People & Technology in 2020 – A Local Government Guide

Moving from one decade to the next presents us with an excellent opportunity to look back on the previous 10 years. We examine which new technologies shook things up. We ask where our expectations were met, where they were missed and where they were completely blown apart. We study our mistakes and our triumphs.

Yet the turn of the decade also gives a chance to look forward to the next 10 years. It’s a time to use what we know now to predict the future. Due to our work with advanced AI and customer service technology, this is something that we at Inform are very accustomed to. We’re always working with innovative and groundbreaking technologies that have the potential to transform organisations’ relationships with their customers.

That’s why we thought it a good idea to share our vision of how the implementation of customer-facing technology in local government will benefit citizens in 2020 and beyond.

  1. Delivering more with less – progress despite budget restraints

Over the last few years, the key challenge facing local authorities across the country has been finding a way to continue delivering high-quality services despite considerable budgetary pressures. This will continue to be a major concern in 2020.

However, we also believe that technological innovation can play a central role in alleviating these financial pressures, while still maintaining quality services.

At Inform, all of our service solutions are designed to improve the customer experience, whilst also driving greater efficiency and increasing savings for local authorities. For instance;

People & Technology in 2020 - A Local Government Guide
  • Chatbots allow customers to access information, resources and services on a 24/7 basis without human intervention, reducing the workload during office hours and freeing up human agents to focus on more valuable work.
  • IVR (Interactive Voice Response) Telephony automates a large number of calls, reducing the need for human intervention and allowing for considerable savings to be made. For the City of Edinburgh Council, our telephony system successfully handled 41% of all calls without the need for human intervention, performing work equivalent to 13.4 full-time employees and generating annual savings of £280,329.
  • Our Mobile Web Module helps reduces the number of calls being made to local authorities and shifts customers towards other, more efficient channels.

In this guide, we’ll explore how such technologies are key to resolving the key contradiction at the heart of modern local government service provision – how to do more for your customers with fewer resources.

  1. Automation where appropriate – but it must benefit customers

In 2020, local authorities will have to drive down costs wherever they can to meet tight budgetary restraints. One of the most important ways of doing so is by automating appropriate enquiries with powerful self-service technologies. However, such technology must be implemented in a way that benefits customers.

This means providing customers with self-service channels that they are happy and willing to use.

  • Customers are increasingly confident and comfortable engaging with chatbots. While 67% of the general population interacted with a bot at some point over the last year, 2020 is likely to be the year bots really take off. An estimated 85% of all customer interactions will be handled by a Chatbot in 2020.
  • IVR systems ensure customers can access important information without having to wait in a queue or make their enquiry within office hours.
  • Self-service resources, such as online forms, save customers time, money and energy as they allow individuals to complete routine tasks without having to visit their local government office in person. Channel shift strategies and technologies are key to unlocking the full potential of such resources.

If automation technologies are introduced without due thought for the customer, benefits are limited. This is for two principal reasons;

  1. Customer service technology can be used to both improve the customer experience and cut costs – if a technology fails in either one of these aspects is falling short of its potential.
  2. Customers will avoid sub-standard service provision and revert to more expensive channels, such as telephony and face-to-face meetings, limiting the savings that can be made in the process.

Implementing automation technology in a way that drives savings but also avoids the pitfall of alienating customers can be a challenge. It’s a balancing act that often requires outside expertise but that is essential if you’re to build a customer service system that thrives in the future.

  1. Providing focused access to services

In our society, time is often considered an extremely valuable commodity. Consequently, local authorities can improve the customer experience by using certain technologies to minimise the amount of customer time that’s wasted.

The modern Local Authority is a large organisation with a considerable number of responsibilities and various functions to fulfil. This can make it difficult to navigate. The current system wastes customers’ time in two main ways;

People & Technology in 2020 - A Local Government Guide
  1. Long wait times
  2. Not reaching the required resource or agent quickly, easily and at the first time of asking.

Fortunately, customer service technology that goes some way to resolving these issues is readily available.

Channel shift technologies, Chatbots and IVR itself all play an important role in reducing reliance on telephony-based human agents. The fewer calls coming through to the contact centre, the shorter the wait time.

Chatbots and IVR are also effective technologies for directing customers to the most appropriate resource, channel or agent. They minimise misroutes, maximise self-service use and automate routine enquiries that would otherwise be handled by over-stretched agents.

  1. Affecting channel shift – a win-win strategy

Many customers are naturally inclined to pick up the phone when they want to make an enquiry or resolve an issue with their Local Authority. It’s the way that customer service has been carried out for the vast majority of the last 50 years.

Introducing self-service technologies, like Chatbots and IVR, is not an attempt to prevent those who prefer using the telephone from doing so.

Instead, it’s an attempt to provide those who do want to self-serve with the opportunity to do so. This is not only advantageous to those customers who would rather self-serve, it also benefits the Local Authority by cutting costs and allowing them to focus their attention on those individuals who want or need to use the phone.

Stuart Dawson, Head of Revenue & Benefits at Dorset Council, has commented on how Inform’s expertise allowed his council to realise their aim of greater channel shift.

‘The idea was to enable those customers who wish to self-serve to do so, freeing up capacity for our agents to support customers who are unable to self-serve… Inform played a key role in that achievement.’

Our integrated-SMS system is an excellent example of how implementing channel shift in local government can be achieved. It directs customers towards resources and channels that they’re happy to use but wouldn’t without being guided to do so.

It’s also necessary to take into consideration the fact that recent research has shown that a whopping 67% of customers would rather self-serve than speak to a human representative.

This means that effective channel shift technologies aren’t just a means of cutting costs, they’re a way of providing customers with the experience they’re demanding. Neil Jamieson of the City of Edinburgh Council sums it up best when he says:

‘people are happy to self-serve. In many cases, they prefer it to being forced to speak to a human agent.’

All that’s needed are the technologies that allow them to do so.

  1. Collecting and analysing data for a more efficient service

In the digital era, data plays an enormous role in the development and refinement of services. Organisations of all types utilise the information generated by users to ensure their products and services meet the needs of customers.

Local Authorities are no different – they too need to consider ways they can improve services via the collection and analysis of customer information. In this respect, there are three key factors LAs need to consider;

People & Technology in 2020 - A Local Government Guide
  1. The channels through which personal data is collected need to be optimised for the task. In other words, the channel must be able to collect, process and store large amounts of data quickly and easily.
  2. Channels need to be linked in an omnichannel system. Data must be able to move freely around an organisation and across channels. Agents must also be able to access customer data from any channel without difficulty.
  3. Data needs to be analysed comprehensively if valuable lessons are to be taken from the information acquired.

Of all the technologies available to LAs, Chatbots have the greatest data-gathering capacity. However, other digital resources, including online forms, should also be integrated into the data collection system if you’re to maximise the amount of information available for analysis and use by your agents.

At Inform, we ensure your technology’s capabilities are maximised by including enhanced analytics as part of the package. Our analytics software generates regular reports for both frontline employees and management-level individuals. This ensures that you benefit from a comprehensive understanding of how customers are behaving, how the technology is performing and where improvements can be made.

Finally, our focus on omnichannel strategies ensures that all the data that is acquired can be put to good use by LA agents. This improves the customer experience by ensuring that users don’t have to repeatedly provide personal information or enquiry details – everything is already there for agents to see in an intuitive and easy to use CRM module.

Neil Jamieson explains how this has helped improve Edinburgh Council’s service provision.

‘The system ensures that callers not only get through to the right agent but talk to a prepared agent, improving the quality of response. If employees know where a call is coming from and what the query is going to be, they’re set up for that contact.’

  1. 24/7/365 access to services for customers that demand versatility

Office hour access to Local Authority contact centres is not enough for many individuals who find it difficult to engage with the services and juggle their work and other responsibilities. Consequently, new customer service technology must offer around the clock access if it’s to provide a satisfactory customer experience.

While 24/7 access is particularly important for several urgent, frontline services (health-related and care services are a good example of this), LAs also need to care for those citizens whose enquiries aren’t immediately urgent but who would otherwise struggle to engage with the LA.

Chatbots and IVR systems are particularly effective means of providing 24/7/365 access to Local Authority services. While IVR can provide basic information and direct callers to other resources, Chatbots are capable of processing a wide range of enquiries and transactions. They can help you fill in a benefits application form, report fly-tipping or register to vote. All without human intervention.

In 2020, we’ll also see Chatbots play an increasingly important role in humanising some Local Authority services. For instance, Chatbots are currently being deployed in the care system in a variety of different ways. On a basic level, they can be used to book in carer visits. However, they can also provide company to those individuals who want to talk and need someone to listen. Whether that’s because they’re suffering from mental health illnesses or because they’re old and lonely – Chatbots have the potential to revolutionise accessibility to these key LA services.

  1. Building a digital future – no silos and developing an omnichannel system

There is no question that the future is digital. While there will always be a need for human-to-human interaction, no aspect of the customer care system is exempt from the digital revolution.

Consequently, one of the most important actions a Local Authority can take is to begin future-proofing their customer service provision. This means laying the foundations on which a modern, digital customer system that’s capable of delivering high-quality services, within current fiscal restraints, can be built.

People & Technology in 2020 - A Local Government Guide

Belinda Hayden, Exchequer Services Manager at Guildford Borough Council, is explicit about the importance of modernising services and systems through the introduction of digital technologies that truly benefit the customer.

She argues:

‘we need to make savings but we also need to provide a service for customers that is modern, fit for purpose, and future-proofed.’

If LAs don’t start in 2020, they’re putting themselves at an immediate disadvantage.

What Next?

Digital technologies have an enormous role to play in local government over the coming years. While IVR has been around for many years, experts like Inform are constantly refining and improving the system, integrating it with emerging technologies to offer a more powerful, holistic service. Chatbots, on the other hand, are just the tip of the AI iceberg and represent the beginning of the journey towards advanced artificial intelligence in government services.

If Local Authorities want to care for their citizens and provide them with a superior service, despite budget restraints, these technologies will play a vital role. In this article, we’ve attempted to demonstrate how they can improve the customer experience going forward. If you’d like to know more about how our customer service expertise can help you, why not book a demonstration and we’ll show you what the future holds.

Have a question about improving customer service using self-serve technologies? Our expert team have been providing customer contact solutions to Local Government for over 30 years. Call us on 01344 595800 or drop us a line.