Countering the citizen revolution: how Local Councils should put customers first

30 September 2015

Andrew Gunn

Andrew Gunn

Consultant

It’s time for councils to up their game on the service front

There was a time – and it really wasn’t that long ago – when if you wanted to find out about information from the council, you’d pull out your copy of Yellow Pages and ring the telephone number of the relevant department.

In all probability, the relevant person would not be available to take your call and you’d leave a message, hoping someone would call you back… eventually.

It was a system of chaos and carnage, requiring a huge army of people to man the phones to support that level of interaction with the public.

Expectations are vastly different today. Today’s citizens simply won’t stand for such a shoddy, inefficient service. They want their query answered quickly. And the easiest way for them to do that is to use a mobile device or laptop to access council services online. They’ll be able to find out what they need, almost certainly without talking to a council representative.

It’s also quicker and vastly cheaper for councils.

We’ve all become used to this kind of quick response and our demands for more services online, delivered faster are accelerating all the time.

It’s a double whammy for councils: the public expects more from them, and yet they need to provide more with vastly less funds, given the 40% budget cuts hanging over their heads. 

One way to serve both those masters is to use technology to digitally transform the way councils deliver services, primarily through increased use of self-service. If they can find the answers they are looking for online, they will be happy with the service and they won’t be clogging the council’s call centre.

But to provide citizens with better services, councils need to get to know their citizens and everything about them in a more proactive way and to anticipate their needs.

Councils could learn a lesson or two from the likes of Netflix and Amazon. They put customers at the heart of everything they do, making suggestions about the kind of films, books or music they might like, based on the information gleaned from their previous purchases. They not only make it as easy as possible for customers to find what they want, but they suggest things that customers may not even have thought of.

Woe betide councils if they don’t start putting customers first. Mess up your interaction with a citizen and you risk being named and shamed for all to see on social media. And if they decide to make a written complaint, you are legally obliged to reply to them, eating up all too precious time and money.

Far better to get that service right in the first place. 

It’s not just about servicing the public, councils should up their game with suppliers too. Councils deal with thousands upon thousands of invoices a year. While there will be the regular bills for utilities, the bulk will be small amounts.

If councils are committed to providing service, they should put their money where their mouth is and offer to pay a fine if they are late paying an invoice. After all, there’s no reason for that delay if that invoice can be sent electronically and paid electronically.

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About the author

Andrew Gunn

Consultant

Coming from Newcastle my simple analogy to my entire career is to think about the many marvellous bridges across the River Tyne. I have spent over 24 years bridging the gap between client’s business challenges and technology helping my clients spend wisely. I am a highly experienced Digital Transformation evangelist specialising in the field of Information Management using Big Data and Mobile technologies delivered through the Bluefin Solutions Public Sector and Services business unit.

Simply speaking, I work for my clients in local government in either Customer services, Finance, Procurement or HR, helping them to get more value from the right data at the right time. These challenges are not new, they are simply bigger because there is more stuff to process.

I have worked on more than 15 projects in Public sector over the years - ranging from client side digital strategy engagements (£20k+) to forming an integral part of larger teams delivering mega projects (£500m+) for my clients in various roles such as Technical Design Authority, Digital Strategist, Business Architecture Design and Programme Management. A key aspect of my Digital Transformation passion is to ensure that I identify and deliver real transformational led savings with examples ranging from £0.5m to £20m per annum saved across a wide range of organisations.

What frustrates me is that many firms bamboozle their clients with complexity. Often recommending unnecessarily overly engineered solutions costing in excess of £5m. Big data challenges are not new, it’s about the right data at the right time in the right format, managed properly. I believe that working collaboratively with our clients to deliver complex Enterprise Information Management challenges simply is vital to achieving sustainable results. This, rather than doing transformation to our clients, as adopted by certain organisations, is the way I like to work.

Bluefin and SAP S/4HANA - welcome to the one horse race