Customer service and user experience in local government

Enhancing citizen experience

Customer service and user experience in local government

3rd September 2019

By Tim Burnett

The trend towards personalisation in business should be a win-win. Brands get to understand their consumers better, and consumers are targeted only with products and services they find relevant.

Yet there’s a tension. According to a 2018 study from Deloitte, while the majority of consumers find communications from businesses largely irrelevant, just 22% are happy for businesses to use their personal information to offer them more customised products and services.

So how does the personalisation trend play out in the public sector? Can it help councils provide better customer service and enhance their citizens’ user experience? And will customers accept the move to digital?

An omni-channel approach

In our ever-evolving digital world, it’s hard to remember a time when we didn’t have a computer in our pocket.

In those dim and distant days, the Government’s channels for communicating with the public were limited to flyers, billboards and posted letters. It was a scattergun approach, far removed from the customised provision that is the gold standard today.

Fast forward to 2019, and many councils are connecting with their younger citizens through social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, while the Government Digital Service (GDS) has rolled out more than 1,756 services.  

However, the GDS recognises that new technology is only useful if it’s based on a thorough understanding of users’ needs. Indeed, the new Government Technology Innovation Strategy says: 

“This is our first priority as we consider the skills needed to maximise the positive impact of emerging technologies.” Across all channels, customers are expecting an improved customer service and smoother user experience.

The rise of the chatbots

Automation is growing in council services, as in all sectors. One area in which many councils are investing is chatbots and digital assistants – and for good reason. 

By deploying the right kind of automation, councils can pull information from their backoffices and apply intelligence to all interactions across their digital channels. 

This further aids personalisation, and both improves the services offered and eases the users’ interactions. 

And chatbots are being widely accepted: since its digital transformation, Pendle Borough Council has seen a 95% reduction of in-person service as customers are instead choosing to self-serve. 

Cost-effective user experience

The best user experience possible comes when technology such as chatbots are well integrated with human agents. Staff time is freed up, but more complex interactions can still be escalated from the chatbot to a human where necessary. 

In a time of austerity, this is an effective way to increase productivity and help relieve budgetary pressures. 

According to technology company director Jonathan Sharp: 

“Local authorities can make significant savings by re-engineering their processes and adopting a digital transformation strategy, resulting in employees becoming more efficient and productive, improving services for citizens, whilst achieving substantial savings at the same time.”

A human approach, enhanced by technology

At Connect Assist, our call centre services worked with Calderdale Council on its digital assistant, Vira: the Virtual Interactive Responsive Assistant.

In her first couple of months, Vira  answered hundreds of chats during working hours, with a 70% success rate. The remainder were escalated to agents.Out-of-hours, she answered in excess of 1,000 exchanges with customers, with a 76% success rate.

Meanwhile, we’ve taken technology one step further with Monika, a demo voice-activated assistant who can talk to customers via Alexa and Siri. 

Illustration of a voice assistant

Tests suggest she could handle 70-80% of Council Tax queries, despite this being one of the trickiest areas of council services.

So it seems that customers are accepting Vira, and will potentially do the same with Monika – both of whom have to comply, of course, with GDPR guidelines. 

By extending the hours that people can contact their council and speeding up the process of doing so, Vira and Monika make themselves invaluable. And they highlight a vital lesson: the trend towards personalisation and automation must be driven by a commitment to excellent customer service and an improved user experience. 

We’re hosting a series of case study webinars on chatbots and voice assistants, exploring ways to improve the service to the public and at the same time reduce pressure on front line teams. If you missed our last webinar, you can view it online here.