How digital pragmatism drives great customer experiences

A good customer experience and the opportunity to create efficiencies should always go hand-in-hand. Far too often they are tackled separately, for example, if a local authority focuses too much on the financial saving associated with a transformation programme, it runs the risk of worsening the customer experience, limiting the financial benefits to the organisation, not to mention the reputational relationship between a resident and their council.

Austerity measures, rapid technology enhancements and customers’ digital expectations have all acted as a catalyst in the demand for (and ability to deliver) online public services, from registering the birth of a child or providing an environment for customers to interact 24/7 with the Council.

Inevitably, there will be local challenges and digital drivers. But we also see several common principles that all local authorities should be considering when embarking on projects to improve the customer experience.

1. Many small gains

Pragmatism can often be overlooked in the race to implement the next piece of technology or a slicker customer journey. Very often it is the smaller, iterative changes that can add real benefit. In a world of fast moving technology and reduced budgets, digital pragmatism is exactly what local authorities require. Many small gains can accumulate to large-scale savings.

2. Start at the end

Start with the end user. It means you can truly understand the demographic of your service users and will allow you to design a service in the optimal way to achieve objectives.

3. Behind the front door

Always focus on the end-to-end journey. You could create a well-designed website, full of online services, but how do you get customers on the website in the first place? Consider how existing access channels work together seamlessly. Using this approach for Southampton City Council’s online parking services resulted in a 62% reduction of related calls and over 2,700 online applications made in the first year, equating to over £100,000 worth of savings per annum.

4. Don’t be disjointed when it comes to technology It is not just about the technology. Whether you are buying an off-the-shelf product or building a bespoke system, software is clearly an enabler to achieving your financial and customer satisfaction objectives. However, the extent to which you have integration as part of your customers’ journey is the key to maximising success, as this supports a seamless Customer experience

5. ‘Can’t find what you are looking for?’

A council’s website is increasingly becoming the front door to services. Housing good quality and accessible content is more important than ever. Poor navigation, broken links, jargon-heavy pages or simply not putting the online options at the fore can have a negative impact and result in customers defaulting to non-online options. Investment is being made into e-forms and content management systems (CMS) but the way in which content is being managed is not always changing at the same pace. But the evidence is clear; as we’ve seen at West Sussex County Council, the project to review and rationalise their web pages resulted in a 17% increase in web traffic and a 23% reduction in call volumes - a representative cost saving of £250,000.

6. One size doesn’t always fit all

Off-the-shelf products can provide a generic solution for webforms. This makes sense, for example, reporting a missed bin is the same wherever you are, right? But does that form have the same user experience as the rest of your site? Is the layout accessible to the service user and demographic? Does the form integrate to core back office systems? And, do you have the skills and access to update the form to respond to customer behaviours without incurring significant cost? These questions should always be addressed to generate the best results.

7. You’ll never design the perfect customer journey

This might sound strange but there will always be room for improvement because technology, customer habits and public services never stand still. When a programme or project is finished there should always be a function for quality monitoring and reviewing customer feedback and interactions. As services become further digitised, the role of contact centres will change, and you should think about how you re-invest some of these financial efficiencies into resources to continually drive further improvements in service delivery. Achieving the right balance of customer journey improvements and financial efficiencies can present resourcing challenges. Understandably in this climate, local authorities won’t always have the in-house capacity or blend of skills to do all of these things. Many organisations are now identifying where they have gaps and are finding flexible ways to access specific skills and capacity, for example through agile project delivery or work alongside models from the private sector. It is something our own digital specialist team are well placed to support, having delivered a range of digital projects for a number of councils, including West Sussex, Barnet and Southampton. Councils adopting this pragmatic approach to digital will be more likely to generate higher returns on digital and be well-placed to adapt as technology continually evolves.

By Chris Melia, head of customer experience, Capita Local Public Services

Chris has worked in digital and business transformation for over 14 years, working primarily in local government before joining Capita in 2015. Chris has undertaken a number of roles in IT, customer services and transformation, and has experience of leading multi-disciplined teams of specialists in delivering innovative solutions that improve user experience and positively impact the end user. Chris has a passion for providing easy access to services and information for residents and businesses who need to contact their local authority. Chris currently heads up the digital customer experience team focussing on improving customer experience and driving efficiencies for our clients.

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