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Managing channels in the public sector

24th Jan 2017
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VoiceSage’s Matthew Weil discusses the findings of a recent UK Contact Centre Forum and VoiceSage joint seminar on channel shift — an idea talked about a lot, but which participants don’t feel is happening enough

To create true cross-channel engagement, don’t force the public down one channel, but provide service users with ways to find the option that suits them best. The problem is that the whole notion of channel shift is very prevalent in the public sector currently but doesn’t take the citizen into account.

That was the conclusion of a discussion held by the UK Contact Centre Forum in partnership with customer engagement leader VoiceSage with senior UK customer contact practitioners, and which featured input from a number of public sector organisations, non-profits, education services providers and an outsourced contact centre consultancy.

One organisation that had recently introduced a new payment system using visual text messaging and mobile payment solutions was adamant that flexibility is the best way to satisfy today’s customer: “It’s not about forcing them down the channels you want, it’s about giving the customer better options. If you offer the right range of channels, the customer will very soon gravitate to the one they like the most.”

Maybe that’s not news to the private sector, but participants agreed this is a huge issue for the public sector right now. While central government is focused on narrowing down channels to public services to digitally only, Round Table participants pointed out that the reality on the ground, especially in local government, is about working with the channels people want to use.

And increasingly, the preferred communication channel is the mobile phone. “There’s something about the relationship we have with the mobile phone that’s so personal,” pointed out one participant. This manifests itself in many ways but most markedly around promises to pay outstanding debts, which are more dependable if carried out by text with a customer. “I think it’s because it’s so personal, but also because there’s something about it ‘being in writing’ that makes it more binding,” added another. Industry figures suggest we look at mobile phones over 100 times a day – a statistic that CX (customer experience) experts should be taking notice of, agreed the panel.

Channel flexibility is also seen around the reception of social media by brands and public sector teams. “Personal is a big factor here,” said one CX practitioner. “WhatsApp is very personal, whereas an organisational Facebook page is much more open, and is seen by the public as a legitimate place to communicate with us."

The happyfrog16 problem

It turns that most of the UK public sector CX work going on in social media is around ‘comments, compliments and complaints’, the panel decided: “We try to keep it away from transactional as much as we can.” Channel shift in this context is, again, about breadth; practitioners say that their current use of social media is about working with it, but directing important discussions down more controllable channels as soon as appropriate.

There’s also the issue of identification. Who is ‘happyfrog16,’ and what is the best way of dealing with their issues? Another issue is monitoring as some organisations only manage social on a 9 to 5 basis, while many social housing organisations, for example, feel it’s best to operate on a 24x7 basis to deal with emergencies.

Clearly social continues to be monitored and studied by public sector CX teams, but the lesson is that practitioners need to work with citizens in as broad a way as possible to make Citizen Relationship Management (CRM) a reality, not a slogan.

Overall, the need to work with citizens in as comprehensive a way as possible and the need to save contact centre costs are key drivers. The aim is to improve service delivery, as well as curb expensive calls in to the contact centre. “The more we can do to reduce that cost, the better for us and the user,” summed up one delegate, to universal agreement.

And if it means one less wasted journey by a courier, an engineer, or a social worker – all the better for everyone, surely?

Matthew is Product Manager at VoiceSage (, a leader in customer engagement services







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