Communication and service delivery in the public sector is increasingly digitised. The rise of all things digital brings immense benefits to customers and businesses, because it offers convenience and improved personalised services. Implementing digital technologies gives businesses the opportunity to redesign service delivery, reduce costs and increase staff productivity.
While this sounds neat, a digital transformation isn’t achieved overnight. It’s an ongoing process that begins with digital channel shift — the use and creation of effective communication and service delivery channels that are most appropriate for customers and organisations. Within the housing sector, for example, this means transferring paper-based admin online and reducing face-to-face interactions and telephone calls by developing online self-service alternatives. The process is far more nuanced than drawing up a new marketing strategy or creating a website with ‘FAQ’ and ‘contact us’ pages.
Let’s unpack the importance of digital channel shift and its associated benefits:
Operating in a Digitised Economy
Online connectivity brings a corresponding change in consumer behaviour. This affects customer tolerance, dialogue, loyalty and promotion. According to the Office for National Statistics, 87% of all adults used the internet daily or almost every day in 2019 and for the first time, more than half of adults aged 65 years and over shopped online.
There’s a common saying that goes, ‘if it’s not on Facebook, it didn’t happen’. Similarly, if businesses don’t improve their digital strategies and online presence, they risk turning into outdated organisations abandoned on the 10th page of a Google search.
Defining a Strategy
Currently, the contact channels available to you and your customers include: face-to-face, email, kiosks and websites, to name a few. To channel shift successfully, you need to develop an insightful strategy that reaches out to your prospective clients on the right digital channels.
Get your coloured pens and post-its at the ready - it's workshop time!
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A channel strategy should explain how your business plans to meet customer expectations using available resources. It’s also vital to understand your customer’s access to technology, the type and complexity of the contact, and the level of their digital literacy. Because not everyone has access or skills to use the internet, your strategy should factor in those who still use traditional contact channels, as well as include a plan to encourage them to use digital communication channels.
Involve people from across the business in devising this strategy - from members of the board through to contact centre staff, IT teams, marketing and communication departments. You have to get employees excited about channel shift for it to truly work and be an ongoing success.
Channel shift doesn't happen overnight and you might not ever get everyone to shift, but you can definitely get a lot of them to with the right tactics and strategy in place.
Following Basic Principles
There’s no use patting yourself on the back about how you’ve streamlined communication channels if your customers are lost or confused by the changes you’ve made. Customers want to know that you’ve received their query and when they can expect a response. If you set a timescale, then make sure you meet the deadline; otherwise, your customers will lose faith in your service.
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Initially, it’s recommended you should retain all original channels and ensure customers have the option of using an alternative channel without feeling forced to. Gradual uptake is better than forcing people to use new channels, as they could end up wasting valuable time phoning your business to ask how the new channels work, or voicing their issues on social media at the potential cost of your reputation.
Improving Client Service
Digital channel shift will alter the way you think about and use your new digital platform. You are no longer just maintaining a static website; it’s a customised knowledge-base used to bring more regular traffic and more immediately help those visitors. This can tie in well with an inbound marketing strategy, as you’ll be able to create engaging content to share on your site and distribute via social media to improve your overall digital presence and reach.
A great digital self-service portal strengthens your brand’s reputation and creates a positive experience for your clients, which can lead to excellent word-of-mouth reviews. It also allows you to leverage your customers’ personalised information and use their data. For example, over time you can track regular queries or complaints so that you can address common issues quickly in future. With access to this kind of insightful customer data, you can implement smarter marketing strategies.
Saving Money & Staying Ahead
Digital transactions are more cost-effective than face-to-face consultations. A web transaction costs as little as £0.15; a phone call, meanwhile, is estimated to be about £2.83. Not wasting staff time on admin means your organisation can focus on more valuable tasks, such as attending to urgent customer needs. You can also spend more time realigning your systems and marketing strategies to stay ahead of competitors.
As you can see, channel shift is the first step towards digital transformation. All businesses are responsible for providing the best services to their customers and, in our digitised economy, channel shift is the obvious way forward.
Looking to build your own business case for channel shift? Try our free channel shift ROI calculator for an accurate representation of what your business stands to gain from taking the digital leap.
Or, take a look at our book - Shift! How to make channel shift happen in housing - especially written for social housing professionals in the UK, covering our experience and insights from delivering digital transformation projects for the last 20 years.