Though positioned as a small, rural local authority, North Kesteven District Council operates across a large area, making the delivery of popular services to residents quite challenging.
When central Government withdrew its funding for garden waste collection, we wanted to ensure that the service remained available to residents but in doing so, had to find an alternative financial source.
In late 2012, the council proposed launching an opt-in green waste collection service which would be open for registration from the end of February 2013. In order to encourage and maximise sign-up, we knew we had to make this service as efficient and accessible as possible for residents. We decided that, in addition to traditional registration via telephone, the council would offer residents the option to register and pay for the service online, using an intelligent e-form.
To deliver the new service online, the council needed a suitable e-forms solution that could be easily used by residents across a range of PCs, tablets and smartphones.
Crucially, we wanted a solution which would integrate with our various back-office systems, including payments processing, environmental services and property systems. We had already seen demonstrations of Firmstep’s software and successful deployment of its platform amongst neighbouring councils prompted us to implement a solution using AchieveForms in January 2013.
In the space offour weeks, North Kesteven District Council was able to procure, design, develop and implement an online form capability, allowing us to launch the new garden waste collection service in time for our go-live target date. The immediate response from local residents was impressive; far exceeding our expectations. In just 10 weeks following its launch at the end of February 2013, 25,000 households – over half of those served by the local authority - had signed up and paid the £25 annual fee for the green waste service, generating over £600,000 in service revenue for the council.
Over 50% of the 25,000 applications were submitted online, reducing the need for the council to recruit additional staff to process subscriptions.
Furthermore, the council found that due to the responsive nature of the e-forms, almost 30% of those who signed up online did so from a mobile device, showing the importance to councils of having self-service channels that work on smartphones and tablets as well as conventional PCs. The high online take-up also meant that for customers who preferred to register via telephone, enquiries were dealt with far more efficiently.
Prior to the launch of the online application and payment process for subscription to the new green waste collection service, there was a sense of trepidation within the community. As the district has an older demographic, the council has always focused on face-to-face and telephone services, so understandably doubts were raised over levels of interest in an online option.
For me, in my role as customer engagement manager, the high number of customers signing up to the service online has enabled me to prove to council members and offices that there is a desire from residents to use online services. It provided us with the perfect opportunity to show that if we offered good, purpose-fit forms then people will use them, and they will use them well.
North Kesteven District Council’s Garden Waste Collection scheme is now one of our most popular services, with 53% of district residents having taken up the service to date. For me and my team, having the right software available has been a critical factor in the success of the project. The e-forms solution has enabled us to deliver the service in a cost-effective way for the council while offering customers a choice of different access methods; the savings we made by not having to employ additional staff more than covered the cost of the e-forms solution in the first instance.
This successful deployment has also encouraged the council to enhance operations in several key areas. The customer engagement team is currently developing an access strategy, part of which will focus on overall channel shift. As demonstrated by the success of our garden waste collection scheme, we have been able to migrate services online in a short space of time. Building on this, we are now looking to expand our online offering with the introduction of a Self Service Portal that will enable local residents to access personalised services through a single online account.
Another area for consideration is the council’s CRM system. Our current system lacks flexibility and is very costly and difficult to maintain. Rather than opt for an expensive upgrade of a CRM that is, in many ways, unsuitable for our requirements, we are interested in implementing a cloud-based platform as an alternative. Offering a more flexible solution that is far less resource intensive, this will enable complete management of customer service without expensive overheads. Furthermore, with a cloud-based platform that supports mobile working, the council will have the scope to introduce agile working amongst employees. As many officers are required to be out in the district on a daily basis, we need to offer them a way of working whereby they can complete their work in the field, knowing that it can be easily integrated into the council’s back-office system.
Our success in driving channel shift has generated a lot of interest, opening up opportunities such as joint procurement schemes with neighbouring councils. Although North Kesteven District Council is at a relatively early stage in its adoption of online service solutions, the experience has so far been extremely positive.
The success of our Garden Waste Collection scheme proves that effective channel shift is attainable and by pursuing further developments in this area, the council is on-target to be able to cater to public demand for further online access to services that we know to exist in the area.
Karey Barnshaw is customer engagement manager at North Kesteven District Council