John McMahon 24 February 2021

The next generation of citizens: delivering online services effectively

The next generation of citizens: delivering online services effectively image

When you think of the main demographic of residents who use council services you tend to picture home-owners looking for council tax details, parents engaging with school services, or business owners looking for a licence. You think of this person perhaps being proficient in email, happy to jump on the phone to make a query, log in to a website for more information or make a payment, or even pop into their local council office to chase something up.

In reality, council services are used by a wider age range and the latest generation, Generation Z, are more politically savvy than ever; aware of their rights as citizens, particularly when it comes to renting or community issues.

This means they are beginning to engage and communicate with councils more. However, this generation communicates in an entirely different way - email is viewed as antiquated and why should anyone have to make a phone call for an update when they can simply get text notifications they don’t have to chase up for? Like many businesses who have adapted to meet these needs, local authorities must also adapt to be able to best serve all demographics.

The next generation expects everything on all devices. The reality is, that we need to think about making all of the content we have, to be able to be distributed in all available formats. According to McKinsey and Company, Generation Z – people born between 1995 and 2010, and Millennials – born between 1980 and 1995, are set to become the largest cohort of digital spenders by 2025, overtaking the current title holders, Generation X.

Getting to know the needs of Gen Z

One of the biggest differences between the two generations closest together, Gen Z use social networks more than any other demographic, and the most common device is mobile, which they use even more than the next closest generation – Millennials.

In fact, according to the same McKinsey survey, they spend an inordinate amount of time on their phone. Essentially, if you think you’re using your phone a lot, people that are under 25 are using it even more. This means when targeting this generation, the focus on mobile has to be at the top of our priorities.

The survey also predicts that one in two Gen Z people will be university educated, compared to one in three millennials, which will inevitably mean increasingly higher expectations from citizens, who will be completely digital native. With that there will be an expectation that every service, be it public or private, should be flawless.

Email is for dinosaurs

It might sound harsh but it’s true. The preferred channel for Gen Z to engage with is social media and the messaging services within those platforms. For example, if they have an issue with a brand, they’re likely to Tweet about the issue, if they have a question about a product, they’ll message the supplier directly on Instagram. What we’re going to see is a genuine need for engagement and focus on more platforms than just email alone.

Some government websites display all of their council services like a massive shopping list to browse through, but this format can be difficult for visitors to use when searching for specific information. People don’t interact with online services in this way, in fact, they prefer for the information they need to come directly to them. For example, receiving an email alert about changes to bin collection days.

All councils now have the ability to interact with people through digital notifications, this is usually through email, but increasingly people are requesting to receive information from their council through SMS messages, which are facilitated by GOV.UK Notify.

How can local authorities adapt?

People need the opportunity to be able to use digital services without an email address and the first step is to create mobile only SMS sign-up. This will offer citizens the ability to personalise their council services without email and sign-up to a service using just their mobile number. An even better approach is to create a social media option, like signing up with their Facebook or Instagram details.

By doing that it means a person can create an account in seconds - they enter a few personal details and their number, and then using GOV.UK Notify, a robot waiter will come back with a six-digit code, they enter it and then automatically they’re accessing personalised information.

But this is just the beginning; by using a no code platform you can create a service that could inform a citizen how their request was progressing at each stage with an SMS or even a Facebook or WhatsApp message.

As the Gen Z becomes the largest cohort of digital government services, being able to send messages through all these channels and using a no code platform, is going to become all the more important.

There still has to be a balance. We do also have to consider the accessibility of all residents, which means for now the option to call an office and the use of paper services, has to exist. But that doesn’t mean we should sleep on new developments in online services until the critical moment. By putting the right processes in motion now we can encourage younger generations to engage with council services in a much more effective way.

John McMahon is product director at IEG4

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