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.