A Surrey council has reduced calls to its contact centre by almost 10 per cent after it introduced a free smartphone app allowing residents to access local information and council services 24 hours a day.
Launched last month, the Spelthorne Borough Council app offers three main features: local information, a problem-reporting facility and a payments feature. Since launch, it has been downloaded 500 times and reduced calls to the contact centre by 7 per cent.
The Surrey council – which has around 95,600 residents – launched the app to improve access to local information and reduce calls from the public by 10 per cent, thus reducing pressure on the contact centre.
It has been designed to be useful every day, not just when a resident wants to make a payment or report a local problem. As such, Spelthorne has incorporated content from partners including South West Trains, the Environment Agency and Surrey Police and ‘signposts’ users to services provided by other public sector bodies.
“We’re so confident in the product”, said Linda Norman, Head of Customer Services at the Council. “It looks modern and it’s easy to use. And it’s important to have something in one location so it’s easier for residents to find out what they want”, said Norman.
Residents can report local problems directly to the Council via the app, regardless of whether the services they relate to are provided directly by Spelthorne, including potholes, missed bins, faulty streetlights, abandoned vehicles, graffiti, fly-tipping, anti-social behaviour or dog fouling.
“So many people have a smartphone and actually people are always on the move”, said Norman. “Young mums might be in the park and see dog foul. You think ‘oh no, I have to ring the Council’, but with the app you can just take a photo and report it straight away”.
Residents can also use the app to quickly access local information: job vacancies; local news, school term dates, events, travel and weather. Traffic and travel information and news have proved particularly popular, perhaps explained by high numbers of residents who do the daily commute.
Norman highlighted the importance of working with other organisation to deliver the right content, much of which is brought in by RSS feeds from partners’ Twitter accounts. “We’re a district council, so it was important for us to pull in our partners”, said Norman. “A pot hole, for example, is a County Council issue,” she added.
The app also allows users to find their nearest leisure centre, doctor, recycling centre or library and it is even helping the Council to reach recycling targets, by providing easy-to-access information on bulky waste and food waste disposal and collection. According to Norman, this helps Spelthorne to combat the problem of waste contamination.
Users can pay a variety of charges including: parking permits, business rates, parking fines and Council Tax.
And in future, following requests from tenants, Spelthorne’s largest housing association will begin to allow rent payments via the app and will introduce a Housing Benefit feature.
Adapt to needs
The app is based on the cloud-hosted Engage management console platform from Capita Software Services. Because it does not require coding knowledge or in-depth technical experience, the Council can flexibly manage content and add new content, according to events and holidays.
At Christmas, for example, special seasonal information will be made available to show residents where to recycle aluminium foil, wrapping paper and Christmas trees.
There are also plans afoot to enrich the app with a booking feature that lets residents reserve venues such as village halls, football pitches and register summer scheme places for children.
But, said Norman, the app will “come into its own” during emergencies. This is of special significance to Spelthorne as it is an area susceptible to flooding. In the case of a flood, the Council will simply deploy its ready-made package of flood reporting and information tools to residents via the app.
A continuing series of face-to-face promotional events is planned, to explain the benefits of Spelthorne’s new app to residents and promote adoption.