Local authorities are working hard to streamline budgets, and one way to do this is to reduce phone contact. However, we often hear that while a lot of people are now booking things or reporting an issue online , these same people then phone up to confirm the council has received their application or booking.
Many clients use email confirmation, so residents get a message after hitting send, which tells them their application has been received and ‘we’ll get right on it.’ We’re used to them in our everyday life. If you book a hotel or a flight, you expect confirmation.
So, I was intrigued by the customer saying they were interested to hear if any other authorities had seen a reduction in calls due to people transacting online – only to see an influx of ‘secondary contact’ where people pick up the phone to check on the progress of their submission.
Understanding the thought process
Putting aside the situation where a Service Level Agreement (SLA) hasn’t been met, I wondered what spurred humans to need a confirmation or an update.
Looking at a hypothetical situation, let’s assume I report some fly-tipping in my neighbourhood. Someone’s dumped a mattress there. Unpleasant to look at, but it’s not blocking the path and it’s unlikely to be a health hazard.
I report this issue online on Monday and get an in-app confirmation that my report has been received, the council ‘aims to deal with all incidences of fly-tipping in a timely manner’ and will send someone out to investigate within the next seven working days.
On the Friday, as far as I can tell, no-one has been out. Frustrated and annoyed, I pick up the phone and ask for an update. The very patient CSA tells me someone is planning on going out, but it’s still within that seven-day period.
On day eight I pick up the phone again. I get through to a different but no-less-patient CSA who tells me someone went out yesterday, but they didn’t have enough people or room on the van. For whatever reason, it’s now on their list of things to do – but they have an SLA to clear fly-tipping within 15 working days of the first site visit.
At this point, I go to my friendly local neighbourhood Facebook page and have a gripe about The Council, which everyone else piles on to and the local newspaper asks me to pose for a picture looking grumpy, pointing at the mattress.
Humans are anxious by nature – whether we actively recognise it or not. Every time we have an interaction with an organisation, we replay our experiences we’ve had with them, everything we’ve read about them, or the experiences our friends and family have told us.
Not only that, but humans are the only animals which like to play out all the possible eventualities to the nth degree.
For example, if I’ve put in an application for my child to go to school, and I don’t get a confirmation, or the confirmation doesn’t manage my expectations, I could be sitting at home thinking: Did I submit that application? What if they don’t get into Mirrorview Primary – that’s the best one!
One would likely start to consider all the worst-case scenarios: ‘They probably won’t be allowed to go to another school because we live too far away’ ‘I’ll have to give up my job to home school them, ‘I’m not great at maths; they’ll never become a bank manager.’
Unlikely, but these mental gymnastics can take a fraction of a second. We might not even register it. But mentally that mattress we reported has been set fire to, property and lives have been threatened, so we pick up the phone again to check.
The first step is to add confirmation emails to all online transactions – if people must enter an email address, consider making that confirmation email mandatory.
Make the email approachable – as if you were telling your mum what was going to happen next and if possible, give a timescale by which time people can start to see an outcome – residents want to know when the thing will be completed.
Be clear about your internal processes and workloads – if your team can’t fix all the potholes because there simply isn’t the employee resource, it’s time to look at the way you’re assigning tasks, organising jobs, or delivering services. Have a business analyst work with services to really understand what goes into an individual job, including what could throw them off kilter, and be prepared to challenge ‘the way things have always been done.’
Work with your communications team and elected members to educate residents about what goes into answering specific requests that means outward bound comms through your email communications or citizen engagement platforms. Most people are not going to visit your website to read your SLAs or what goes into the measurement of a pothole.
Listening to residents
Persist with trying new techniques and in the meantime support your frontline staff who are getting the short end of the customer interactions.
It is important to accept that your call centre is going to receive calls. You’re not going to stop everyone picking up the phone, nor should you want to.
This is your opportunity to hear what your residents really think, but also to educate them and potentially help them move to online transacting. Yes, a 121 service is costly, but for some people it’s necessary and will pay dividends as they go on to become advocates of self service.