How Government Can Better Embrace Digital Customer Service Channels

By Rob Irons, Head of Public Sector, HGS

Speak to any customer service focused organisation and they will enthusiastically tell you about how digital channels are transforming their customer services to deliver faster, more accurate information and assistance to their customers 24/7, via any channel.

In fact, services have transformed at such a rate over the past few years that web chat, social media interactions and SMS conversations with customers should really join telephone and email as 'so called' traditional channels. A recent report by Gartner predicted that within just four years, 72% of customer interactions will involve an emerging technology such as machine learning applications or chatbots.

This transformation has not however followed at the same pace in the public sector. There are some positive signs that things are starting to change though, for example the introduction of intelligent self-service for UK Visa and Immigration Service, the shift to online application processes for Passports, Driving Licences and Self-Assessment and the use of speech analytics on DVLA.

These examples were designed to both support consumers in the way they want to communicate and also drive down costs in the long term, but whilst the Government show that being brave and seeking new ways of working can be successful, it is not clear why these strategies have not yet been adopted as standard procurement requirements.

As a Crown Commercial Supplier, HGS gets the chance to bid on a range of different Government customer service requirements. Procurement opportunities highlight the importance of innovation, change and digital services, however suppliers tendering most often find the parameters of the questions and pricing mechanism prevent us from being able to do this.

The answer is most likely for one of two reasons:

  1. Procurement led bid management drives a requirements document that does not enable innovative approaches, and puts the focus on cost.
  2. There continues to be a culture of risk aversion within Government that prevents private sector innovation from being used to improve public service delivery.

Procuring a contract that rewards for innovation of services is not a risk, but creates an opportunity to both improve customer satisfaction, and lower costs for Government. As a global business working for some of the world’s best known brands, HGS has a wealth of experience in delivering the highest standards in customer service and is keen to help Government learn from our expertise, put it into practice, and become more efficient.

HGS’ recommendations for change

Government has to start thinking more about the role of customer service in the medium to long term. The learning about how customer service delivery can be transformed has been done, and the evidence of success can be demonstrated across services we are delivering today.

There is of course still the issue of budget. However, change requires upfront investment, but in the medium to long term it will drive efficiency and reduce costs.

So where should Government start?

  • Use frameworks already established, such as the Crown Commercial Service RM3815 to investigate how other organisations have transformed services both in the private and public sector.
  • Hold pre-engagement workshops in advance of writing the ITT. Set out its vision for the service it wants in the future, and let suppliers demonstrate how it can be achieved.
  • And finally, create a scoring mechanism within the bid process that encourages suppliers to innovate and transform services. Creating a price book that enables suppliers, like HGS, to provide both the true cost of innovation and the longer term benefit of transformation, rather than asking us to quote on historical information, which can never reflect the future needs of the service.

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