Local public services must learn to manage but also reduce levels of enquiries and demand for services if they are to meet the financial challenges they face. This is the main message from the Society of IT Management in its latest briefing.
The briefing focuses on demand management within the context of customer access, and says that at one level managing demand means re-designing the management of customer access and supporting delivery processes in order to reduce cost.
This is likely to mean investment in self-service, and efforts to ‘channel shift’ customers to low cost digital channels, including websites, social media platforms, text and email alerts, personalised ‘e-accounts’, and automated phone services.
However, the acts of making enquiry handling more efficient, and re-designing services will not, on their own, deliver savings of the order of magnitude now being required of local public services.
Demand management must be extended, says the briefing, to include activities that anticipate future demand for services and where possible take steps to reduce them. Examples of such activities are given in the briefing.
At a wider level, and going beyond the arena of customer access, demand management may mean working with other agencies to share response to the same issues; passing activities over to other agencies or to the community itself; and driving behaviour change by citizens.
For those managing customer access, demand management includes identifying and preventing avoidable contacts caused by poor service design, process and communications failures, as well as reducing enquiries for services the organisation does not deliver.
The briefing points out that local public services have become adept in managing a specific sort of demand – that created by local emergencies such as snow or floods. and have learned techniques to reduce potential pressure on contact centres and other services in these circumstances.
Well-crafted messages posted prominently on websites and broadcast through social media shift enquiries to low or no cost channels while volumes can be reduced overall by clearly presented messages that anticipate behaviour by the local population.
If demand management should now be more widely applied, the ability to do so, says Socitm, depends on organisations having ready access to data about demand.
Unfortunately, although the systems and technology are now available to do this, getting the full picture is not straightforward and Socitm research suggests that few local authorities currently have good enough information and data to enable them to manage customer access, or wider customer demand, effectively.
Demand management: the key to reducing costs? is available from Socitm Insight.