Customers increasingly expect the organisations they deal with, including public bodies, to be always on and always available. Ease of use is a critical factor in promoting customer satisfaction and many public organisations are successfully meeting this demand by enabling customer self-service through both online and traditional channels. Efficiency improvements in customer service deliver a double whammy for today’s public bodies, allowing them to cut costs while improving the customer experience.

Even though there are a growing number of examples the successful adoption of new digital services easing the burden on live channels, public sector organisations need to meet customer expectations of service for every channel, every time. Organisations that over-automate their customer support solely to make cost savings do so at significant risk to both customer satisfaction and their own reputation. Striking the right balance between customer self-service and customer support (assisted digital) is key.

Customers love self-service

A recent study by leading business management consultancy, McKinsey revealed that customers who take a digital-only customer service journey report 19 percentage points higher satisfaction levels than customers who choose a traditional customer support route.

Many customers love self-service because it gives them a fast, frictionless and personalised way of resolving their issues and queries. And with the rise of mobile, it’s never been easier to access the information and services they need, at their own convenience, from any location.

In response to this trend, a number of public sector organisations are winning public trust and respect through innovative customer-centric solutions. Manchester City Council won a coveted People's Lovie Award in 2013 for its website. The Council came top in a public vote for the best website in government category, and won a Silver award from industry expert judges. To develop its site, the Council conducted a review to find out how people asked for services, reported problems and paid bills. The resulting design made the top things people wanted to do as easy and simple as possible.

Customers need customer support

While a 2015 report by research and advisory consultancy, Forrester revealed that for the first time self-service was the most popular channel, it also indicated that the second most important channel was the telephone. Despite a preference for self-service, customers also want to be able to speak to an agent directly. In addition, they believe that their issue will be resolved faster over the phone than through a digital channel.

Telephone: 59% expect resolution within 30 minutes

Social Media: 52% expect resolution within a day

Email: 75% expect resolution within a day

Loudhouse survey, 2013

Customers will fall back on the telephone when they don't receive a satisfactory response from the first channel they try or when their query is overly complex. Other customers simply prefer talking to a real person or are unable to navigate confidently through new technologies. Public bodies have unique responsibilities to take care of some of society’s most vulnerable people. Ease of telephone access ensures that their services are available to all.

The reputational value of customer support

While developing effective self-service channels makes good sense, too much scaling back of resources devoted to telephone customer support can undermine customer satisfaction and public trust. The experience of waiting on hold for a long time before speaking to an agent can leave a very negative impression of the organisation.

Automated call routing and Interactive Voice Response (IVR) are important tools for ensuring that callers are connected to the agent best qualified to resolve their query. However when the user journey is complex and time consuming, or poorly routed, it becomes an infuriating barrier to good communication. Public bodies are often the sole organisation providing a particular essential service, so customers have no choice but to deal with them. Yet when customers experience poor service, they no longer suffer in silence. Increasingly, they vent their grievances to a wide public audience. In its 2015 report, the Institute of Customer Service revealed that 6.3% of customers who escalated a complaint did so through social media.

Poorly-executed telephone customer support not only damages reputation but can also have negative financial consequences. When issues take longer to resolve and involve more agents, costs can escalate.

Public bodies need to constantly monitor and review the customer experience of both self-service and support channels to ensure they strike the right balance. Their reputation depends on being accessible to all customers.

  • A growing number of customers prefer self-service channels for answering queries and resolving issues.
  • Customers still rely on telephone customer support to resolve more complex issues.
  • Public bodies serve some of the most vulnerable in our society who may need to speak directly to an agent.
  • Under-resourcing of telephone customer support or complicated call routing systems can have negative impact on reputation.
  • Automating services requires careful consideration and planning in order to strike the correct balance.


Customer Experience