Five customer contact challenges for councils

Written by Phil Newland on 29 January 2014 in Features

In the coming year, councils are set to embrace embracing the requirement for online self-service and the increased application of innovative multi-channel, mobile and social technologies.

In addition, I believe that 2014 will also see a re-emphasis on the importance of core data-driven contact processes integrating end-to-end customer engagement – both internally across multiple systems and channels, as well as externally through the co-ordination of service delivery between relevant agencies and departments.

Despite challenging financial conditions, people are still demanding high quality frontline services, and public sector customer service teams will need to work even harder in 2014 to reduce complexity and remove needless processes.

Simply mandating a wholesale switch to digital won’t solve everything, however, and there will be a continued requirement for specialist contact partners that can help smooth out demand levels by providing the right levels of best practice support regardless of the channels involved.

My five key public sector contact challenges for 2014 are:

  • Addressing Digital by Default, without leaving people behind – streamlining public sector costs isn’t as simple as transferring services online and expecting users to change their engagement patterns. For core local services such as housing or social care, a large sector of customers aren’t digitally engaged and will still require a high quality voice service. For councils, the adoption of Digital by Default requires a sensitive balance between intelligent service delivery and reducing digital exclusion. This can only be achieved by intelligent, skilled contact professionals;
  • Making social contacts cost-effective, supporting social media access to services provides a powerful mechanism for improved community access, and many public sector organisations are excited about the potential for social media as a real time engagement channel. Many, however, have real concerns about the cost of correctly resourcing social contact channels alongside their existing activities, and few are resourced to handle the kind of significant volume spikes that social media can generate;
  • Removing barriers to transformation - Many public sector bodies find that accelerating their digital strategy is often held up by the technical difficulties of bringing together earlier generation web systems and disparate back-end databases. This still needs to be resolved if organisations are to successfully extend their self-service/multi-channel engagement across a broader range of public services
  • Optimising end-to-end processes – Services need to be built around user needs, rather than reflecting internal structures. One council process for parking permits required customers to progress through 17 separate stages before completing the process. Rooting out these kinds of over-complex processes, and building simpler and better integrated options will play a key role in improving service delivery
  • Improving the handling of personal information – Last year saw local government organisations continue to suffer from data management issues, with many hit by increasingly large fines imposed by the Information Commissioner. Failure to comply with published encryption and security policies, as well as issues with access and responsible use, will continue to be a concern for public sector organisations who don’t enforce the correct procedures

For 2014, and for the coming few years, the reality is that public sector organisations simply can’t afford to run services on the same basis that they have in the past.

The expenditure pressures faced by today’s public sector organisations are unprecedented, particularly as they try to balance increased service pressures while at the same time looking for new ways to manage their tightening budgets.

To address this, we are expecting to see a greater focus on breaking down traditional service delivery models in 2014, with local authorities in particular looking to move away from the legacy “either/or” choice between in-house and outsourced delivery. 

At Echo Managed Services we’re certainly seeing an increased requirement for the kind of best practice outsourced contact services that can help public sector organisations achieve the right balance of costs and service provision, particularly in areas such as out-of-hours service, social media support or self-service escalation, as well as support for handling spikes in contact volumes.

Phil Newland is managing director at Echo Managed Services. For more information, visit or follow Echo Managed Services on Twitter at @echo_MS.

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