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Developing an effective self-service strategy in local government

By |2019-04-29T10:10:23+00:00April 29th, 2019|

A key part of any channel shift strategy is moving customers over to self-service options wherever possible. This not only improves operational efficiency for the council, reducing the volume of calls into the contact centre and enabling operatives to focus on cases that require human intervention, but it also offers citizens a much improved user experience. It’s clear now that consumers are used to interacting digitally with private sector organisations and they expect the same level of digitisation from the public sector.

When working with our own local authority customers, we see time and again the rapid pace with which customers will adopt, embrace and use a well designed digital option. For example, Monmouthshire County Borough Council successfully processed more than 11,000 green garden waste collection subscription and payment applications within the first few weeks of launch using a full end-to-end digital process.

A single view of council is as important as a single view of citizen

There’s a lot of discussion about the importance of the local authority having a single view of citizen but the reverse is true as well. Citizens want a single view of the council. Why should I have to enter my details numerous different times in order to access different services?

Citizens will be interacting with the council across numerous different service areas, from booking sports pitches and checking their bin collection days through to paying their council tax or applying for planning permission. Ultimately they will want to be able to access all the information relating to all their interactions with the council through one single portal. Not only that, but that information should be personalised so that citizens can quickly and easily access the information that they need that’s most relevant to their specific circumstances.

We’ve recently completed a project with Southend Borough Council that enabled the unification of multiple historical portals and eforms options, covering different and fragmented services areas, in to a single customer access point offering single sign on.

Think mobile first

We recently conducted some research on citizen attitudes to self-service, and as part of this 75% of respondents told us that they primarily used their smartphones to access the internet. Mobile was by far the most popular method of accessing the internet. This chimes with broader consumer trends and an overall move towards mobile, and this trend is only going to continue. There will be no going back to the days of PC dominance.

Councils need to take this into account and ensure that all the services they build are designed and work on mobile. Indeed, the strategy now should be mobile first. New services should be designed for mobile and then subsequently checked to ensure that they also work on PCs rather than, as is so often the case, the other way around.

Glasgow City Council uses a native mobile app that has more than 90,000 regular users and is popular with customers for a quick and easy reporting option whilst also being an integrated element of their wider digital offering.

Feel the fear and do it anyway

When we talk to those tasked with running large digital transformation projects they often tell us that resistance to change is a big barrier that stands in the way of further digitization. Specifically, organisations suffer from a cultural fear of automation and digitisation. Sometimes this stems from an (incorrect) belief that such automation reduces the quality of the service available to customers. More commonly, it stems from concern that automation leads to job losses, with loyal staff being replaced by robots and algorithms.

Whilst this fear is understandable, when automation is done well it doesn’t lead to job losses but rather presents councils with a great opportunity to motivate staff and get the best out of them. Automation reduces the amount of mundane transactions that require human intervention so, for example, call centre staff no longer spend the bulk of their time on standard transactions but are rather able to focus their expertise on dealing with more complex enquires where human judgement is needed. This can be very motivating for staff.

Make sure you have a plan

We see many organisations now that are in danger of jumping on the automation bandwagon without taking the time to properly think things through before they start. It’s tempting to want to jump straight in and crack on, but there’s no long term benefit in simply changing things for the sake of change. Digital transformation needs to be done as part of a long term strategy and viewed as an ongoing process rather than as a one off project. It’s not possible (or desirable) to change everything in one go.

Take the time to think about where you’re likely to get the biggest bang for your buck and start your project there. Think about where you might be able to get some quick wins – perhaps those might be a good place to start. Quick wins can be very valuable in creating momentum for a project and convincing those higher up of a project’s value, which can then lead to more resource being committed and further transformation once the value of automation and digitisation has been proved.

About the Author:

Berni Simmons
Berni is a director of Abavus Ltd. He leads all sales and marketing activity for the business. He works with prospective clients to help them through the due diligence process as they evaluate and adopt the My Council Services platform. He also helps existing clients to expand and deepen their usage of the platform and its associated product suite. Berni has over 20 years’ experience in the software and technology industry with extensive experience of working with clients in both local and central government. He is passionate about helping public sector organisations realise the potential of mobile and next generation web technology, particularly when it comes to increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of service delivery, without diminishing customer experience.
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