Digital inclusion and channel shift matters

Last week, the government announced the creation of a new advisory panel to help councils increase the number of citizens able to access services online, as part of its digital inclusion strategy which aims to reduce the number of people who are offline by 25% by 2016.

The new Localities Advisory Panel will “promote knowledge sharing and best practice between local authority and local public service practitioners on digital inclusion and assisted digital.”

This is good news in terms of helping citizens to get online in the first place, as this is a barrier to wider online usage of services.  However, it’s also important to remember that many organisations have still to migrate significant numbers of services online in the first place – and it’s this latter move which is likely will deliver the lion’s share of the possible savings and efficiency gains from channel shift. 

In our work with councils and local authorities over the past decade, authorities have invariably had their expectations of usage exceeded when they launch online services – helping them to quickly realise benefits and savings.  Although a service has to be both useful and easy-to-use, the public appetite for transacting online is certainly high. 

So there’s a balance to be struck in terms of making services available online, and in delivering access to those services for citizens who aren’t yet online themselves.  It’s important that we keep an eye on both of these targets.

A guide to offering digital services

Socitm, the association for IT and digital professionals, has published a free guide to digital services, aimed at senior public sector management teams.  The guidebook, ‘Do you do digital?’ outlines the scope, reach and progress of digital adoption in public services, and showcases both best practices and areas that require improvement or a faster pace of change, based on recent Socitm research.

It also shows how citizen engagement can be boosted by offering self-service portals and accounts, email alerts, and use of social media, and highlights the opportunity that online services present to redesign services for lower cost delivery while meeting citizens’ demand for more flexible, accessible services.  It’s available free from the Socitm website.  

Green waste service green-lights channel shift

This week, Karey Barnshaw, customer engagement manager for North Kesteven Borough Council is a guest blogger on Public Sector Executive, showing how the council’s automated, online green waste collection service has green-lit channel shift at the council.  The service has been the proof-of-concept, triggering the moving of further services online to make it easier for residents to interact with the council.  

Online self-service grows and goes mobile

Socitm recently released its latest Better Connected survey, which this year focused on mobile access to council websites.   The results showed that a third of all visits to council websites come from mobile devices (an increase compared with a year ago), but also found that tasks and services tested via mobiles were only rated as half as good compared with the same service accessed from a PC.

Socitm suggested that the data shows councils are finding it difficult to raise the quality of user experience on mobiles to match that on conventional PCs - a gap that needs to be closed in order to drive pervasive channel shift, as mobile access is a growing preference.

The survey also rated local authorities’ levels of digital engagement.  32% of councils offer online customer accounts, 36% offer e-mail alerts, and social media is evidenced on 88% of home pages. 

However, there’s a still a gap in directing citizens to online self-service resources:  25% of councils with an answerphone message for out-of-hours calls are still failing to refer callers to the website.

Bolsover and North East Derbyshire District Councils Share Firmstep Deployment to Replace Northgate CRM

Bolsover District Council and North East Derbyshire District Council are using a shared deployment of Firmstep’s Platform as a cloud-based local government alternative to their previous Northgate CRM system. 

This is enabling the councils to boost efficiency in their customer contact centres, and move a range of popular council services online, enabling residents to self-serve securely.

This will support both Councils’ drive for channel shift across their most frequently-used services, and ensure consistent handling of enquiries across all channels, helping to reduce administration costs.   The joint deployment is part of a Strategic Alliance in which the two neighbouring authorities of Bolsover and North East Derbyshire work together, sharing assets and aligning processes to deliver ongoing savings and efficiencies. 

The full news item is here.

Want to know what people think of your website?

We’ve posted before about how people like to engage with councils via their website, and about the frustrations caused by using those sites.  But until now, it’s been hard for organisations to directly judge how usable their website is — and costly too.  

However, that’s now changed.  LocalGov Digital, a network for digital practitioners in local government, has built a platform that crowdsources views on site usability.  Anyone can test a council’s site service, and users can search for their local council to see what other people have said about it too.

It’s an excellent idea, which will ultimately allow councils to see how their sites and services compare with others.  The platform is here.

Why closing the mobile satisfaction gap is critical to channel shift

One of the early findings released by Socitm from its upcoming Better Connected 2014 review of council web services, is that users of council websites are twice as satisfied by their experience when using desktop PCs compared to when they use a mobile device.

Socitm’s data showed that the use of mobile devices to access council websites is increasing rapidly, with up to 36% of visits in December 2013 being made from mobiles, compared with 23% back in Spring 2013 – meaning a 50% increase in mobile access in just over 6 months.

We’ve blogged before about how important a smooth mobile experience is for users accessing online services.  When North Kesteven District Council introduced an online application and payment process for subscriptions to its new opt-in Garden Waste Collection Service, using Firmstep’s AchieveForms, over a quarter of those who signed up online did so from a mobile device (the full story is here). 

At the rate of growth of mobile access, it may soon become the main method for accessing services – so closing the satisfaction gap will become even more critical, if channel shift programmes are to succeed.

District Council’s channel shift success

In a new article on LocalGov, Karey Barnshaw, manager of customer engagement for North Kesteven Borough Council describes the success of its automated, online green waste collection service, which uses Firmstep software to drive applications.  She also describes how the Council plans to build on this success by moving further services online, and by migrating away from a traditional CRM to Firmstep’s cloud solution for local government, helping the council transform the way it engages with citizens.  

Read the full article here.

Last call for the ‘Shaping Scotland’s Digital Future’ free event, January 24, 2014

Here’s a final reminder that this Friday, January 24th, we’re hosting Firmstep’s Delivering Channel Shift Success event in Edinburgh, focusing on deliverables from Scotland’s Digital Future Strategy and showcasing how a third of UK Local Authorities are achieving success with their Channel Shift programmes using Firmstep solutions.

The event will cover the key factors behind successful channel shift, including community engagement and migrating from legacy CRM systems to single platforms.  It will also feature a keynote from Ian Parker, Director of Business Tranformation at South Ribble Borough Council, in which Ian will explain how his council has applied the Firmstep Customer Experience Platform to all aspects of the council, the impact this has had on services, and how it is helping them to achieve bankable savings of at least £500,000.

Full details and registration are here:  http://t.co/qgDMVRILFm 

Mobile matters when accessing services

There’s still a lot of discussion about the types of device that citizens will use to access council services.  Will they use PCs, smartphones or tablets?  Or all three?  A recent report suggested that smartphone users are less than half as likely to engage with local government websites as PC or laptop users.

However, other reports have highlighted relatively high levels of smartphone and mobile access:  in Spring 2013, Socitm’s Better Connected briefing showed that 23% of visits to council websites were made on mobile devices.  And some Firmstep customers have reported higher than anticipated take-up of services from mobiles.

When North Kesteven Council introduced an online application and payment process for subscriptions to its new opt-in Garden Waste Collection Service, using AchieveForms, 52% of subscribers signed up online, and 23% of those did so from a mobile device (the full story is here).  This shows the importance to councils of having self-service channels that work on mobiles as well as conventional PCs.  Perhaps the discussion should be less focused on mobiles, and more centred around easy online access.