. But if you are developing your channel shift strategy, make sure that it’s two way, for my benefit as well as for yours. As for transformation, well, come back to me in a year and I will tell you whether I have seen seen any discernible transformation. Just a citizen’s view!