Local government: Channel shift - how to up your online game

29 October 2013

Chris Smith

Chris Smith

Former Head of Digital Transformation

Local government organisations are learning fast that a shift to offering services online stacks up both financially and in terms of delivering customer service. But there can be no half measures. To reap the full benefits, your website needs to be more than just another route to your organisation alongside face-to-face, letters and telephone contact. You need to change the public’s behaviour so that the web becomes the preferred point of contact with your organisation.

The price is right

The cost savings are eye-popping. According to Soctim, the association for public sector ICT professionals, it costs councils  £8.62 per face-to-face visit, £2.83 per phone call and £0.15 per online visit. Part of these cost savings comes from staffing. Self-service over the web frees up call-centre staff, enabling them to deal with complex queries and leaving the easy stuff for the public to sort out themselves on the website. Everyone’s a winner: staff are happier with less tedious calls to deal with, citizens happier because they can sort out issues quickly themselves even out of office hours, and department heads are happy because costs go down and service levels go up. Bingo!

But how do you straddle the gap between offering a few services online and creating a cultural shift to online as the main point of contact? There are 10 points to think about:

1. Take stock: You can’t begin to change things without first taking stock of exactly where you are. To help you decide which areas to automate, pull together data on the first-line contacts you have in each channel and work out how much that costs. That way you will build up a picture of where the biggest savings can be made.

2. Have a strategy: A 2013 survey by Soctim and Capita found a steady move to channel shift, but highlighted a lack of detailed strategy as a major concern. Yet, fewer than half local and central government respondents said they had a formal channel shift strategy in place. So, having a strategy is a priority.

3. Make it easy: The quicker and easier you make using online services, the more people will convert and stay converted to online services, so make it easy for them. One way of doing this is to group together everything that is self-service in one place, so that people can easily find what they need.

4. Create links: A good-looking and easy-to-use public interface is vital, but you also need to have it linked to back-office systems. Behind the individual service requests and multiple back-office system, there needs to be a single repository of each customer’s records.

5. Tell people: People won’t use your website unless you tell them about it. So make sure that the website address is prominently displayed on council vehicles and make it more noticeable and easy to find than telephone numbers on all correspondence and council literature.

6. Keep them coming back: When someone uses an online service - requesting garden waste collection, for example -  use this as an opportunity to encourage them to create an account. Point out the benefits, such as not having to re-key in their personal details for every contact with the council and enabling them to track their previous and current transactions.

7. Encourage people: When someone uses a call centre or face-to-face channel with your organisation, staff should not only gently point out that these services are also available online, but also guide people through the forms and even set up basic account details for them.

‘Gently’ is the key word here. Using self-service online is not going to suit all citizens and directing everyone online will end up costing you more in subsequent calls to the help desk. So tread softly.

8. Problem solving: If people are experiencing problems using self-service and ring the call centre, where appropriate, they should be helped to continue along the self-service process themselves, rather than deal with it over the phone. That way, they will have the confidence to carry on using the online route in future.

9. Think about access: People increasingly want to access services from their tablet or phone rather than their laptop or PC, so you need to ensure the content is able to be repurposed for different forms of access.

Manchester City Council recently redesigned its already highly successful site with almost half a million visitors a month, because it recognised that increasing numbers of people were choosing to access services from mobile device. Consequently, it has scraped columns in favour of icons, for example, to make it easier for mobile users.

10. Review what you do: Keep an eye on the performance of each online service for any trouble spots - e-forms where people give up halfway through a transaction, for example, or where the call centre burden is greater. Reviewing this information could help you see where improvements need to be made.


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