Five ways to improve the customer experience in local government

In our last blog we focused on what customer experience means from a local government perspective. We argued that customer experience in local government is not just a moral imperative, it is a vital part of local government’s perpetual journey to provide cost-effective services, improve compliance and trust, and give customers the experiences they have come to expect every day.

At Change Associates we have found from our work with the private and public sectors that becoming a truly customer-centric organisation requires vital building blocks which we have grouped under the following areas:

  • Collaboration and Integrated Services - with the customer at the centre.  This will drive the right behaviours.
  • Branding and Shared Values - Improving your customers’ perceptions of you – thinking from an outside-in perspective.
  • Data-driven Transformation - Cut bureaucracy, eliminate waste and create new citizen-centric services by using data to open up new opportunities and drive innovation.
  • Employee Empowerment - Getting the best from your people.
  • Cultural Change - Structural overhaul isn’t always the answer.

 

Collaboration and Integrated Services.

Where collaboration becomes a behavioural norm, where strong shared values and goals characterise the ways of working, rather than rules, procedures and hierarchies, teamwork, employee involvement and creative responses to problems prevail.

Yet in some cultures, local authorities included, hierarchy and bureaucracy tends to win out and flexible collaboration is lost.

Collaboration needs to become a behavioural norm. In local government this means breaking down silos and allowing joined-up thinking. Services need to be integrated across departments – mapping real customer journeys ready to be delivered end-to-end digitally for those with access.

Beyond the boundaries of the organisation, some authorities have collaborated with police and NHS colleagues to identify and support citizens who tend to dominate a disproportionate amount of their collective time.

Branding and Shared Values

The embedding of clear values across an authority, which may include the establishment of clear behavioural norms such as collaboration, supports the adaptation to competing priorities. Shared values in local government might have been exhibited through what has historically been known as the ‘public service ethos’.

Yet the tendency to work in silos would seem to suggest that shared values are less embedded overall and more linked to teams or departments with shared expertise and a strong sense of identity unique to their profession or leader rather than the wider council.

Customers don’t care who they’re interacting with when dealing with billing, registering, or paying. As far as they are concerned they talking to ‘The Council’ and they want a consistent, joined up and positive experience.

Our research into customer experience shows that shared values are best encapsulated through brand. And brand is about your customer’s perception of you. It means expectations are understood on all sides and your customers understand who you are and what you will do for them.

Data-driven transformation

Data is everywhere. But it is not always applied effectively.

Customer experience data should be used to challenge and inform decision making through the identification of themes or preferences that help define the customer’s perspective. It should be actively sought and viewed honestly and openly rather than selectively syphoned off and massaged into shape, for use by officers needing to validate decisions or show headline trends.

Also important is collecting the right data and acting on it. This is about knowing your customer, being clear on different segments and then ensuring it is shared with the right people. Once that picture is clear, every interaction with the customer is an opportunity to anticipate, understand and meet expectations, and receive feedback.

Employee empowerment

Many council employees interact with customers on a daily basis, from discussing a planning enquiry to dealing with a pothole, to safeguarding a child. The knock-on effect of an empowered and motivated workforce on the customer’s journey and perception of the council – both for the majority who use its mainstream services and the minority of more vulnerable users – cannot be underestimated.

Yet empowered cultures where staff are encouraged to use their insight to develop creative approaches and work together to solve problems appear to be less common in the public sector. During our research we found several examples where striking results have been achieved when staff empowerment and collectively resolving customer issues has resulted in significant boosts to morale and even a fall in retention.

By focusing on continuous improvement making employees feel good about making decisions and helping people, there will be a natural elimination of waste. This requires trust and support from leaders to ensure mistakes are learning opportunities, rather than looking for blame.

Cultural change

Cultural change is perhaps the biggest challenge ahead for local government. A customer-centric culture is one that is dominated and driven by the needs of the customer and not skewed by other agendas. Changes have to come from leadership who are brave enough to face the potential backlash in the knowledge that a journey can be started towards a different way of working and one in which customer values are central and shared by the employees. It’s a tall order. But we believe it’s a win-win for local government. Investment in this area is central to creating the efficiencies needed while improving relations with citizens and local business.

For more information or to read our full report ‘Optimising the Customer Experience in Local Government’, click here. Or for more information on how Change Associates works with the public sector, click here.

 

Last updated: 27 Apr 2018