Features: October 14th, 2016

Disruptive companies flourish in the private sector, but Stephen Morgan argues that their approach can be used in the public sector.

Just recently, darling of the tech scene, Airbnb, was valued at $25 billion and industry front runner, Uber, completed its two-billionth trip in July. Barely a day passes where we don’t see these tech players in the headlines.

Local government may well be thinking what have disruptive technology companies got to do with us? Councils might view these tech giants as being in a completely different playing field, but this is where public sector thinking needs to change. Local government can actually learn a lot from the digital experiences that these tech companies provide.

Changing conceptions

Disruptive technology challenges the status quo of how we connect, engage and consume. It wasn’t that long ago when holiday-goers had no choice but to pay premium prices to stay in premium locations. Now Airbnb has changed that by capitalising on an existing commodity – its users’ homes.

As a result of the experiences that these new companies provide, customer expectations have risen. These digital, on demand services mean that seamless customer service has become a given – anything less simply won’t suffice.

By providing this type of service, these businesses put the customer at the forefront of their offerings. Local government also need to be thinking this way so that they shape services around the citizen’s needs first.

Many local government investments are pushing people online and away from more costly channels, such as call centres, but then the service is not adopted by citizens because the user experience isn’t addressed beyond this migration. Citizens then return to old methods of communication, meaning money has been wasted on new technologies that only solve part of the problem.

To truly ensure that online services win citizens over, public sector organisations need to look beyond just creating a website and focus on integrating this online touchpoint into the wider customer experience, just as famous tech companies have done.

To achieve this seamless and integrated experience, public sector organisation and local government should not think of digital strategies as inwards-out. This inevitably means that existing service delivery systems and processes will be viewed as the starting point to improve customer experience, rather than the points of online customer interaction. Confusing sentence! If a customer experience is thought about in this way, the end product will serve the provider but not the citizen.

Customer centricity in action

Fantastic strides are already being taken within some organisations, take for example Surrey County Council (SCC). We’ve worked with this local council since 2009, and recently collaborated to give the in-house team the freedom to be self-sufficient when developing and managing their websites. Initially, SCC struggled with the complexity of the infrastructure that had been implemented and content authors had to rely on the web team. This ultimately resulted in a less than average experience for the end user because finding relevant content was disjointed and difficult.

We worked with them to make this a less complex process for the 200 content authors, whilst also enabling the team to easily create additional websites for campaigns. Ultimately, SCC staff now have the skills to manage content and, most importantly, users are able to find relevant content quickly and easily. Last month, the website received the maximum 4-star rating by SOCITM.

By creating exemplary customer experiences the likes of Airbnb and Uber have raised the bar in terms of customer expectation. Local government needn’t be concerned that they don’t have the same global customer base or budgets of these tech players, but can learn from how they think customer first. By applying this knowledge to inform the website experiences that they create, local councils can create truly standout experiences for citizens.

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.