Guest blog: Re-Imagining Council Services

5 Aug 2015, 10:39 am

By Michael Nelson, Public Sector Account Executive, Salesforce

Michael_NelsonPeople expect to interact with their colleagues, friends and businesses to share experiences and find the information they need, when they need it. But what about connecting with their fellow citizens or other local residents?

Three recent events have got me thinking: couldn’t councils provide self-service communities to their citizens to help those people in their everyday life?

The first was our Re-Imagining Customer Services workshop session, organised by the Public Sector Customer Services Forum, sponsored by Salesforce among others. In these events, we take a number of public sector customers through a session designed to make them think about council services through the eyes of a customer; understand their pain points, create an idea, and finally pitch that idea to the room.

In one of the groups, Lauren Boyle, an imagined persona, has just moved to the area and is trying to find a school for her children. The group highlighted the frustrations of finding a school place, understanding how the school was performing, meeting new parents and so on.

What was really interesting was the solution they created – why can’t Lauren have access to a community of individuals which has been through the same process, to give her support? A self-service community that points her to local groups, gives her guidance on travel, rates local schools and provides feedback, and suggests after-school clubs that may be of interest to her – a kind of local schooling mumsnet.com.

Building a great community

The second event was one of our commercial customers, Barclays,  talking about how they have fundamentally changed the way they engage with their customers. Barclays (read a case study) conducted some research on how broker customers engaged with them and the feedback was almost universal. Brokers needed the services Barclays provides, but it was just too difficult to do business with them.

So they created a self-serve community for brokers to log cases, get information on products and services and engage with Barclays through an online portal.

A quote from them stands out: “We are leading digital change and working hard to ensure that communities we serve are not left behind” – now doesn’t that sound like something public sector organisations hear day in, day out?

Channel shift versus ‘channel shove’

The third event was a customer meeting where we discussed channel shift versus ‘channel shove’, and the merits and costs of both approaches.

The consensus was that ‘shove’ is required for some people, but that digital services should be so good, people choose to use them. It was then that we talked about communities helping each other; how to foster ‘experts’ in the community to support those without information; and how can we encourage people to serve themselves, through community action groups.

Perhaps most importantly, we discussed how do we change the role of a council from service provider to active member of the community, given the backdrop of austerity cuts.

The NHS has begun to take this approach. Rather than being a reactive service delivery agent, it is proactively delivering some personalised services. For example, the Stop Smoking app helps you track your journey from smoker to non-smoker, supporting you with motivational notifications, tips and facts. In reducing the burden on frontline services, it has created a community of individuals that help each other.

Imagine a community section of your local council or police website; a virtual community where you can join groups, advertise, pose or answer questions. It would provide much more reach for action groups and support networks and would reduce the pressure on the public sector frontline. Administration and moderation of the content could even be paid for by offering advertising space.

The technology is available, the requirements clear. The challenge of shifting the role of Government in society, it seems, is a cultural one.

Note: this guest blog is an adapted version of an article that was originally published on the Salesforce UK Blog.

Salesforce works with some of the largest organisations in the world to deliver self-service communities. Its Community Cloud provides the ability to share knowledge articles, create groups of common interest, find citizen champions and provide a digital portal for self service out of the box, optimised for any platform. Learn more (watch this video) or get in touch with Salesforce: ukps@salesforce.com