Government 2010: Martin Greenwood of SOCITM on the Web channel in local government

Despite being a pseudo-statistician startupper, I was fortunate enough to meet a few readers of this blog at LocalGovCamp. Martin Greenwood’s giving a long keynote – 30 minutes – on the role of websites in providing local services. Here’s my notes.

When you phone your council out-of-hours, you’ll get a phone message. In December 2007, only 21% of councils referred you to their website in their voicemail message; it was 41% by December 2008, which is an improvement, but still isn’t really good enough. The only reason not to refer people is if you don’t think your website’s good enough – so how do we fix this?

An example of an excellent website is Salford‘s. It has extensive metrics – 16m hits in September! – but lacks the one which really matters; “did you find what you were looking for?”.

According to SocITM surveys, 17% didn’t, and 22% did only partially – and that corresponds to about 16,000 visitors! hat’s more, 71% of councils don’t participate in these SocITM website takeup surveys; they don’t even know the scale of the problem. In any case, this is a lot of people. 40% of those people would then, according to surveys, prefer to phone to get the information – that’d be 6500 phonecalls a month, or well over 200 a day. Each call is frustrating and inconvenient for customers. What’s more, it takes a lot of council resources, especially in a time of budget constraints – a phone call costs over ten times more than a Web visit to deal with (£3.22 vs 27p), and face to face meetings are 20 times more expensive.

The answer has to be making Council services self-service as far as possible: but these self-service channels have to work first time. To make this happen, Martin argues that this requires:

  • Clear priorities and strong governance in Web strategy
  • Integrated management of all customer channels (Web, phone, in-person)
  • Engagement with the customer community
  • A management structure built around customer service, not communications or ICT
  • A focus on the customer journey rather than “design and applications”
  • Active management of the Web service
  • Continuous improvement in content management
  • Systematic website testing: especially a focus on the tasks people are using the website for and on hard conversion metrics for task completion

This means Web teams will have to think differently: according to Gerry McGovern, the hardest challenge is understanding how people work, not how the website technology works!

3 thoughts on “Government 2010: Martin Greenwood of SOCITM on the Web channel in local government”

  1. I gave a talk for Socitm Insight around the same issues at the Guardian PS Online event yesterday and added some other points that councils need to think about if they are going to stop creating avoidable contact through web enquiry failures and start shifting people in substantial numbers to the web:

    Is your head of customer service in overall control of all channels of service delivery?

    Is the council website the key source of information for staff handling phone and F2F enquiries?

    Do your web and contact centre managers regularly discuss how to shift phone enquiries to the web?

    Does your head of customer service know the level of avoidable contacts created by web failures and have they a plan to deal with it?

    Are call/contact centre staff encouraged to tell callers when information they are asking for is on the web?

    Does your ‘we are experiencing high levels of traffic’ message suggest people go to the web?

    Do you know what proportion of phone enquiries could have been answered on the web?

    Is your council using customer insight data to identify/target those most likely to use self-service?

    When I out this question set to a group of customer service people recently, the answers showed there is a long way to go on this.

    One other key point: for many web savvy councils, the web is now the biggest enquiry channel. In Tameside’s case it outstrips enquiries by all other channels twice over. The web can’t answer all enquiries and may struggle with complex ones, but it can save resources by dealing with the simpler things, so there’s more available for the difficult enquiries.

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