Haydn Howard puts some questions to Caryl James of Richmondshire District Council about enhancing the customer experience through transforming online services.
Tell me about your website achievement with Sitemorse?
We have been working with Sitemorse for 2 years, as its reporting was critical to us during the development of our new website. Its reporting functionality provided us with the reassurance that the content we were creating was accessible from go-live and that all links were fully functioning. The coding monitoring was crucial, as it allowed us to work closely with Meritec to rectify any issues with the coding as we worked on our development site. This element is essential within an accessible website, as it can greatly affect the visual display of a website or can slow down its performance.
We have achieved number one in the country status with Sitemorse due to our commitment to constantly monitoring all of these elements, and by working closely with Meritec to continue to improve the site.
What was your key driver for delivering an entirely new customer focused website?
As a result of our team identifying the change in customer behaviour trends, we realised that we needed a customer driven website at the forefront of our service delivery. This would become our main platform for interacting with our customers and our digital improvement programme was dependent on it being customer focused and accessible to all. We needed a transactional website that we could continually develop as an increasing amount of RDCs services moved online, as part of the council's ongoing improvement programme.
How important is it for residents using the website when being located in a rural area?
We strongly feel that our services should be accessible to all, regardless of age, physical and cognitive abilities and location. As we are located in one of the country's more sparsely populated yet sizeable districts, access to our physical locations are restricted for some residents.
Our website and digital communications channels are focused on keeping all our residents informed in real-time, to reduce any uncertainty regarding any of our services. As a result of our new online presence, which has increased the council's engagement with the community, calls to our contact centre and the footfall within our five community offices have been greatly reduced in the past year.
From your experience, what would you say are the best practises for improving the quality of the user’s interaction?
For this, collaboration with the customer is key. We consistently act on customer and user feedback as we want to ensure that the customer and user experience is positive. This encourages repeat interaction with the council via the website and digital services and promotes digital services as a real-time, time-saving alternative to phoning or visiting our community offices.
To enhance the customer experience, we also wanted to reduce the amount of content on our site. The old council website had 2,700 pages, of which most were out-dated and no longer relevant, and wanted to reduce the amount of ‘clicks’ it took for a resident to reach their required page. We worked hard to reduce the content of the website and converted the content to plain English, and by doing so managed to reduce the amount of pages by 1,949. This provided a much smoother user journey through the site.
We have kept on top of the amount of pages and site content by setting up an approval system, whereby all content is now approved by our digital improvement team before being published, and we ensure that all links are functioning by closely monitoring the weekly Sitemorse reports.
Does it surprise you that most other public sector organisations are yet to meet the accessibility standards needed to meet EU legislation for 2020?
Accessibility standards are extremely important for RDC as we want our site to be accessible for all users. Our driver has always been to make the website customer centric, regardless of our residents' age, location physical and cognitive abilities. As a council, we wouldn't dream of excluding a resident from any of our community offices on this basis, and we strongly feel the website is no exception to this.
Digital improvement seems to be an ongoing process, how are you planning to implement change?
We are consistently working towards the council's digital improvement programme, which focusses on automating manual processes to result in better customer services , increased resilience within our back office teams and better value for money for the residents of Richmondshire. This is an ongoing programme, and we will be developing our website and MyAccount functionality alongside Meritec in line with this programme.
How have been your experiences of working with Meritec?
We have been working with Meritec now for two years, and have developed a strong collaborative working relationship. We have an open and honest relationship which has resulted in many successful developments to our website and workflows. Meritec are helping us develop solutions for all kinds of business transformation projects within different areas of the organisation, and I feel we have learned a lot from each other.
Meritec have always been extremely facilitating with regards to our requirements, and this has contributed to our recent success with regards to becoming the number one local government website in the United Kingdom.