The concept of channel-shift (or omni-channel) has been a mainstay of the UK’s Public Sector for many years. However, how many Councils can say that they have implemented a channel shift approach that not only improves services for citizens, but also relieves the pressure on their own staff? The truth is, not many. However, the technology to enable channel shift strategies that actually improve citizen engagement are now available and are being embraced by the more forward thinking Councils.
So, why shift your channel? The three main drivers are;
- Increasing demand: It almost goes without saying, but demand for services are increasing at unsustainable rates. Predominantly driven by demographic pressures on many frontline services, the general increase in population affects all services. Public Sector organisations are unique in that they don’t necessarily want more customers, but keep getting them
- Higher service expectations: At the same time as demand rises, so too are expectations. From our food to our TV shows, we as a society now expect immediacy. This has the effect of increasing internal (and often political) expectation of services, especially around local election time
- Reduction in resources: Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last few years, you’ll be fully aware of the significant cuts to Councils’ budgets. Councils have to find ways of delivering traditional services in a non-traditional way. The amount of human touch points in processes need to be reduced, simply because there aren’t enough people to manage these
These factors align with wider societal trends, where new technologies have been embraced by the private sector to engage customers positively. 50% of people now prefer to use self-service options, and 8 out of 10 people go online daily. Now, whilst a retailer can build a whole business around being online only, councils can’t. Instead councils need to be able to focus resources appropriately and proportionately. Of those people who can’t (or don’t) use the internet I suspect a large proportion are the most vulnerable who need the support of Council staff to access services the most. This is the crux of the challenge… how can a Council offer the right level of support to those that need it, whilst also offering other channels to access services to those that don’t need support.
The financial business case for online channels is clear. Whilst exact figures differ the numbers are usually similar – i.e. a face to face contact centre visit will cost about £10. A telephone transaction would cost around £3.50, whilst a transaction via the web will cost about 15p.
It only works with the support of Intelligent Automation
The financial case for utilising digital channels is clear…However… this is only where the transaction is supported by a fully automated process.
Without automating the transaction, or allowing it to be completed online, the end result will be unrealised savings, decreased employee satisfaction and limited increase in service quality.
And this is where Councils are failing. Whist many have implemented portals and eForms to allow citizens to submit information, too often the processes behind the website hasn’t changed at all. From the citizens perspective its an apparent improvement, but when the back office still relies on people to complete the rest of the process —the cost and speed of the transaction is hardly reduced from a telephone transaction.
So forget channel shift, the term you should be using is Citizen Engagement. This isn’t about offering multiple channels but about improving the overall services regardless of channel. True citizen engagement removes the people from the process wherever possible i.e. where it can be done automatically, to streamline or speed up resolution of issues, or information made available and appropriate sign posting is done. People aren’t needed to put data into a system, so why use them? It’s like using a fork to eat soup… it’ll get the job done but not as quickly and efficiently as using another tool!
Where people are moved away from tasks where they add no value, to those where they can, this is the start of a true transformation engagement model which crucially frees resources to focus on those who need it most.
There are two types of remote engagement as we see it;
Simple: Those interactions which are a simple linear process, with limited outcomes possible, such as blue badge application, or bin query. In the first case, there is only one real option – gather the data and process it to a decision. The second is slightly wider in scope but still pretty simple – gather citizen details and decide outcome of [provide date rearrange collection, order new bin etc].
In both of these cases the trigger is the same each time — limited data is captured and based on that data rules are followed. The only need for a person in these processes is if the citizen needs support at the start of the process. These kinds of processes are perfect for channel shift and should be fully automated.
Complex: Hosing Repairs is a perfect example here. Whilst the outcome is still limited in options… schedule a repair, or replacement (a slight over simplification). The range of both triggers and specific outcomes make it quite complex. Indeed, the value in such a scenario may not even be to channel shift entirely, or to automate entirely, but more about a range of options. Filter out low level queries through webforms and chatbots, which will release call centre capacity, and look to automate the back end of a process so that the reporting it still largely person to person — with a hand off at the end with the relevant information. Here lies the difference between a 15p automatic transaction and a £3.50 telephone based one. Importantly, automation releases capacity from the rules-based elements, freeing more time for citizen engagement.
Automate the work not the worker
Once the channel has been automated, the potential is then about doing more. Introducing text message conversations which update case status’s, or customer satisfaction surveys that are automatically carried out once a case is closed. Nothing here is rocket science and is indeed what customer focused organisations have been doing for a while. The game changer now, is that you can refocus your staff on more value added tasks while the simple and repetitive tasks are handled by automation.
So given the challenges, and the opportunities, it must surely be seen that automation is not an alternative, but actually a necessity.