Technologies can be integrated to increase self-service and provide internal efficiencies in responding to the financial squeeze, writes Ian Robson, business development director, local and regional government at Pythagoras.
Life has been tough for the leaders of local authorities, and it is getting tougher. The Government’s Spending Review has left local government facing a £4.1 billion funding cut over the next five years, on top of the existing squeeze on finances, and no money has been provided to support its digital initiatives.
But a transformation based on digital technology is essential if it is to meet the increasing demands on its services while coping with the financial pressures. This does not necessarily require an investment in bespoke systems; solutions are already available, such as customer relationship management (CRM) and content management systems (CMS), which can play a key role in a council’s transformation.
Customer service is one of the crucial elements in a programme. There is scope for immense savings in harnessing council websites to automate the processes, making it easier for people to self-serve online, and sharply reducing the number of contacts between the public and council.
It may be alien to the traditional culture of local government, but people have come to expect it in dealing with the private sector – they now book everything from theatre tickets to holidays without speaking to anybody from the seller – and the time is ripe for councils to follow the trend.
This can be achieved by bringing together the CRM and CMS features to embed publishing and self-service within a single platform. IT consultancy Pythagoras has been working with local authorities to develop solutions based on Microsoft technologies, and identified the functions that provide a new dimension to customer engagement:
- An efficient search function that can take the customer straight to the process they want to carry out, while also providing the organisation with a view of the most searched topics and recent search trends.
- A rich knowledge base, which can provide answers to a multitude of questions to reduce the need for customers to talk to a service representative.
- An online chat facility that provides the option for contact, but enables the representative to deal with a number of customers simultaneously.
- A flexible authentication feature, which makes it possible for customers to register and sign in within the CRM or through external providers, such as email or social media platforms.
- A business process flow that registers a service request then guides staff through the process, providing alerts, showing fields for the different stages, and supplying or requesting the required data.
- Design that makes the package mobile-friendly, so it works smoothly through tablets and smartphones, reflecting the increasing preference of the public for the devices.
There is also a growing range of business apps that provide efficiency gains at specific stages of a work process. For example, the Office Lens app makes it possible to photograph paper documents and immediately reset them into a screen-friendly digital format.
All of this can lay the ground for a major shift to self-service and big efficiency savings for a local authority. One of those on the path to doing so is the London Borough of Enfield, which has been working with Pythagoras to use Microsoft Dynamics CRM in providing a single point of entry for all types of contact – through the website, telephone, social media or face to face – and tying this in with the automation of as many processes as possible.
One of its prime aims is to significantly reduce the number of interactions between employees and the public, a move that can provide big savings but will only succeed if the technology makes everything easier for the customer.
This will be the key feature for any council aiming to transform its customer engagement – ensuring that the new online process is easier for the user than the old one. Get this right, and it is on the route to savings on a scale that will make a difference in saving services.
It is possible to integrate technologies to make self-service the norm in customer contact, and to provide a string of efficiencies in their internal processes. It will be a complex and demanding task, but it is one that all local authorities will have to take on to deliver essential services under a tough financial regime.
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