Self Service Automation for Councils, What Services are Suitable?

30th Jun, 2015
Read time: 2 minutes


Local councils are a hub of information and services that residents need to access on a regular basis.

Councils strive to reduce the cost of all services and increasingly utilise channel shift to appropriately move residents from more personal to less expensive channels, such as from face-to-face to self-service telephone or web. This shift improves productivity and releases time for more demanding tasks.

Possible savings for councils include

  • Automating requests for garden waste collection saves Kirklees Council 1 full time equivalent (FTE) and achieved Return on Investment (ROI) within 1 year
  • Self-service library renewals takes over 70% of all calls saving 1.5 FTE for Worcestershire County Council
  • Taking telephone self-service payments saves 30% of Swale Borough Council payment calls, 1 FTE and delivered a one-off cost efficiency saving of £75,000

Channel shift is most effective when councils give residents the easiest and fastest path to resolving their particular query or problem, and in this way residents can achieve their ultimate goal of satisfaction in their own time and on a channel of their choice.

Make it easy to understand

The key to self-service success is using questions that are universally understood, simple to follow and will maximise the use of single answer or numerical fields. Web self-service forms require similar clear unambiguous questions and the use of tick boxes, drop down menus or pre-populated fields. Residents should not be asked to repeat information or use a number generated in the form or on the call at a later time.

Common tasks suitable for self-service

Tasks that are suitable for self-service automation are those that are highly structured, involve a series of simple processes and are ones where live agents add no real value.

Advisors released from these mundane responses can spend their time on more complex tasks, such as those where empathy and judgement are valued and morale improves as a result of not dealing with complaints over which they have no control.

Some of the most common tasks that councils are likely to automate are shown below.

  • Payment of Penalty Charge Notices (PCN)
  • Reporting missed recycling and rubbish bins
  • Payment of council tax and other services

There are some less commonly used services that involve smaller teams within the council that could nonetheless still benefit from self-service automation.

  • Streetlight defects and damaged signs
  • Reporting of pot holes and damage to roads surfaces
  • Fly-tipping and damaged pavements
  • Library services

Processing a new report for a broken streetlight could take several minutes of an agent's time but could be answered using some well-designed questions, eliminating the need for the agent to process the call and allow the resident to report the issue at the time they are most likely to see it, which is at night!

When both the residents and the council win, automation projects achieve sustainable success as residents appreciate the extra convenience and councils recognise the cost savings associated with embracing technology.

Myth or fact

Resident's call with a goal in mind. Achieving that goal simply and without delay delivers satisfaction. There is a notion that most of the public dislike automated services or IVR (Interactive Voice Response). Research from Ofcom, 2012 shows that as the adoption of technology increases so does the likelihood of the public being accepting of automated services, especially for the more simple tasks.

It is true that poorly designed services have damaged the reputation of IVR systems. However strong evidence reports that users will actively support and reuse a well-designed and intuitive system.

When not to automate

It is important to note that not all resident queries or issues should be automated, as some are very complex and can only be processed by a staff member.

In conclusion

Self-service automation adoption within councils varies across the country with some leading the way with many services being accessible via self-service and others are just beginning to see the benefits of implementing self-service.

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