Offering council services online is becoming a significant part of how councils operate now and in the future. The challenge is finding the right balance between online services and human interaction. Too little or too much of either can result in a decrease in the level of community engagement. Through enhanced community engagement, councils can empower and unify the community, to a point where even community groups who sometimes felt ignored will feel heard and not get left behind.
Five points to consider when deciding on digital vs human interaction for council services:
1) The convenience of digital services
Online digital services allow communities to access information and services 24/7, not only in their own home but also on-the-go, with mobile technology. This can save people time travelling to the council and waiting in a queue to be seen. For many people, digital is the easiest and preferred method of communication for both the community and council.
2) Some members of the community will struggle with new technology
New technology can be intimidating to some members of the community so it can take longer for them to adopt. There are many factors that can lead to this late adoption of technology, ranging from impairments, including sight and mobility, lack of interest and the inability to get access to supporting technology, such as computers, tablets and smartphones. The digital divide is growing and society needs to ensure that members of the community struggling with new technology do not get left behind. To do this, people need to have access to technology, the motivation to learn and use technology, as well as, trust in their own abilities around the use of technology.
3) A shift in the customer service options could alienate people
Technology is not without its controversy and the recent leaks of personal identifiable data (PID) has made a lot of users wary about entering information into systems. For councils to deliver services online, they need to know who they are delivering to, which means they need to access customers personal information. While some services can be anonymous, others need authentication of the user. This could lead to an alienation for people who would prefer face-to-face interaction to avoid submitting PID into another online system. With point 2 in mind, some people will struggle and with that struggle will come anxiety and rejection, some demographics could feel alienated by the change in direction and the break from the norm.
4) User Experience and User Interface design of a mobile app or website will impact digital services
A beautifully designed website or app is great to look at but it needs to be intuitive to use. The customer needs to be able to figure out how to use it easily, on their own, with no instructions needed. Several techniques are used to ensure a great design is achieved but the most important is research. Knowing how customers want to interact with you will inform your structure, analysis and optimisation of the customer journey.
5) Benefits to council from implementing digital services
An increase in customer satisfaction can be achieved through the implementation of digital services, as the council will be able to deliver faster services to their community. Not only could this benefit the councils KPI’s but it could also lead to greater cost efficiency. Cost savings in any sector can be associated with a decline in customer service levels but the reverse can and should be true for councils. Reducing the cost to councils is a great benefit to increase digital services if it encourages the community to adopt and use council services.
Helping the needs of the community, as well as the council
Councils need to balance serving the needs of the community within the scope of the digital services they implement. Councils will need to consider how to help the whole community by keeping in mind people unaccustomed to using technology for council services. Some councils have already started to fix the divide by offering services at their library to help people learn and feel more comfortable with technology at no cost, for example South Waikato District Council offer a Book-a-Librarian
The balance between a full and complete online digital service and keeping some of the human interaction, is key to establishing community needs. Not only should the council consult with the community but they will need to find out what the customer journey, for the community, consists of. Things such as what is important to the community, what is the council trying to achieve and where are the interaction points the council needs to deliver the outcome? By working with a customer-centric design approach, councils can be confident that they are keeping the community at the forefront of any decisions they make.
With an online presence, the community can perform what they previously would have done in person, or most likely with a phone call, in a much more effective and efficient way while all the time knowing they can speak to someone if they do need help. This process would then be consistent, automated, repeatable and integrated allowing council staff to shift to more high value tasks that deliver a greater benefit back into the community.
With the right balance being met, councils can continue to increase their engagement levels with the community, while also reducing the cost to achieve it. The question of digital service vs human interaction becomes more a question of “What can serve both our needs and strengthen the engagement between us?”