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Is there a definite channel shift happening within Local Authorities and Social Housing?

21/01/2022

Here we look at whether there is a definite channel shift happening within Local Authorities and Social Housing Organisations. We consider the benefits that channel shifting can afford to different types of orgnasiations with a growing number of customers, citizens, residents and tenants wanting to interact with organisations digitally.

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Over the last couple of decades, councils and housing associations have seen demand for services continue to increase while budgets become tighter and tighter.

Call centres are inundated with enquiries, ranging from non-essential queries to emergency issues. This can put an unnecessary strain on resources, especially when many of the queries could be resolved via a website.

Encouraging citizens to move toward self-service rather than traditional contact methods makes it possible to reduce costs while still safeguarding the services people value.

Digital channel shifting allows local authorities and social landlords to keep their support teams focused on emergency and priority cases but still provide all citizens with the support they need.

The Government recognises the many benefits of channel shifting and actively encourages local authorities to embrace technology. In 2017, the LGA set up The Digital Channel Shift Programme to support the innovative use of digital technology and digital self-service for local public services. This initiative proved that digital transformation offers many benefits.

The financial benefits of digital channel shifting

Digital transformation benefits organisations financially in two key ways: reduced cost and increased revenue.

Reduced cost

While there is an initial investment to be made, the return on that investment is significant.

Allowing your citizens to self-serve reduces the need for face-to-face and telephone contact. Our data shows the average face-to-face interaction costs £29, while the average telephone enquiry costs £14. In contrast, a digital interaction costs an average of just 8p.

Digitalisation also means lower print, postage and storage costs.

Additional revenue generation

As well as freeing up time spent dealing with non-essential calls and face-to-face enquiries, digitalisation will also reduce the time spent manually entering data and correcting errors.

Your staff will no longer have backlogs of enquiries to respond to or inboxes full of memos and updates. By freeing up this extra capacity, you can increase your caseload without taking on additional employees or outsourcing.

As well as releasing capacity, you will likely see increased take-up of paid services because the sign-up process becomes easier and more convenient for citizens.

The non-financial benefits of digital channel shifting

Although the financial benefits are likely to be the most appealing aspect of digital channel shifting, the non-financial benefits should not be underestimated. And it’s not unusual for these non-financial benefits to indirectly lead to financial rewards.

Efficiency

Integration of online forms with back-office systems improves accuracy and efficiency, removing the risk of error. Updates can be sent out faster, email responses automated, and workflows streamlined.

Improved data accuracy and visibility

With a joined-up digital system, data accuracy and visibility is greater, giving managers real-time insights and intelligence. This can be used for resource planning, service development, and identifying risk and fraudulent activities.

Improved reputation

Making services more accessible, flexible and efficient removes a lot of the frustration for citizens and improves their experience. This has a positive impact on the reputation of local authorities and social landlords and boosts public opinion and confidence.

Employee engagement

A move to digital allows employees to do their jobs more easily and efficiently, increasing engagement and reducing stress, which, in turn, reduces absenteeism and staff attrition. On top of that, digitalisation creates the opportunity to upskill in-house teams and future proof the organisation.

Improved working relationships

Meritec digital solutions are designed to be agile, flexible and integrated with third-party systems where required. This can create opportunities to connect with partners, such as the local police, trading standards, schools and NHS organisations, as well as internal partners and other local authorities or housing associations.

Benefits for citizens

It’s not just local authorities and housing associations that benefit from a digital channel shift.

Consumers are becoming increasingly used to instantaneous service, and being able to choose how and when to access public services goes some way to meeting the changing customer expectations.

Improved customer experience

Self-serve digital portals are convenient, flexible and accessible, allowing citizens to access the services they need whenever and wherever they need them. The customer journey is smoother, providing a better experience and higher customer satisfaction rates.

Faster decisions and transparency

Because of increased efficiency, cases can be dealt with faster, and real-time updates can be automated, giving citizens greater transparency. Not only does this make the experience better for customers, it also reduces the number of complaints, reducing unnecessary pressure on support teams.

Better support for vulnerable customers

Allowing more citizens to self-serve frees up time for employees to support vulnerable customers, those who cannot self-serve, and those with complex or sensitive cases. Resources can be allocated to where they are needed most.

How to get citizens to embrace new channels

For a digital platform to succeed, it must be built with the user in mind. If the platform is easy to navigate and easy to use, citizens are more likely to engage with it. It also needs to be agile enough to evolve as the needs of the organisation and the customer change in the future.

At Meritec, all our digital solutions have been designed specifically for local authorities and are built with the end-users in mind.

However, creating a user-friendly platform is only the first step. You need to encourage your citizens to shift to digital, and there are several ways you can promote your online services.

Print promotion

Create leaflets promoting online services; include them with customer letters and distribute them in your customer-facing environments. Make use of posters or information boards in libraries, job centres and other relevant areas.

Email, social media and automated call messages

Customers who are already digitally literate are more likely to convert to online portals, so raise awareness of new services by including messages in email signatures. Promote new online facilities on social media accounts.

Create an automated message advising customers of available online services and the website address, and play it on incoming calls or when calls are on hold.

Reduce promotion of telephone support

When sending out printed communication, such as council tax bills, reduce the promotion of telephone support and replace telephone numbers with a website address or QR code to encourage self-service.

During face-to-face customer interactions

Where you see customers face to face, put up signage to advise people in queues that they can now self-serve. Use QR codes to direct them to the right place or provide self-service terminals where they can sign up instead of waiting to see an advisor.

Have employees available to assist less tech-savvy citizens with the sign-up process.

Provide assisted support

While the goal will be to get as many people as possible using online portals, some people will be unable to use self-serve facilities. They may have accessibility issues due to disabilities, illness or financial barriers, they may be digitally illiterate, or they may just prefer human interaction.

Offer support to customers who are unable or unwilling to self-serve. Assist them with sign-up, provide ‘training’ on how to use the portals or check for updates, and offer traditional communication channels where digital channels are not easily accessible.

About Meritec

We have been supporting local authorities and housing associations with digital channel-shifting and digital transformation since 1996 and have worked with over 400 public sector organisations. All our solutions are secure, agile and user-friendly. If you’d like to know more about our digital solutions, get in touch. We’d be happy to demonstrate how our solutions can benefit you.