Caroline Cook, a Senior Consultant in Capgemini Australia’s Marketing, Sales & Service team shows how Public Service providers can look to traditional channels, alongside digital services, to improve customer experience and reduce costs.

With Martha Lane Fox (UK Government Digital Adviser and founder of championing a ‘revolution’ to shift public services online, policy makers and public service providers face some tough decisions to realise the cost-savings of digital technologies effectively.

Martha Lane Fox estimates savings of £2bn are possible if half of all government-citizen interactions are moved online. She also highlights the importance of inclusion: even in developed countries there are many groups that are less likely (or unable) to access the internet. There are three main implications for public service providers here:

  1. Citizens cannot be forced online – telephone, face-to-face and mail channels must remain
  2. Digital services must be effective – citizens will only use online services if their needs are met, if not they will use other (less cost effective) channels
  3. Service-delivery must be appropriate and seamless – the channel offer must match the citizen’s needs at each step of the customer journey, it must be easy for citizens to move across and between channels and links to related services offered by different agencies must be clear

In practical terms, this means that governments must optimise all of their channel offers from a customer-centric perspective and take a holistic approach to doing so: focusing on online services in isolation will not drive the greatest improvement.  Despite the natural cost reductions to be gained from “going digital”, customer experience can be improved and cost-to-serve reduced (through automation and cheaper channels) even when online services are absent; demonstrating the gains that can be made across ‘traditional’ channels.

A strong (and purely theoretical) example can be found in the health service, where customers require a level of personal care and support that simply cannot be delivered through digital channels alone. Imagine a citizen wants to see a doctor as she is unwell. She is unable to access the internet but does have a mobile phone:

  1. She calls the health service contact centre, answers three questions through an automated service and is transferred to a trained professional in the right department over the telephone.
  2. The adviser decides that she should see a doctor, pulls up her details, enters some notes and books an appointment with her local surgery. She is also asked for her contact and travel preferences – picking text messages and bus journeys.
  3. A text arrives with the date, time and location. It includes the details of the best bus route and time, a taxi number just in case, contact details for her doctor’s surgery and the details of the automated transport phone service should she want to change her travel plans.
  4. The day before the appointment she receives a reminder by text with the option (by reply) to receive all the information again in case she has deleted it.
  5. 30 minutes before the appointment she receives a text to say there is a 15-minute wait at the doctor’s surgery and the reason why.
  6. The patient sees her doctor and is given a prescription. She chooses which pharmacy to pick it up from, how she’d like to be told that it’s ready and is asked if she needs bus details to get to the pharmacy.
  7. A text arrives when the prescription is ready.
  8. She goes to the pharmacy to pick up her prescription. She has a repeat prescription for something else which is due next week. The pharmacist asks if she’d like to pick this up at the same time to save a repeat trip.
  9. All her preferences are remembered for next time. She also receives a small booklet explaining that she can access the internet at her local library and there are some free courses available there to help her use it. She books a slot on the course over text when she’s feeling better.

To deliver Channel Optimisation this way requires an understanding of customer needs, the channel offers that will meet them, and the ‘pain points’ for the service provider (in this case, the level of personalisation required). In some senses, it is a double edged sword: while it can be argued that transformation of traditional channels is more expensive, it is equally true that considerable investment has already been made here and optimisation (rather than rationalisation) offers a strong opportunity to avoid ‘sunk costs’.

The challenge governments must face is to achieve this through a scientific approach rather than ‘trial and error’: delivering the right service, at the right time, to the right customer, through effective channel offers.