01 / 09 / 2020

Channel Choice vs. Channel Shift in the Public Sector

A guide to channel shift and channel choice in the public sector

In March 2017, the UK government published a policy paper outlining its digital strategy “to develop a world-leading digital economy that works for everyone.” This has had a huge impact on channel shift.

In the future, where possible and necessary, private and public sector organisations will be digital by default.

Most organisations’ customer-related engagements fall into three categories: transactional, interactional and informational. Usually, they’re fulfilled using a combination of traditional and digital communication channels.

However, the Digital Global Overview report by We Are Social and HootSuite revealed that there are 637 million internet users and 340 million active mobile social users in Europe alone, which provides further evidence that the public sector needs to be leveraging digital communication as much as possible.

But, before you feel as though your organisation isn’t embracing new technology fast enough, let’s unpack the differences between improving channel choice and promoting channel shift to help you decide which option is better for you to leverage digital communication.

Defining channel choice

Channel choice is determined by knowing your target market and understanding how to promote and share information with them in a way that’s conducive to their lifestyle and habits.

For instance, if research indicates that most of your customers use social media, you might choose to boost informational communication via Twitter or Facebook. This doesn’t mean that you need to do away with emailing or direct mail campaigns; rather, see it as utilising digital channels your customers will naturally gravitate towards because they’re already comfortable using them.

To give you a (very!) broad idea, Baby Boomers are the generation most likely to prefer face-to-face conversations, Generation X tends to favour email, Generation Y likes a combination of email and text and Generation Z is highly adept at using social media. On the whole, these differences account for channel preference, but that shouldn’t deter you from encouraging different generations to switch channels if need be. 

Not sure who your audience is or wha their channel of choice is? You need to build specific, comprehensive buyer personas

It’s also important to take context into account. If someone has an emergency, they’ll most likely call. But if it’s not that urgent and they have to wait on the phone for twenty-five minutes, they might prefer to log into an online self-service portal and use instant chat.

Being inclusive

Our world is multi-channeled—customers can use social media, drop-in centres, email, phone and mobile. When improving channel choice, remember not everyone has access or the willingness to use digital services, and that introducing new channels isn’t a green light to axe traditional ones.

By conducting market research, you’ll be able to determine how best to include marginalised groups. For example, if someone doesn’t have broadband at home, you can’t assume they don’t have access to the internet; they might have a smartphone that connects to free public wi-fi. And for those who don’t have either, you can consider setting up self-service stations with online access.

Improving customer communication

The key to improving customer communication is understanding which channel is best for your service and then making the experience rewarding for your customer. Improving channel choice can enhance customer relationships and improve your organisation's reputation.

Let’s say you have a self-service online portal giving your customers a variety of ways for your customers to address their pain points, such as calling, emailing and web chat. A customer who doesn’t have the time to make a phone call might be able to solve their problem via email or web chat making communication easy and convenient. And once they’ve realised how efficient it is, they might never feel obligated to use telecommunication again as a point of contact.

Promoting channel shift

Channel shift is the process by which you encourage customers to interact with or access services via channels they wouldn’t naturally choose. Deliberate channel shift is the marketing and design of more efficient channels that are most appropriate for your type of customer or organisation.

Any channel shift should always form part of your organisation’s overall channel strategy to lower costs, empower customers and improve service. Shifting customers to different channels requires breaking old communication patterns; however, if presented with an improved channel choice, they might naturally adopt less expensive digital channels.

For example, you may realise that many of the phone calls your staff deal with concern logging customer complaints. After doing research, you might discover that more than 70% of customers have access to the internet, and so you decide to create an easy-to-use online portal where customers can log their complaints. If the process is simple enough, those who wouldn’t automatically use the internet might be curious and inclined to try it out. Of course, there are marketing tactics you can employ to further encourage them as well.

When you know which channels your target market have access to and prefer, you can use this data to inform your strategy.

What’s the Golden Rule? Always deliver your services through a range of contact channels that are accessible and designed with your customers in mind.

If you want to find out more about how digital channel shift can increase efficiency and improve customer service, request a free copy of our book, Shift! How to Make Channel Shift Happen in Housing.

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