Why the public sector should use automation to better support UK citizens

Simon Johnson, General Manager of Freshworks UK discusses how the public sector must invest in automation tools to better support UK citizens and deliver amazing, unexpected experiences they’re accustomed to in their everyday lives

As consumers, we can get a takeaway to our doors in half an hour, order an Uber from our pockets to arrive in a matter of minutes, and transfer money to a friend at the touch of a button. However, a lack of digital investment in the public sector means that such efficient services are often lacking.

Faced with huge budget cuts in every department and pressure to do more with less, the public sector often lags behinds private when it comes to investment in digital technologies, both on a national and local level, and delivering experiences that we as consumers are used to. With a lack of tools to support citizens, people are tired of having to deal with archaic public services, from sorting parking permits out by post, to navigating clunky websites, and waiting three weeks for a GP appointment that they can only book at 8am by phone.

So, how can public sector organisations better support UK citizens and deliver experiences they’re accustomed to in their everyday lives?

Innovation through automation

Customer experience is vital to supporting a successful digital strategy. The public sector can learn a lot from the private sector’s use of chatbots, customer service management tools and live chat functions to help channels be as efficient as possible and bring its customer experience up to speed. Take the Amazon experience, for example.

There’s an increasing appetite from consumers for such digitisation of customer service too. For instance, while there was some initial hesitation around virtual assistants, primarily around their effectiveness and privacy, actually, over half (51%) of consumers say they prefer chatbots over customer support emails, specifically because they are easy to communicate with. Additionally, 63% of millennials say live chat is their go-to customer service, indicating that consumers still value human interaction – even online.

Digitising customer-facing processes can deliver real benefits to public sector bodies too. It can help streamline conversations with citizens by creating a standardised approach for how to facilitate in-bound queries, as well as how they are managed overtime, so that performance can be incrementally improved. Not only that, but having online portals also helps to boost collaboration within internal public sector teams so that they can resolve issues faster and automate repetitive work.

Freeing staff up from the constraints of mundane service support and simplifying workstreams helps save time and investment that can be channelled elsewhere, while also enabling employees to work on more rewarding activity and better support members of the public at scale.

Spotlight on the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP)

Such innovation is already being realised in the public sector. The DWP launched its ‘Find a Job’ service in May 2018 to provide jobseekers with access to hundreds of thousands of roles across the UK. This made it easier for people to find and apply for different jobs, while also enabling vacancies to be filled quickly by qualified applicants. As part of the service, the team wanted to provide a simple and easy-to-use support function that would help anyone that had a problem get the attention they needed quickly – helping to also iron out any bottlenecks. Without a support function embedded into the service, jobseekers would not be able to use the service effectively or leverage the personalised job alerts.

DWP looked to a support function that combined cloud services, automation and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to not only help the team save time and reduce potential mistakes, but also to better manage workflows to enable them to collaborate on issues as and when required. Having an automated system also means they can be notified when jobseekers and employers experience problems using the website, which helps the service team resolve problems quickly and efficiently. The team also uses these insights to redesign elements and make continuous improvements to the ‘Find a Job’ site, helping to boost the customer experience delivered over time.

Successful large scale digital transformation projects need to be driven by leadership teams – otherwise, it’s hard for organisations to get past the apathy that often exists within such establishments. To justify budget spend, it’s therefore of critical importance to highlight how solutions can provide value for money and be implemented quickly and easily with minimal disruption to the public and internal teams. Not only will this help drive more internal clout for the project, but it will also help avoid the scrutiny that big public sector projects often draw.

Once up and running, teams must remember that digitising customer service is not a sprint, it is a continuous evolution. It’s essential that public sector bodies set an internal benchmark for customer service and satisfaction scores, analysing data every few months to make continuous improvements. Not only that, but also share their experiences and best practices with those within other public services and across all public bodies too.

With technology improving every day and consumer expectations rising too, it’s essential to stay on the front foot of customer service innovation to deliver experiences that people expect and will demand across every aspect of their lives.

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