Brett Husbands 26 March 2015

Personalised self-service

Now that a majority of customer contact with local authorities is being done online, it’s time to set new goals for measuring the overall success of channel shift programmes.

The focus needs to move from the often-cited yardstick of simply growing numbers of visits to council websites, to delivering a service experience that people want to use repeatedly. This in turn will lead to persistent use of online channels, in line with the Government Service Design Manual’s intention to 'build services so good that people prefer to use them'.

To help with this, councils can draw on the experiences of the retail sector in maximising the success of online channels for customer transactions. The key factor in this is offering citizens an Amazon-like experience, in which information and services are personalised and targeted at individuals based on their profile and history of interactions, supported by useful features such being able to sign up for alerts, track progress of requests and transactions, review older engagements and save part-filled forms for later completion.

This is enabled by taking a customer account-led approach to online services, with citizens using a single online identity to log into a portal hosting all the digital services a council offers. Single accounts quickly deliver significant efficiencies in service transactions and delivery, for both citizens and councils.

The user gets easy access to securely held, personal records about all of their interactions, and the council is able to simplify processes and reduce the need for time-consuming manual administration.

While the early adoption of customer accounts and single sign-on is encouraging – Socitm’s ‘Better Connected 2014’ report showed 32% of councils have a self-service portal with single customer account facility, compared with 18% in 2013 – there’s still some way to go before they deliver their full potential. But the benefits are compelling. Let’s take a closer look at the efficiency and customer satisfaction benefits two councils have reaped from offering single customer accounts.

When the London Borough of Newham introduced its single online customer account in 2013, citizen self-service grew from 9% of all customer contact, to 50% by February 2014. Out-of-hours usage of online services had grown to 42% in 2013. As a result, it has been possible to reduce contact centre opening times, with 55% of bulky waste enquiries being handled online, along with 68% of green waste enquiries, and 99% of visitor parking permit applications.

South Ribble Borough Council is offering a single ‘e-citizen’ account to every resident. Previously, processes such as reporting a missed bin collection involved multiple interactions between departments; the council is now able to resolve 80% of enquiries at the first point of contact. E-citizen accounts have also enabled the council to realise significant savings: within the first six months of services going live, financial efficiencies exceeded £200,000, with projected savings of over £400,000 over five years. Routine customer satisfaction monitoring of 10,000 service users showed 98% positive feedback.

By offering single customer accounts, councils can fully realise the cost and efficiency savings that digital services offer.

Brett Husbands is CEO of Firmstep

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