Features: March 3rd, 2017

VoiceSage’s Matthew Weil discusses cross-channel engagement and the practical ways we can make that happen in not just the commercial space, but the public sector too

The public wants to engage with their service providers in the way they want to, not the way Whitehall or the Town Hall necessarily want. Service users also want to discover the option that suits them best. But how can we make that flexibility happen in ways that meet that need – and help tight public sector budgets?

The problem stems from the current focus on digital only, a recent roundtable debate hosted jointly by the UK Contact Centre Forum and customer engagement leader VoiceSage decided. Central government has mandated that communication channels in the UK public sector should be digital only, while in local government in particular, the reality at the coalface is about working with a multiplicity of channels. While this point may not be a novel one in a private sector context, public sector practitioners agreed that this is a huge challenge to the sector as things stand today.

That conclusion – and others – were arrived at by attendees at real-world public sector organisations dealing with this issue, as well as peer practitioners from a range of non-profits, education services providers and an outsourced contact centre consultancy.

One organisation using visual text messaging and mobile payment solutions as a way to connect with the public made the point that that flexibility is the ideal end point for any organisation wishing to manage customer engagement.

“It’s not about forcing the public down the channels you want,” said this practitioner.

“It’s about giving the customer better options – because if you offer the right range of channels, the customer will very soon gravitate to the one they like the most.”

Another discussion point was the growing preference for mobile phone. Industry figures suggest we look at mobile phones over 100 times a day – a stat that CX (customer experience) experts on the panel agreed was significant.

“There’s something about the relationship we have with the mobile phone that’s so personal,” pointed out one delegate. This manifests itself in many ways but most markedly around promises to pay outstanding debts, which are more dependable if carried out by text with a customer. “I think it’s because it’s so personal, but also because there’s something about it ‘being in writing’ that makes it more binding,” added another.

Channel flexibility was also debated in connection with managing social media channels. “Personal is a big factor here,” noted one CX expert. “WhatsApp is very personal, whereas an organisational Facebook page is much more open, and is seen by the public as a legitimate place to communicate with us.”

Social media dos and don’ts

A factor in plans going forward around channel shift in the public sector is that most of the UK public sector CX work in social media concerns comments, compliments and complaints, and that management structures should reflect this reality. “We try to keep it away from transactional as much as we can,” noted one council.

Channel shift is all also directing discussions about more weighty issues into more controllable and direct channels as soon as appropriate.

There is also a related issue of identification. Who is this commentator ‘Cuddles52’ – and how do we best address their issues?

Another issue is monitoring as some organisations only manage social during office hours, while many social housing organisations, for example, need 24×7 cover to deal with potential crises.

Clearly, social is an important channel that continues to be monitored and worked with, but emerging best practice says that it needs to operate along side other channels that have different strengths.

In sum, practitioners gathered at the special roundtable concluded that they need to work with citizens in as all-encompassing a way as possible to make Citizen Relationship Management (CRM) a reality, not simply an ideal.

The need to work with citizens in as broad a way as possible, as well as the need to reduce contact centre costs in the sector, are key operating concerns, delegates agreed.

The aim has to be to improve service delivery and avoid expensive calls in to the contact centre, with the general conclusion being that, “The more we can do to reduce that cost, the better for us and the user.”

Matthew is Product Manager at VoiceSage (www.voicesage.com), a leader in customer engagement services