• 5,000 digital accounts opened since February 2017, with an average of 52 new accounts per day
  • A quarter of online account holders are over 55
  • 43% of accounts were created out of hours
  • 43% of all online traffic comes from a mobile device
  • Council shortlisted in ‘Best Customer Experience’ category at the Paperless Awards

Back in 2015, King’s Lynn & West Norfolk Council identified a need to reduce the pressure on its contact centre by providing digital services that could cut down so-called ‘avoidable’ contact, while improving the consumer experience. The Council co-developed a solution in partnership with IEG4, a digital transformation services supplier for local government.

“I was particularly drawn to IEG4’s ambitions and vision for online citizen services which echoed my own,” said Honor Howell, Assistant Director, Central and Community Service. Being involved as a co-developer means that the system has been designed collaboratively based upon how the Council and residents expect online services to work. “We needed something very mobile friendly - 43% of traffic to our website comes from mobile devices – scalable and agile,” she said. The result of the collaboration is OneVu, which gives customers access to data that the Council holds about them, letting them track service requests irrespective of the department it relates to, such as the progress of a change of circumstances form.

OneVu has been designed with a focus on what the citizen wants and not just on what the service can make available to them. Think online parcel tracking for local government. “We did an analysis of phone calls to the Council and about 40% is about process chasing, for example, asking when a benefits claim will be processed”, said Honor. OneVu will be used across “the big front facing services”: Planning, Housing, Licensing, Environmental Health and Waste and Revenues and Benefits.

Digital Dialogue

OneVu gives customers access to data that the Council holds on them. But it is also a two-way street, because the Council can also send timely messages to residents via the system using a pre-selected ‘preferred method’. For example, if a resident needs to submit further evidence to support an application, OneVu sends an message requesting them to do so.

The claimant can then upload the evidence, say, a photo of a recent payslip via the system, ‘closing the digital loop,’ removing any postal exchange and saving time and money. The aim is to better arm residents with information including the predicted time it will take to process a request. “OneVu allows us to set processing service levels”, said Honor.

Efficient communication

In a bid to further reduce calls, emails and face-to-face contact Honor and her team will use OneVu to resolve another inefficiency. “We receive lots of emails. It’s very, very difficult to manage. If we don’t get the right information from residents, you get ‘email ping pong’ - it could take two or three goes to get the data we need. We’re looking to use intelligent forms integrated with the back office systems to make emails easier to respond to. The idea is that these forms will pre-empt the users’ needs and present only the most pertinent questions to gather just the data the Council requires.”

Carrots and sticks

Honor realised early on that there needed to be a strong incentive to create a customer account to access OneVu. In common with many councils, until OneVu is implemented, King’s Lynn and West Norfolk’s online council tax service requires residents to apply online for a password which is then posted to them. But residents who just want to ‘get the job done’ don’t want to wait and so, understandably, they usually call, email or visit the Council. So, to ‘tempt’ residents into creating a OneVu account, said Honor, users will be able to log in via their social media account or register using their email address, for an immediate start. If the citizen wants to access secure information, such as details about a housing benefit claim, they are also asked for additional information such as a National Insurance number. “There is no need to wait for us to interfere. You can do what you need to do there and then”, said Honor.

“Interestingly, many accounts were created out of office hours, 43% in fact. This says a lot about how and when people want to engage with council services. And, of those that have opened online accounts, a quarter are over 55 – an encouraging statistic for us when much of the news around digital transformation refers to the younger generation,” commented Honor. “Facebook sign-ups are popular with the 25-34 age range, but interestingly we are seeing the older generation signing up with Google.”

Impressive savings

OneVu has reduced the pressure on the Council’s contact centre, although Honor recognises the need to balance self-service with allowing queries in from some residents down traditional communication routes. In the private sector, some companies are prone to burying their phone number on their website, she said. “Local authorities are not like that – we have a duty to serve people”, said Honor. She admits that the co-development path was a riskier choice than buying a ready-made CMS. “We have a superior solution to anyone else at less cost – it was definitely worth the risk. “It’s difficult to say what the savings will be as it is still early days, but we are certainly looking for a return on our investment as well as efficiency savings. However, it really depends on the digital appetite of our customers and how the council promote and encourage its use. In this ‘brave new world’, it depends how brave we want or need to be”, said Honor.

“OneVu is constantly being updated constantly based on feedback from customers and staff. New FAQs are always being added or reworded. The system is flexible and dynamic – we’re so impressed by the level of sign-up, with over 5,000 accounts,” commented Honor. “In addition, we’re also excited to announce that we have been shortlisted for the ‘Best Customer Experience’ in the Paperless Awards, celebrating intelligent use of CRM software, increased use of online self-service coupled with better use of email, SMS messaging and social media, omni-channel services and use of e-forms.”

The winners of the Paperless Awards will be announced on 6th July in London.