6 tips for a successful self-service strategy

John McMahon
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As more councils embrace self-service, we’re beginning to understand what works and what doesn’t for ensuring customer satisfaction. I believe it’s critical that a robust overarching strategy is in place to ensure that all the working parts are coordinated and integrated for the benefit of the customer.

Here are my six recommendations to ensure self-service best practice in local government.

Mobile first

We have seen a huge shift to mobile in the data from our own customer base - 60 to 70% of all traffic to council services comes from mobile devices (smartphones and tablets). So, digital service design today needs to deprioritise the PC completely.

Organisations can no longer build a service for a PC and then check to see if it works on mobile devices. Quite the opposite: the focus should be mobile first.  

Personalisation is key

In the past, councils wanted a single view of a customer. But, in a digitally ubiquitous era, this is turned on its head. The priority is to enable customers to get a single view of the council - it shouldn’t matter that there are 20 different council services or departments. This view needs to link with the back office, but not replicate functionality, like so many citizen portals do.

With the power of a single view of all council’s services, customers will want the information available to be reflective of their specific circumstances. Personalisation ensures that customers can be provided with custom experiences and get answers to their questions, which will reflect their specific accounts, claims and details.

Rather than a simple static set of FAQs, a customer should be provided with dynamic answers to the council’s most commonly asked questions. Only data specific to them should be presented directly from back office applications.

Artificial/Augmented Intelligence (AI)

Put aside all the hype around AI and consider the relevance of using this technology: will it solve a current/forthcoming problem in a way that’s better to those available now?

For example, can a chatbot provide answers to a wide range of questions in a more effective and quicker manner than if they were fielded via a website, app or from a council worker?

Our R&D illustrates that if a chatbot can only answer simple questions that would be available on a council’s home page anyway, it’s slower to get to the same information through this mechanism.

A chatbot needs to be an extension of an existing digital platform, and be able to plug in and integrate with these services.

It is not enough to answer questions such as ‘when will my bin be collected’? A chatbot should be able to answer these queries, but it should also be able to recognise language nuances and pre-empt what might be asked next, and be able to learn from each interaction.

Make data work smarter

Today, most dashboards and reports provide visual guides on things like performance in order for a human to act upon it. However, real insight should be able to be acted upon the instant it is derived.

In the age of machine learning, insight garnered should be able to trigger updates to platforms automatically. If hundreds of citizens are ploughing through several website menus to find the answer to the same question time and time again, these menus should automatically change to improve the poor navigation experience, without human interaction.

Specifically, the system should learn what is needed based upon insight rather than someone having to interpret charts and carry out an action based upon it.

Digital transformation – an ongoing process

Too many organisations are jumping on the ‘digital transformation’ bandwagon but there is no point starting from nowhere and changing absolutely everything simply for the sake of it.

Service transformation should be an ongoing process - not everything needs to be overhauled or transformed right away. The main focus should be the customer, not how much you can make digital on day one. And, in that way, lies the best return on investment.

Automate to invigorate

Cultural fear can inhibit ‘going digital’ or automating processes. Change is often met with suspicion. But, for councils, automation presents a great opportunity to motivate and get the best out of staff, not necessarily replace them.

Instead of focusing on the mundane, staff could be trained in managing the more complex elements of the job where human judgement is required. Or, as many councils have already done, provide your staff (at a cost) to other councils not as evolved on the digital journey as you.

Final thought 

Implementing a whole self-service customer service approach should never be a tactical decision or one to ‘keep up with the Joneses’. Instead, it needs to be part of a coordinated organisational strategy that is based on an understanding of your customers and a focus on helping to optimise the customer journey every step of the way.

Customers will choose digital if you ensure you choose the right approach for them.

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