A holistic future, digital or face-to-face

Giles Reid, sales director at Capita’s Local Public Services business comments on Capita’s roundtable with Local Government Chronicle to discuss ‘The Digital Future: will channel shift inevitably lead to the end of face-to-face communication?’

These days, customer-facing services and channel shift often go hand-in-hand. Channel shift is an inevitable part of local government service delivery and it’s no secret the cost savings are one of the major drivers.

It sounds like a no-brainer for local authorities to move customers from traditional – and generally more expensive – channels to more online and self-service methods across all of its services. But in reality, successful channel shift only happens when the digital option makes it a far easier and intuitive process than picking up the phone or walking into a one-stop shop. For certain council services, the added value that a face-to-face interaction can bring sometimes outweighs the benefits of an online experience. Understanding the appropriateness of digital channels is significant to the success of service delivery.

This was certainly the view shared by the attendees of the LGC and Capita roundtable, providing a thought-provoking debate into the future of customer service delivery. While the rate and approaches to channel shift inevitably differed, there was an overriding recognition it couldn’t happen in isolation and simply be driven by cost.

From Capita’s own experience, the most effective channel shift programmes often start with gaining citizen insight to understand what their key priorities are and how these might be catered for within an online environment. And not just thinking about what customers need now but projecting future needs to understand what services will look like in five or 10 years and how they will be accessed.

Ultimately, technology is an enabler and, in a rapidly evolving digital market, councils face challenges about maximising investment and return on digital investment. A common theme to the discussion was whether councils should use publically available digital platforms and focus on solution design and content only?

Undoubtedly channel shift can deliver ‘quick wins’, but, as austerity measures continue, these strategies need to be sustainable to deliver efficiencies for the longer term. Service reviews shouldn’t just be limited to front-facing services, but cover the end-to-end process, including the middle and back office. From a customer and council perspective, demand for ‘customer service’ often comes from a breakdown in the process. If a process is as streamlined and efficient as possible then it will reduce the levels of avoidable contact and demand from customers.

So, while it’s clear it isn’t and shouldn’t be an end of face-to-face contact, by really understanding the service and customer needs, shifting appropriate services presents a real opportunity for councils. By adopting a holistic view, councils can maximise the value of channel shift, and improve services for the future.

This article was first published in Local Government Chronicle on 11 July 2013.  

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