We have been working with UK Local Authorities over the last 10 years to enable them to deploy customer self-service capabilities that enable customers to complete a wide range of transactions with their Council, without any contemporaneous input from Council staff. Huge strides forwards have been made in this regard. Amongst our client base, all now have a wide range of online, all-digital, transaction capabilities. The same pattern of customer self-service through digitisation can be seen across the Local Authority sector and the same is true more broadly for the UK Public Sector.
Alongside this push towards all-digital customer self-service options, a more nuanced conversation has been taking place inside and between UK Local Government organisations. That conversation has been focused on the question of how many customer contact channels can and should a UK Local Authority maintain? The reality is that much of the push towards digital customer self-service has been driven by the need to save money and resources. Alongside this is the increased appetite amongst Local Authority service users that now prefer self-service digital processes. That said, Local Government is fundamentally different from commercial service provision in that Local Authorities must support all customers and must do so appropriately and equitably. This means that there is a mandate to ensure that all customers regardless of ability or resources must be able to transact with their Council. This means that for some customers, all-digital customer self-service interfaces may not be appropriate. This may be because of preference, ability or perhaps constrained access to internet connectivity and internet-connected devices.
In this context, Abavus has spent time working with its clients to figure out how best to fill emerging gaps in the customer service delivery model. Whilst most Councils have maintained a traditional telephone and face to face customer contact capability many have had to do so with a much-reduced capacity as ‘all-digital’ channels become ubiquitous. This shift has in some cases created new ‘service gaps’. One of the approaches that we have taken, working closely with our customers, is to design and deliver an integrated Customer Self-Service Kiosk. The concept here is to allow customers to use the My Council Services digital platform albeit in a Council setting where trained help is at hand should it be required. This idea is in some regards, not unlike the ‘self-scan’ options that are now offered by many retailers in their stores.
You can read more about the Customer Self-Service Kiosk on our website, but in short, it offers a safe and secure hybrid option allowing customers to complete transactions in the full range of physical Council customer points i.e. drop-in centres or pop up Council locations where staff are on hand to assist. In designing this element of the wider digital solution, it has become apparent that an approach like this i.e. to create an integrated digital contact point with the benefit of Council assistance from trained staff addresses a number of emergent challenges. It enables customers who may struggle to use digital interfaces on their own to benefit from them, and it extends the applicability of digital processes into usage scenarios that would otherwise take longer. For example, it is extremely valuable when there is a requirement to submit official documents as part of a transaction and especially when these documents require Council verification. Customers can self-scan at a secure kiosk in the council offices or other appropriate facilities and can have the submitted documentation verified on the spot. If completed in an entirely self-service context and remote from a Council facility, the verification of documentation could take considerably longer and could be more easily compromised. The assisted Customer Self-Service Kiosk approach improves security, time and resources.
It also provides customers who are perhaps less able with using digital technology on their own, with the reassurance of a trained and friendly customer service agent being on hand, to benefit from the digital processes that your council has made available. When completed initially with the assistance from a trained member of staff it is much more likely that the next time the same customer wishes to complete a transaction that they will have the confidence to do so in an entirely self-service context.
It allows for assisted/face to face transactions to be completed without compromising the efficiency of the primary digital process and the subsequent automated workflow that digitisation makes possible.
The advent of solutions like My Council Services – Customer Self-Service Kiosk acts as a strong link between online and offline customer service activities. It draws the two user experiences much closer together and it will, over time, support the adoption of full customer self-service usage. It blends the innate efficiency and automation of digitisation and adds to it the benefits of traditional customer service, saving the Council resources and improving the customer’s experience.