For 20 years, Paul Allen, a public sector communications expert at Opus, has been helping organisations across the public and private sectors to solve their communication challenges. “When we’re talking about the citizen experience, what we’re really talking about is the digital experience”, explains Paul. Today, that typically involves helping local governments along their digital transformation journey — all in the name of transforming the citizen experience.
“The public wants to engage with their councils using the channels of their choice. They expect an omnichannel experience, and councils want to be able to deliver that so that citizens interacting with them on any media have a consistent experience.”
A ‘digital’ citizen experience
“What local governments are trying to do is enable their citizens to engage with their councils however they prefer”, explains Pete Whitehouse, another public sector expert at Opus.
Advances in technology mean that for citizens, digital experiences are increasingly the norm. Even before COVID-19, the younger generation was already driving this change, highlighting how the public sector needs to adapt in order to meet changing citizen expectations.
“It’s about the council being seen as being more open and approachable, engaging new channels such as social media, artificial intelligence (AI) and webchat within their website to drive a truly citizen-centric approach.”
What steps can local governments take to deliver this and advance their digital transformation?
Five ways to transform the citizen experience
1. Embrace self-service
“Where a council is currently getting high levels of calls into a contact centre, the technology now exists for them to make that area more self-service using AI and IVR (interactive voice response) to deliver a message without the need for an agent to touch it”, Pete explains.
“These zero-touch solutions can automate low-value or repetitive interactions, such as frequently asked questions, so agents can dedicate their time to higher-value, higher-priority tasks like speaking with the most vulnerable members of society.”
Self-service functionality improves the citizen experience by streamlining agent-citizen interactions and freeing up agents to spend time communicating with those members of society who depend on them the most. From the council’s point of view, the cost of interaction per citizen is also cheaper on a self-service portal, because they require fewer active agents to take calls and can help the public to resolve their issues faster.
2. Profile citizen base
One of the biggest hurdles faced by local government communications is ‘data lakes’. Typically, a council will be using several different legacy platforms to interact with its citizens. Each platform contains customer records, and each one will have slightly different information about the same citizen. Others will be out of date altogether. The result is a disjointed experience for the customer and an inability on the council’s part to interact with them seamlessly.
“To navigate this, councils can now overlay their contact centres across these lakes, integrating the data within into a single customer record that can be easily managed and delivers a ‘true’ picture of the citizen in question”, Pete explains. “When that customer calls in or messages the council, agents can recognise his or her details immediately to deliver a more efficient, more personalised service and a better experience, or pass them along to a self-service portal, if that would better suit the individual’s needs.”
This ‘profiling’ enables local governments to better understand their citizens and send them to the right medium of choice, to give them the outcome they need as quickly as possible.
3. Improve first-time resolution
First-time resolution and the citizen experience go hand-in-hand. If the council has to deal with the same issue time and time again, associated costs rise. At the same time, the citizen’s experience becomes a negative one.
“The more effectively councils can reduce the frustrations that citizens experience from sitting in call queues and resolving their query, the more cost-effective the service becomes and the better the experience that they offer”, Paul explains.
“Switching out traditional agent performance metrics, such as how many calls they can handle in a certain time period, for metrics that measure how many interactions they resolve will deliver a quicker solution journey for the customer. It will also help the council reduce costs. As the global pandemic continues to disrupt budgets, that has to be a priority.”
4. Develop a clear customer access strategy
“The biggest challenge local governments face is digital transformation”, Pete explains. “They aren’t sure where to start or they are reluctant to change, but for all the reasons we have just touched on, the citizen experience is evolving and councils must adapt their customer access strategies in line with it in order to deliver the right experience.”
Many councils will already work from a customer access strategy to interact with the public. The emphasis here is on implementing a customer access strategy that incorporates digital channels and an omnichannel contact centre approach in order to deliver a ‘channel of choice’ experience and meet citizen expectations.
“It’s important that the council understands its citizens and where their preferences sit”, Pete adds. “This is the first step towards a successful digital transformation project that confers all the cost benefits of automation, self-service and greater first-time resolution while actually serving the needs of the public.”
5. Partner with a reputable solutions provider
The benefits of engaging a specialist solutions provider to support planning and implementing a digital customer access strategy cannot be overstated.
Many local governments will have navigated the remote working challenges that have come with COVID-19 successfully, drawing on the applications of existing solutions like Microsoft Teams to bring their teams together. As Paul explains, “the next step of the digital transformation journey is best taken with the support of a solutions provider who can show them what is possible, as well as the best approach for upgrading the estate.”
Opus’ approach to public sector communications
Opus has provided omnichannel solutions for many councils in recent years. As an independent, privately-owned company, our approach is always to understand the needs of both the local government and its citizens in order to customise the right solutions that solve challenges for both parties. We deploy best-fit technology, advise councils on how to manage their platforms, and can also deliver proactive account management in order to meet each customer’s unique requirements and help them to deliver on their social responsibility to their citizens.
“Taking a phased approach, we can integrate channels such as email, webchat and SMS messaging to the same agent’s desktop, so they can quickly and simply engage through, and report on, all those media as they would on voice calls”, Paul explains. “When they are ready, we can then begin using the APIs in the back-end of their platform to integrate those channels with the rest of their databases to drive that interaction with the citizen.”
With the guidance of a partner such as Opus, it is well within the realms of possibility for local government contact centre agents to interact with individual citizens according to their specific preferences and needs, delivering exceptional service across every channel, every time.