By Daniel Hunter

The Government's Digital by Default strategy outlines that the Government must become more digital in its thinking in order to deliver services which are suitable for users.

The strategy has been cited to save the Government over £1billion, but what will this mean for customer service? Here, Peter Williams, Account Director at Genesys takes a look at the importance of integration in digital customer service in order to ensure end users receive a consistent experience across all channels of communication.

In Martha Lane Fox's open letter to Francis Maude in October of 2010, she outlined the fact that Government needs to move to a 'service culture', putting the needs of citizens ahead of those of departments, in order to take full advantage of digital services. In her letter, Lane Fox cites potential annual savings of more than £1.3 billion, rising to £2.2 billion if 50% of service delivery contacts shift to digital channels.

In shifting to a digital strategy, Lane Fox suggests that the core Directgov team must concentrate on service quality, in order to become the “Citizens' Champion”.

In terms of customer service, this strategy means that a number of costly phone, postal and face-to-face transactions are moving online, including electoral registration, student finance and digital self-assessment for tax returns — with 25 'exemplar' services to be rebuilt by March 2015.

And it seems to be working. According to a recent report from the Office of National Statistics, encouragingly for the Government, 62 per cent of users of online government services say they have engaged with government services or policies more since accessing them online.

This increased online activity will however require significant support in terms of customer service, in order to ensure a seamless conversation with the end-user as they use these digital channels. But with local governments facing a 10% cut in resource budgets this year, can government departments improve citizen engagement and service levels with less resource to do so?

Certainly there is now the technology and the solutions available to enable them to do so, but what are the key elements which are required in order to make this transition to digital successful?

Most importantly, integration across different digital channels is key — whether that's FAQs, web chat or virtual agents.

The rapid proliferation of digital channels has made it difficult for organisations across all industries to provide effective, cost-efficient customer care. In their struggle to find the right way to handle new digital channels, many have just added each channel in a siloed approach. And because reporting is also done in silos, it makes it difficult for management to get insight into the overall customer experience, understand issues, and have the agility and knowledge to solve them.

But end users don't think in channels — they want to be able to ask a query on web-chat and pick the conversation up a day later without having to repeat information.

And this is the same across other industries, such as retail and banking. It is the same consumers which are contacting retailers via mobile and social customer service channels who are contacting the various government departments about their student finance or visa applications, and they must take note of this.

Government at the highest level are certainly aware of this. A statement from the Cabinet Office recently said: “This is the start of a transformation that will mean people can interact with Government in the same way they do with their bank or with retailers.”

In order to achieve this same integrated approach as is found in other industries, government departments must apply an integrated customer service approach to meet end-user expectations.

And we mustn't forget voice. According to Forrester's 'Navigate the Future of Customer Service' report, voice is still the primary communication channel used by all demographics, with 73% of respondents using this channel to speak to an agent.

It remains a valuable way to connect with end users and must be integrated into the full customer service strategy. If an end user is forced to call in with a query, all previous interaction history must be available to hand, to avoid repeating information and increasing customer frustration.

Actioning work in a timely manner also avoids unnecessary contact from the customer, chasing progress when agent service levels have been missed. Through proactive contact via channels such as SMS, email or voice, the customer can also be kept informed of progress on their request, further reducing inbound contact to the agent and improving productivity levels.

We’ve seen that when work is validated prior to assignment and tasks are pushed towards agents rather than pulled, significant cost and productivity benefits are achieved. For example, for a large bank, work that previously required 1,000 workers is now being completed by 560 employees, nearly doubling productivity. Likewise, a communication service provider increased productivity by 16%-32% across provisioning and support teams by implementing such technology.

Digital channels open up many more possibilities for growing deeper and more valuable relationships with end-users. Understanding the best ways to interact with customers on digital channels can provide great experiences most of the time. But for those instances where a human touch can make the difference, digital customer service needs to be able to feed into an intelligent interaction management system — whether that's across voice, web chat, SMS or real-time video.

The Government's Digital by Default strategy will ensure that departments are more present in the channel of choice throughout the customer conversation, but it is key that popular channels such as voice are not forgotten about. Remember, when customers do not get answers on digital channels, 75% of them (Forrester Research) will actively seek out the human touch themselves by calling the call centre or visiting a store in person.

Activity must be managed and measured effectively across multiple channels and devices to enable proactive engagement with end-users at the moment of need, in order to fulfil the promise of digital service.

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