Local government budget cuts have received a lot of coverage in the news lately, firstly with the announcement that Northamptonshire County Council has recently voted to make dramatic cuts to both jobs and services as a result of a £70 million budget shortfall, quickly followed by the news that East Sussex Council has a cash shortfall that could leave it bankrupt within three years. Both councils are preparing to cut back services to the bare legal minimum and commentators believe it’s likely that other councils will follow suit over the coming months. It’s estimated that councils will have a collective funding shortfall of £6 billion by 2019 and so we may well see the core offering becoming increasingly the norm.

In this environment it’s more important than ever that councils use the resources they have as cleverly as possible and look for opportunities to cut costs whilst having as little impact as possible on the quality of service offered to citizens. One of the most effective ways of doing this is to move as many transactions as possible to a self-service model. Indeed, one of the benefits of this strategy is that not only does it save money but many citizens see self-service as a service improvement rather than a cut, offering them as it does increased flexibility and control over how they interact with their council.

When budgets are tight channel shift really is a no brainer

The cost of a walk in transaction is estimated at an average of £8.32 per transaction, with telephone transactions costing £2.83 each. In contrast, self-service transactions via a website or mobile app can cost as little as 5p per interaction, a huge cost saving. At the same time, in an increasingly digital and web-savvy world, citizens often prefer to be able to interact with their council via their mobile device at a time and place of their choosing rather than having to ring up or, even worse, visit in person during traditional opening hours.

Additionally, offering web self-service means that the council can more effectively reach citizens who may have mobility or communication challenges that mean face to face and telephone channels are difficult for them to use. So, done well, offering a web self service channel both cuts a council’s costs and improves the service it offers to citizens.

We’d never recommend removing the option of using face to face or telephone channels altogether but by moving standard transactions to the web this then frees up call centre and customer service centre operatives to deal with more complex enquiries that require their help, or to work with those citizens who aren’t comfortable transacting over the internet for whatever reason.

Self-service also improves customer experience

At Abavus our My Council Services suite of products has helped numerous councils to offer more cost effective self-service options whilst improving the service they offer to their citizens. For example, Southend Borough Council uses our Waste Management Module to provide an end-to-end digital waste management process. Citizens can report issues such as missed collections or undelivered recycling sacks online as well as reporting fly tipping or requesting a new container. The council’s waste management operatives receive all this information in real time via handheld devices, massively speeding up the time it takes to address issues once reported. Citizens can report issues 24/7 rather than being restricted to the opening hours of the contact centre, and the fact that they can log into an account and see the progress that’s being made on their issue significantly reduces the number of follow up calls to the contact centre.

We’ve also worked with Boston Borough Council to set up an automated process for ordering and managing the green garden waste service, enabling citizens to sign up and pay for green garden waste collections online rather than having to telephone the contact centre. Within three months of the launch over 11,000 citizens had subscribed to the service and almost half of all transactions were being processed through the web portal without the need for customer service operative involvement.

Maidstone Borough Council installed the My Council Services Mobile Worker module in its Environmental Services Department and noticed an immediate channel shift effect. Within a few months of launch almost 80% of abandoned vehicle reports were being made online and nearly 50% of fly tipping reports.

We’ve worked with numerous other councils on similar projects and in every case similar results are reported. When cash is tighter than ever investing in proper self service and mobile working channels can enable councils to focus limited resources on the areas that really need it whilst still offering a good level of service to its citizens. To find out more about how we can help your organisation to benefit, give us a call today.