Two thirds of customer contacts with local authorities are now online

Published on Monday, 20 August 2012 15:12
Written by Scott Buckler

Two thirds of the 600m+ customer contacts received by English local authorities each year are now coming in through online and digital channels, says Socitm, with 24% of web visits being to carry out transactions like paying parking fines or reporting faults

These figures, compiled by Socitm Insight as part of a research project for the Government Digital Service, are published in Channel shift: grasping the opportunity a new briefing available now to Socitm Insight subscribers.

Headline figures provided to the GDS by Socitm were published at the end of July as part of the alpha version of the government transactional services list. This was released by GDS as a step towards helping the government more effectively measure the performance of public services, improve the experience of customers using transactional services, and identify areas where cost savings can be made.

As part of the project, Socitm Insight has estimated volumes of online and offline contacts coming in to English local authorities. Using data from Socitm's Channel value benchmarking service, and other data gathered specifically for the GDS project, Socitm estimated that the total number of face-to-face and phone contacts across the local authority sector might reach 201m contacts per year.

Based on data from its Website take-up service, Socitm estimates the total number of web visits in 2011/12 to be 388m. On this basis, the current average ratio of offline to online contacts is 34% to 66%. The calculations are based on the average number of 'offline' contacts recorded, per head of local population, by councils participating in Socitm's Channel value benchmarking service in 2011.

For some councils, per head volumes will be much higher, according to Socitm research, and all councils would do well to work out their own score for this key variable.

Once they have done so, they will understand the scope for savings on the cost of handling initial enquiries, and see the business case for the GDS promoted 'digital by default', strategy intended to lead to 80% or more of public services being delivered online.

Online, by far the highest category of web visits by customers is to find information (53%) rather than to carry out any form of transaction, and this suggests that considerable channel shift could be achieved for minimal cost, just by improving the information content of websites.

For example, Socitmestimates potential savings from 'front office' channel shift across all English councils at between £134m and £421m, depending on the scale of reduction (20% or 50%) achieved in the total of phone calls and face-to-face contacts, and the cost base used.

However, when people are enabled to apply, book, pay for and receive services online without human intervention, considerable additional savings can be made. Resources freed up can be used for enquiries and services that really do need human intervention.

Aside from the savings, argues the briefing, the majority of public service users now expectthese services - like banking, shopping, and other regularly used services - to be available online.

The remainder of the briefing analyses the savings to be made from 'channel shifting' enquiries to digital channels and achieving reductions in the costs front office enquiry handling and back office enquiry processing and service delivery.

Each council, says the briefing, needs to start by working out its own individual potential for channel shift, and to prioritise those services where that will deliver the greatest savings.

But this can only be done from a basis of understanding current costs of running the main enquiry channels, the cost of processing service requests in back office, and crucially, the volume of enquiries coming into the council through the high cost-to-serve channels of phone and face-to-face.

Collecting contact volumes remains a challenge for many local authorities that have not, historically, collected comprehensive data on all enquiries coming into the council. One development that the briefing highlights, that may be the key to the future take-up of council online services, is the establishment of customer accounts.

According to Martin Greenwood, Programme Manager for Socitm Insight, local authorities need to get serious about channel shift:

'With measures in place to get more people online, and the advent of 'assisted digital' for those that can't, councils need to galvanise commitment across the council, collect the data to inform their channel shift strategy, and communicate their online services to local citizens. The biggest obstacles to change are likely to be cultural, in particular, resistance to embracing digital channels.'

Source: ©Socitm

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