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!