The ever excellent Robin Riley (head of digital engagement at HMRC) organised an excellent meeting yesterday to discuss the topic of online customer service and the public sector.
Me being very nosey I tagged along to find out what was going on. There will be a bigger write up in due course so here is a short summary.
Robin was interested in what Departments already do to help their customers online, what they might be planning to do in the future and the related issues around risks, opportunities etc.
It was an absolutely fascinating discussion so credit to Robin for organising and letting us use a room with an amazing view across the London rooftops.
So what is customer service? These are possible examples:
- Your organisations gets asked a question on a social media channel and you respond in some way. (Most departments)
- You have a dedicated channel to allow members of the public to ask questions or request advice (FCO)
- You have a call centre and monitor very typical questions then try to circulate the Question and Answer on your digital channels (DVLA)
- You have dedicated LinkedIn discussion/support groups – whose members then pose questions to the host of the group (UKTI)
It quickly became clear that most of us are involved in ‘social support’ of some kind even if we do not explicitly recognise it. So it might be worth ‘giving it a name’ and acknowledging that it is being carried out?
This naturally leads to why are we doing it? Have we fallen into this mode accidentally or are we just naturally helpful, or is it part of a wider digital strategy?
So why – some potential reasons might be:
- reputation management – we want to be seen to be helpful – it might counteract some other negative publicity?
- we can save money – if callers to a call centre can be dealt with online this might reduce the volume of calls?
- we want to create self-sustaining groups who answer each others questions, or become advocates for us
- we are in Comms and it we fell into doing this…
- Volume – how can we deal with an increasing volume of questions, requests for ‘support’.
- Do we know who to ask internally to help with answers – will they respond quickly enough?
- Are some people used to high quality private sector online support (or bad) and will they measure the public sector against it?
- Is there a risk to not engaging and appearing remote and slow moving?
- Only the Press Office might want to deal with enquiries?
- You are inconsistent and answers some enquiries and not others – why?
- Maybe untrained people deal with the enquiries?
- Overlap/inconsistent approach across the organisation with other helpdesks, helplines
Identifying that there is a service being provided and create a strategy – take a concious decision as to what your organisation is going to do – or more particularly is not going to do.
Be prepared to be asked via FOI requests what your procedures are and why you do things the way you do.
Get buy-in from relevant parties, leadership team, policy areas, press office etc.
Have clear mapped workflows
Identify clear business benefits – try to quantify them.
Do not ignore your customers/stakeholders – and create a plan.