Personalised Self-Service Will Drive Online Citizen Engagement

Apr 01, 2015
Brett Husbands, CEO of Firmstep, looks at how single customer accounts drive improved customer experience and fully realise the benefits of channel shift.

Now that a majority of customer contact with local authorities is being done online, it’s time that new goals were set for measuring the overall success of channel shift programmes.  The focus needs to move from the often-cited yardstick of simply growing numbers of visits to council websites, to delivering a service experience that people want to use repeatedly.  This in turn will lead to persistent use of online channels, in line with the Government Service Design Manual’s intention to “build services so good that people prefer to use them."

To help with this, councils can draw on the experiences of the retail sector in maximising the success of online channels for customer transactions.  The key factor in this is offering citizens an Amazon-like experience, in which information and services are personalised and targeted at individuals based on their profile and history of interactions.  This should be supported by useful features such being able to sign up for alerts, track progress of requests and transactions, review older engagements and save part-filled forms for later completion.


Improving The Customer Experience

This is enabled by taking a customer account-led approach to online services, with citizens using a single online identity to log into a portal that hosts all the digital services a council offers.  Single accounts quickly deliver significant efficiencies in service transactions and delivery, for both citizens and councils.  The user gets easy access to securely held, personal records about all of their interactions, and the council is able to simplify processes and reduce the need for time-consuming manual administration. 

While the early adoption of customer accounts and single sign-on is encouraging – Socitm’s  ‘Better Connected 2014’ report showed that 32% of councils have a self-service portal with single customer account facility, compared with 18% in 2013 – there’s still some way to go before they deliver their full potential.  But the benefits are compelling. 

Let’s take a closer look at the outcomes three councils have gained from offering single customer accounts, and how they have generated measurable efficiencies and increased overall customer satisfaction compared with conventional channels.


Signing Up For Savings

When the London Borough of Newham introduced its single online customer account in 2013, citizen self-service grew from 9% of all customer contact, to 50% by February 2014.  Out-of-hours usage of online services had grown to 42% in 2013. As a result of this, it has been possible to reduce contact centre opening times.  Looking at Newham’s most popular council services, 55% of bulky waste enquiries are handled online, along with 68% of green waste enquiries, and 99% of visitor parking permit applications. 

South Ribble Borough Council is also offering a single ‘e-citizen’ account to every resident, enabling them to access all the council’s digital services from a single touch-point.  Each resident’s own account securely contains their personal data, which enables them to access location-based information such as local planning applications and track the progress of their enquiries.  Whereas processes such as reporting a missed bin collection once involved multiple interactions between relevant departments, the Council is now able to manage enquiries in the first instance, with resolution at the first point of contact increasing to 80%.  As well as improving service delivery, the e-citizen account has enabled the council to realise significant savings:  within the first 6 months of the services going live, financial efficiencies exceeded £200,000, with projected savings of over £400,000 across a five year period.  Furthermore, routine customer satisfaction monitoring of 10,000 users of the services generated 98% positive feedback -- a strong endorsement of the personalised service and single sign-on approach.

Another body to embrace the idea of a single customer account is Scarborough Borough Council, which recently launched its Switched On initiative.  This centres around a self-service portal which offers a secure and user-friendly way for citizens to make and track service requests, report problems and make payments.  The council anticipates this will generate significant financial savings:  in its projections, just 20% of citizens need to engage in self-service to generate savings along the entire service delivery chain, reducing the costs of paper, printing, postage, and administration.  It’s believed the improved take-up of self-service alone could save the council’s taxpayers £150,000 over a 12-month period.

By offering single customer accounts, councils can fully realise the cost and efficiency savings that digital services offer.  To further accelerate this process, Firmstep is making key applications and processes that have proven to be successful with our existing customers available to all local Government bodies, on our services platform.   This way, councils can quickly identify and assess the solutions that are already solving real-world challenges and delivering benefits for other organisations, so they in turn can take full advantage of them.

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