Features: June 17th, 2016

Improving services is a phrase which can cause groans in service users. The expression often means the challenge of grappling with change, with all the benefits going to the service provider. In this feature Stephen Morgan argues that there must also be user benefits.

Have you ever experienced that feeling of frustration when an ‘improvement’ is made to a product or service, and yet the outcome is that it creates a poorer experience for you, the user?

My local doctor’s surgery, for example, has introduced a ‘by appointment only’ system. Previously they had lots of drop-in appointments available, so now not only do you need to know when you’ll be sick to get an appointment, but it’s near impossible to get an appointment at the start or end of the day. The result is that, rather than persevere with the ‘new and improved’ service, I have simply switched to a different surgery.

Meeting consumers’ needs

For government, the same principle applies when digitising services or bringing new ones online.

Investing millions in pushing people online and away from expensive channels like call centres will not succeed unless the improvements made to the services go beyond the ‘digitisation’ of what was there before. To ensure a projects success, you need to make a positive change for users, making it worth their while to seek out, familiarise themselves with and use the new channel.

Failure to do this will lead to citizens reverting to the original way of communicating with the organisation and will not only mean you’ve got a massive (and expensive) white elephant that doesn’t reduce costs, but you’ll also have increased complexity and reliance on analogue systems.

The chief cause for the failure of service transformation programmes is when the organisation gets caught in the trap of starting the project with a strategy that’s looking inwards-out, rather than outwards-in. Thinking about the existing service delivery systems and processes, rather than points of online customer interaction, will mean that whatever comes out of the strategy will be built for the council, rather than the citizen.

As a result, it’s imperative that local government does just invest in the technology, with a ‘if we build it, they will come’ mentality. Instead, they must invest in developing and improving the ‘citizen experience’, with technology being seen as the means to achieving change, rather than the solution itself.

Battling with legacy systems

Legacy technologies are often seen as being lower cost and easier to maintain, than launching new systems that can flex to an overall more integrated and compelling user experience.

A great website or portal is only as good as the information and infrastructure that it’s built on. If the backend processes aren’t linked to the front-end offerings – either technically or through human processes – it can easily result in a disjointed point of contact and a negative experience for the citizen.

Cracking a transformation project requires a step away from the BAU processes and systems, examining all customer touch-points holistically.

Silos across departments and the siloed systems that tend to support them hold back development. Advancement, therefore, won’t always require a wholesale change of technologies, but a deeper understanding of how interconnecting them could impact the user experience.

The digital transformation of services can only ever be successful if all teams are involved and that they appreciate the end goals and reasons for delivering better user experiences.

A change for the better

Fantastic strides are being made by local government to address this issue and what they all have in common is that they’re making information and services more readily accessible, and are being communicated, to the right citizens – centring on how and why the services are in place, rather than simply what they offer.

Whilst on the right track, getting all services and systems running effectively is a large task to undertake and requires very specific skills in order to devise the strategy behind transformation, as well as the technical abilities to actually adopt it – many of which have been centralised in recent years.

As people demand better experiences from the digital services they engage with, we are on a tipping point for digital transformation within government services and it’s important that it’s understood that transformation is about more than just putting services online – it’s about investing in the citizen experience as a whole, as opposed to just creating a new website or portal.

Stephen Morgan is Co-Founder of Squiz, a digital transformation business that recently partnered with Verint to provide consulting and an affordable out-of-the-box technology solution that can deliver market-leading experiences for government bodies.