The advent and benefits of self-service citizen support technology
Consumer confidence in any municipality is directly related to how that government delivers the services it offers. This is a conclusion drawn from a March 2020 paper “Happiness and the Quality of Government” published by the National Bureau of Economic Research.
While the overarching concept of this particular paper is easy to grasp, the real work begins when trying to put this principle into practice. Centrally, municipal administrators may need to ask their service teams how they can better support citizens’ service requests and how to deliver a better experience to citizens while doing it – an experience that’s better than how most individuals currently engage with their local governments.
A 2017 Deloitte report found that 80 percent of public sector respondents stated that a digital communication strategy was important for their municipality’s success. However, 42 percent of these respondents said that their organization lacked a clear and coherent digital strategy. Even worse, almost 60 percent said their government organization was a slow adopter or a non-participant.
There are a couple of important points to focus on, according to Deloitte. The websites of municipalities must be accessible anytime and from any device, and data should be easily shared across multiple departments. Without these capabilities, there’s no way to easily interact with those being served. But there is much more that can be done to serve and interact with the public.
Citizen support communication technology can provide the individuals with a better user experience and create strong channels for people to engage directly with your service departments, which can cut down on the need to provide manual and cumbersome customer service.
Individuals become their own customer service
Determining the path to seamless citizen support starts by asking citizens a few questions: When the public visits your website, are you really serving them or just providing them a place to read about what the organization or department does? You are engaging people in a productive partnership or are you just pushing information out to people? What steps must individuals take to engage with your department if they wish to communicate their needs for the services you provide?
Examine all friction points a citizen must endure to report maintenance of a pothole, for example, or to report a code violation, or to inquire about the schedule of an upcoming summer camp or ask questions of the waste management department.
Each of these processes likely can be much more efficient. The first step forward to smooth these wrinkles is to engage your internal service department (many organizations refer to them as the helpdesk).
Helpdesk teams address all user concerns, requests, questions or challenges. This may mean unlocking a user account, logging a needed computer repair, fixing a misfiring printer, reserving a meeting room, processing a newly hired employee into the organization, or even securing a car from fleet services.
Opening internal channels to external audiences
This internally focused approach can be extended to external partners, constituents, and customers. In some cases, when these processes are opened up to users, they can self-serve their requests. This is often seen in education. Administrators, staff, and students access the school’s service desk for any concerns. For example, students often are locked out of their encounter online learning environments.
One group missing from this conversation is the parents of the students.
While not a direct recipient of the school’s services, they are integral to its operation: Many want access to their children’s grades, financial statements, and schools want to connect with them when they need to send emergency communications.
Bringing these “outsiders” into the internal environment allows a school to establish two-way communication channels with an otherwise cut-off or otherwise fenced-off group. Additionally this can reduce any friction when the parents want to communicate with the school.
The example of schools communicating with parents as outside users apply aptly to local municipalities to bring members of the public into the fold.
Citizen support as a service
Currently, most individuals interact with their local governments like this: A driver continuously pounds his car into a pothole at the end of his driveway. Frustrated, he goes to his city’s website, where he leaves a general comment about the situation, asking for service. When he doesn’t see action through that step, he sends an email through the address listed on the website, hoping someone in the appropriate department will respond. If the municipality takes action, he may only know when the crew shows up to fill the pothole.
Instead, through a citizen support solution, a ticket is created and forwarded to the appropriate department once a citizen submits the request. When this ticket is created, the person submitting the request receives confirmation of receipt along with the ticket number, expected date of response (with understandable disclaimers about pressing and unforeseen projects), and a phone number or direct email address to the department leading the project.
Individuals researching a summer camp or other program can have a similar experience. Instead of sending an email that opens a ticket, the individual can log in to the municipality’s service portal and log a request. The request is routed directly to the Parks and Recreation Department (or wherever applicable). The person filing the request automatically receives a generated message providing them an estimate of when their query will be answered, by whom, as well as provides the appropriate contact information.
Citizen support helpdesk solutions reduce in-bound phone calls and frees up resources from staff who otherwise must respond to every query. Instead, internal teams can complete the most pressing projects and answer these queries in allotted slots during the workday, offering a more efficient workday for the staffer.
Full self-service citizen support
Two-thirds of respondents to a ZenDesk survey stated that they would rather serve their needs from their municipality’s website rather than calling the relevant office or individual. This is a concept known as “full self-service citizen support.”
Many people underestimate the loss in productivity and the time it takes to respond to a citizen’s call. You can measure lost resources by auditing computer and phone logs to determine the amount of time each request takes. Then take a look at the impact each call has on that employee’s productivity. As you know, it can take some time for an employee to get back on task after an interruption, no matter how well-intentioned and productive the individual.
This measurement process allows you to accurately assess the impact of not employing citizen support solutions to meet individual’s needs. If you find that calls, emails and walk-ins constitute a significant part of the workday, you need to examine the types of questions and calls your employees are receiving. If this audit shows areas where citizen support solutions may positively impact your operations.
Citizen support: a want or must-have?
The citizens you serve understand that digital experiences can be customized and made personal. The benefits of doing so are enormous, certainly for those interacting with the municipality. Enacting a direct-to-consumer approach allows you the opportunity to open doors previously only available through phone calls, email, or otherwise direct interaction. Doing so lets you automatically track and respond to all interactions with individuals through a secure portal, and dramatically improves engagement rates with communities served.
If you find that the benefits of such citizen support solutions will have a direct impact on operations and will help to serve your customers better, implementing the technology may become a must-have. No matter, whatever communicative aspects that you feel will help make interacting with the public more accessible and more rewarding for all is certainly something most leaders want.
Ruben Franzen is the president of TOPdesk US, a global provider of enterprise service management solutions.