Sharon Melamed, Managing Director at Matchboard, shares her insights on solutions for some of the most pressing challenges and goals in public sector customer service.
Reduce cost to serve
With budget deficits blowing out, the pressure to reduce the cost of service delivery and do “more with the same” is only intensifying. The biggest challenge is not necessarily reducing costs per se, but doing so without negatively impacting customer experience. We’ve all seen how a simplistic reduction in contact centre headcount can result in massive jumps in call wait times and abandon rates, causing media fall-out and consumer frustration.
Thankfully there are many smarter ways to drive efficiency gains. Analytics-as-a-service is one. Through analysis of large volumes of call recordings, contact centres with as few as 20 seats can gain invaluable insights into why customers are calling or disgruntled. And by using an analytics-as-a-service provider, there’s no need to buy software or hire internal specialists.
Let’s take a basic example – customers are asked to quote their Account number on payment, but on their statement, it’s referred to as Customer number. An analysis of call recordings reveals that this one word difference is causing confusion prompting people to call for clarification. By removing this inconsistency, 5% of all calls – and associated manpower costs to manage them – can be avoided.
More and more government agencies are turning to outsourcing to provide surety around cost reduction. Outsourcers typically have lower salary costs than government, and the cost base of an outsourcer may also be lower due to greater economy of scale than a single government client, and access to better technology.
Healthdirect, which is co-funded by Federal and State governments, has a 100% outsource strategy for contact centre programs, from tele-triage to aged care customer service and pregnancy and baby helplines. Public transport info lines are outsourced in states such as NSW and Victoria; the ATO has a panel of outsource providers…the list goes on.
Technology itself is of course another driver of cost reduction. Examples are the use of WFM software to drive more efficient workforce scheduling; knowledge management systems to reduce the time spent helping customers on the phone, through speedy access to the right answers; and self-serve applications to empower customers to get the answers to common issues or inquiries online.
Government has an obligation to make its services accessible to its entire constituency. Yet there is much to be done to improve accessibility including these three key areas:
- Opening hours. Many agencies are only open during regular “business hours”, but from the customer’s perspective, the most convenient time to call about personal or family matters may be outside work hours, just when the contact centre is closed.
- Channels. There’s no doubt that adding new channels such as web chat, social media or video improves the accessibility of government customer service. There are so many segments of the population who appreciate service via live chat for example, from multi-tasking Mums and chat-obsessed millennials through to the one in six Australians who experience hearing loss. That’s not to mention overseas-born residents whose written English skills are better than spoken, and citizens who prefer to have everything “in writing”. In the health arena, chat can provide a security blanket of anonymity when discussing sensitive issues.
- Languages. With 20-30% of people from non-English-speaking backgrounds in many cities, it’s disappointing that there’s not more of a focus on hiring bilingual staff. Of course telephone interpreter services are an excellent option to manage the odd call in a variety of languages, and government has traditionally been effective at publicising the availability of this service. However if 20% of callers in a particular constituency have a preference for Mandarin/Cantonese, it makes better sense to implement a recruitment strategy which prioritises bilingual skills, and have an IVR option or separate number for Chinese-language service.
Enhance customer experience
Customers are most satisfied when it’s easy to get their query resolved. It’s therefore no surprise that Customer Effort Score (CES) is today’s “in vogue” customer experience metric. Unlike AHT (Average Handle Time) or GOS (Grade of Service), CES transcends the contact centre and measures the entire customer journey, across all touchpoints – from website and social media to mobile, face-to-face, email and phone.
There are many innovative solutions to enhance customer experience, bringing together the traditional silos of contact centres and digital, such as giving customers online visibility of call wait times and driving awareness of online offerings through engaging in-queue or on-hold messages. One-to-one videos are an exciting new offering which can be leveraged by government to explain complex or – let’s face it – boring statements in an engaging, interactive way, while at the same time deflecting calls. For example, a child support or council statement can be brought to life and explained in a personalised video, which includes each and every customer’s unique payment details or balance. The cost of personalised videos is surprisingly low, while the benefits in terms of customer experience and call reductions is high.
Many government agencies find it helpful to engage a customer experience consultant to strategise a roadmap relevant to their customers, and benchmark their performance.
The next Enhancing Public Sector Customer Service conference takes place in Melbourne in February 2017. Attend to develop strategies for measuring and meeting changing customer expectations.