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Think journeys not channels, and the savings will follow

 

Ruth Luscombe, Senior Consultant, Agilisys

“Digital is dead”. This was the bold opening statement from Martin Hill-Wilson at a recent customer service event sponsored by digital technology provider Agilisys. As the room collectively spluttered over its coffee, he qualified this comment and explained that the word “Digital” is no longer enough to describe the world of opportunities out there for customer service delivery. In government we’ve talked about a “Digital by default” approach as a golden ticket to reducing the cost to serve. Meanwhile, the Willy Wonka’s of the tech world have been dreaming up all sorts of fantastic inventions that turn our understanding of digital on its head.

Martin argues that a traditional view of digital being online rather than voice is outdated, with a new world of Siris & Alexas on the scene. Come Christmas day, as thousands inevitably open their new Amazon Echo, the UK will wake up to voice based self-service in the way that over 40% of Americans already recognise. The bots are coming and it’s not going to stop at asking Alexa to add items to your shopping list. We should soon expect to be dealing with sophisticated, voice based, artificially intelligent assistants across a wide spectrum of services.

It is truly exciting stuff that local government can and should embrace. That said, there are critical issues to address that must be championed at the most senior level. Martin’s mantra that “Channels multiply, they seldom die” is a welcome reality check. Customers will always find the path that minimises their effort while fulfilling their emotional needs. In the sector we increasingly talk about closing channels to reduce costs. Logically this makes sense, but we shouldn’t expect our customers to see our logic in the same way. The customer who wants to appeal a parking ticket but who can’t get past the clunky online system will end up pressing “0” on the IVR, complaining to their local councillor, or resort to using social media to publicly vent about the issue.

So what can and should local government customer leads start doing tomorrow? The most important takeaway for me from the event is the need to spend the time to design the right journeys in the first place. This means taking a channel agnostic approach to start with and thinking in terms of journeys. We need to ensure that the channels we offer are those which suit the task in hand. This depends partly on how emotional and complex the task is. We’re never going to completely remove the human element – but we might get 80% there, especially as the tech becomes more sophisticated. The starting point, though, is not the tech, it is empathising with customers and mapping the journeys from their point of view. Only then can you select the right kit for the job. If we can get this right, the savings will surely follow. 

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