The move towards digital transformation in local authorities is well-established now. Indeed, some people believe that talking of digital transformation is redundant now as the ‘digital by default’ agenda is so well established within local government. However, is that really the case? And to what extent is this message resonating with the public? We’ve conducted some research to find out.
We’ve blended the empirical results of our research (conducted using an independent panel of respondents) with our own experience of over fifty successful implementations of the platform and we think there are some interesting parallels.
We’ve worked with over fifty local authorities over the last decade or so. We consistently find that it’s the same service areas that generate the highest volume of calls into the contact centre. Those service areas are waste (primarily queries about bin collections and related processes) and revenues and benefits (particularly questions relating to council tax and benefits).
Good quality self-service experiences are vital
If councils can successfully bring the bulk of these enquiries online and get them dealt with via self-service channels (rather than phone or face to face) then not only does the organisation achieve meaningful channel shift but it acts as a catalyst for other services to follow suit and for customers to adopt self-service much more widely. In order for this to happen, councils need to deliver self-service experiences that customers want to use and that they find easy to locate and navigate.
This practical project experience is reflected in the results of our consumer survey. When we asked consumers which activities they’d done via their councils’ website or app the most selected options were paying council tax and looking up bin collection schedules. So far so good.
However, when you dig into the numbers a little further things start to unravel. We see that there are many other processes that could easily be done online but either aren’t offered via this medium or aren’t being used by consumers. For example, only 16% of reports of fly tipping are conducted online, only 36% of missed bin reports, only 37% of new bin orders, only 25% of bulky item uplift requests and only 26% of benefit applications. All of these are generally routine processes that could easily be automated for the majority of citizens, so why isn’t this happening?
The pattern appears to be that, whilst councils have made significant progress on the basics of online self-service, they are still failing to break through and achieve a critical mass of use of online processes.
How can councils move more complex interactions online?
We find that most progress is made in the areas where processes are extremely simple – enquiring about when bin day is, for instance. However, the ‘second wave’ of processes are often slightly more complex and require the leverage of integrated technologies enabling bookings to be made, contracts to be set up, closer integration with waste collection round information, or integration with online payment options including direct debits.
Councils should not be afraid of automating these processes. Tools such as My Council Services offer behind the scenes integration of numerous different processes and systems to deliver a quick and simple self-service experience for customers, no matter how complex the process may seem at the outset.
Well-planned programs of work in these areas will build on the efforts already made and can switch many more interactions and transactions from offline to online, delivering savings and allowing for better use of resources. Processes that are triggered by customers online immediately lend themselves to automated back office workflow and can remain digital right to the point of resolution using technologies such as mobile working on standard tablet and smart phone devices.
Well designed self-service options lead to improved service quality
There is no reduction in service quality with this approach. In fact service quality is improved as automated workflow and end-to-end digital processes also allow for the automated update of progress back to customers. Keeping customers informed and managing their expectations minimises avoidable ‘failure demand’ contacts, when customers get back in touch to enquire about a previous contact or to report that something hasn’t happened yet.