Changing Channels for Customer Service in Councils
Councils and other Authorities offer a variety of different touch points for customer engagement.
Over time, customer engagement has shifted from more traditional but expensive channels, such as a physical post, face-to-face customer desk and phone calls to digital, online platforms.
In this case study, we explore the different characteristics of various channels and explore the cost-per-transaction that each channel provides, and assess the corresponding satisfaction and customer experience.
The information presented in this case study has been constructed via conversations with stakeholders in many different organisations. It is important to note that many organisations that track this information are reluctant to share it.
Different Request Types
In daily operations, Council’s receive correspondence via many channels from different parts of the community.
In this case study, our research was focused on ‘Requests for Service (RFS)’. We disregarded other reasons for contacting a Council, such as rates and issuance of permits.
In many other reports, Council’s often quote ‘volume of incoming requests’ they receive however RFS are only part of the picture and all incoming requests get bundled together.
Summary of Customer Service channels in use by LGAs
Below we present a list of the different types of customer service channels councils provide:
Many councils still receive correspondence via post. Typically, a resident writes a letter, either directed to the council, Mayor/Councillor, or the CEO. All correspondence needs to be logged and inputted manually into the councils record keeping system.
Face to Face Customer Service Centre
Councils maintain physical customer service centres (many maintain multiple sites) where residents can attend in person to make requests, pay bills and interact with council for other requirements. Many older residents prefer this direct face to face style of relationship. Often, when dealing with RFS many residents don’t have the required information, including images or specific location detail.
Phone correspondence is the most used method of communication within Council. Contact centres are staffed by Council employees during office hours, and often outsourced to a third party call centre out of hours. Hold times range from 1 minute up to 30 minutes for busy city councils.
Councils have been heavily investing in digital channels for which the website is the primary channel. Many websites follow a similar templated formula, with either boxes representing common tasks, or a large search box, where the user is encouraged to type in their request and sort through a list of query responses. For RFS in many cases, this is presented and managed by a third party vendor like Technology One or Civica, and requires the user to first choose their area of concern, and then fill out a long and detailed form. Councils that don’t use one of these large systems often have a basic webform that users are encouraged to complete.
A small number of Councils have built and maintain their own app. In most cases these apps are simple web-wrappers that refer a user to a mobile web version of the Council website. In the case of apps such as Snap Send Solve, the user is provided with a native experience that lets them easily take pictures, confirm a location and send a report to Council quickly and efficiently.
Channel by Criteria
As Councils work to increase their efficiency, the shift to digital and self-service channels has been steadily increasing over time.
An active shift away from Face to Face interactions has been replaced with an increasing focus on digital channels.
Below we have presented a model of the volume of correspondence by channel for 2019 as supplied to Snap Send Solve from numerous sources.
2019 - Volume via Channel
We also investigated how this was likely to change over the course of the next five years, with the results presented below. As expected, and seen in all other parts of the economy, there will be a dramatic shift towards lower cost digital channels that provide a better customer experience.
This prediction has been made by observing the trends from other countries and industry modelling from various sectors.
Predicted 2024 - Volume via Channel
Based on our conversations with LGAs over the past year we have gathered data on the current cost per transaction of various channels, and the anticipated cost per transaction of the same channels in the future.
As expected, the cost to maintain manual channels (Face to Face and Phone) will increase with rising wage costs, while digital channels will continue to reduce in cost as the uptake and sophistication of the channel increases.
Cost per Transaction
How Councils are using Snap Send Solve to drive efficiency
In a 2019 survey of 6000 Snap Send Solve users, over 95% of respondents said that using Snap Send Solve made it easier to contact Council.
Over 78% of respondents said that Snap Send Solve addresses key issues in their Council.
Over the last decade smartphone penetration in Australia has surpassed 90%.
The vast majority of Australians now own and use smartphone technology on a daily basis and according to the Deloitte Australia Mobile Consumer Survey Australians aged 55 plus are the most recent demographic to surge with smartphone usage.
This change in consumer behaviour has changed the expectation of interaction in many sectors of the Australian economy and Local Government Authorities are no different.
Snap Send Solve research has continually shown that the overwhelming reason Requests for Service are lodged stems from a sense of civic pride, wanting to contribute to an orderly and safe community. Increasingly this sense of duty comes with the caveat that it mustn’t be time consuming.
The information obtained from citizen reported Requests for Service are hugely valuable in Councils preventing serious personal injury or further damage and cost to asset and infrastructure. Clearly the growth channels that are contributing to the customer focused collection of these Request for Service incidents are Websites and Mobile Apps.
Websites with User Experience defined and implemented are driving expectations and councils that have invested in the space constantly receiving positive resident feedback.
Mobile applications are a more expensive channel to develop and maintain on an ongoing basis and councils that are scanning the market for best of breed options are doing so with the benefit of delivering superior service and experience to their customers whilst avoiding those huge outlays associated with the channel.