The Importance of Channel Shift in the Public Sector

Ivo Kerkhof
24 / 05 / 2017 | Channel Shift

If you feel like your organisation is bogged down by admin and repetitive tasks that discourage efficiency, then it’s time to consider channel shift. Done right, you can free up resource to focus on value-added tasks, reduce expenditure and improve customer service.

Ivo Kerkhof, the Head of Housing at Prodo Housing, is an expert in multi-channel landscapes and helps organisations thrive with customer-centric thinking and actions. He speaks about the fundamental principles behind channel shift, what it offers organisations and how the public sector can benefit from it.

Increasingly, organisations are adopting a ‘digital by default’ approach to business. Can you elaborate on what this means and how channel shift incorporates this philosophy?

Ivo: People’s expectations of how they should be able to consume services has changed dramatically. They see that every day; for instance, how they consume media via streaming music and video services.

Digital by default is a reaction to this changing picture. For most housing organisations, it’s not about every service or question being answered this way, but introducing new channel ‘choices’ such as web, live chat, social, SMS, etc. that are so good that people naturally adopt those instead of some of the more traditional ones (phone and face-to-face). It’s more about ‘digital by choice’ now.

That’s exactly the same principal as what’s made Spotify & Netflix so popular in other industries. The shift will come naturally if you get the service design right.

Channel shift can seem overwhelming to the public sector because it alters technology infrastructures and communication methods internally and externally. What’s the best process to ensure a smooth channel shift?

Ivo: Having initially been a bit slow to seize the opportunity of digital transformation generally, and channel shift specifically, UK public bodies are now making really good headway. We should celebrate the work of the team at Government Digital Services (part of the Cabinet Office) in laying out coherent and simple-to-follow tactics for the design and build of government services. Their18 point digital services standardsare what we also work towards at Prodo Housing.

In practical terms, people often cite examples such as how quick and easy it has become to tax your car online, despite the fact that background checks are being made using multiple different systems. That’s the same principal we work to at Prodo, when thinking about how tenants might report a repair, for instance, on a self-service portal. We let the systems and technology do the ‘thinking’ and ‘checking’ in the background and concentrate on the user experience being as simple and straightforward as possible.

Digitisation impacts an organisation's management system. How does it affect staff and increase productivity?

Ivo: Expect staff reaction to digital transformation to be a mix of excitement, indifference and fear. Talk of increased productivity can sometimes make staff ask the question: ‘Don’t you think I’m doing enough now?’ or ‘Is this going to replace my job?’.

You need to build trust internally by involving both customers and customer teams in the journey towards delivering better services.

Our work on theOrbit Move e-tenancy appis good example of that. Housing Officers had been saying to us: ‘I’m just form-filling’, ‘Too much admin’, etc. Once we’d jointly designed a solutiontake away much of that repetitive admin burden, it was easy to convince staff to adopt it and promote it to customers.

What are the practical ways in which channel shift can improve the public sector’s communication and service delivery?

Ivo: There are lots - too many to list. For housing associations, who have traditionally relied heavily on contact centre teams and field-based staff, there are demonstrable cost efficiencies to channel shift. Our Channel Shift ROI calculatorillustrates examples of that.

Having24/7/365 access to services is another big ticket win for your customers. They don't expect to have to wait for Post Office opening hours anymore when they want to tax their cars, and the same principal holds true for checking their rent or reporting a repair.

The term ‘digital inclusion’ often comes up. What does it mean to you and why is it important for the public sector to consider?

Ivo: Not everyone has equal access, ability or appetite for digital services. That said, don’t assume that people who tell you they can’t or won’t transact online are necessary giving you the full picture. We’ve heard plenty of challenges from people saying they ‘aren’t online’, but who then subsequently tell us they do ‘use Facebook’ and order their weekly shopping from Tesco.com!

What this boils down to is this: is what you are planning going to completely exclude or marginalise any groups or individuals? If so, what help or alternative should be offered?

There’s so much evidence to show that if you get digital right, there will be a natural uptake. It’s about finding what channel is best for you to deliver the service on, and making that a rewarding experiencing for your customer

In what ways can channel shift empower customers?

Ivo: At its very best, it supplements their lives and makes things easier. Sometimes that’s difficult in more of a public-sector setting, where there may be a nervousness about interacting with ‘government’. Fortunately, housing associations have a strong social conscience and empowering customers is part of their DNA. Where digital can do that, they will generally seize the opportunity which is great to see.

How can channel shift improve business efficiency?

Ivo: Automation is something that good digital services deliver very well. If I wanted to log a repair request, it can talk to automated systems which will estimate how much work is involved and contact the right contractor, for example. This happens in the background. It’s about marrying front-end UX with good back-end integrations.

Many organisations have self-service portals and integrated digital platforms. Once you channel shift, how do you stay ahead of competitors?

Ivo: Fundamentally this is about listening to what your customers want. Iterate and improve frequently is the mantra here. Channel shift is an output of digital transformation, which is really just part of modern service design and delivering better customer experience. Start with the customer and keep drawing that line back if you want to make channel shift ‘stick’. This is a philosophy that’s been adopted by PA Housing during their digital transformation programme and it’s been a great success.

Prodo Housing has assisted many housing organisations to channel shift successfully. Can you tell us about the process, and how you’ve helped them achieve their digital goals?

Ivo: We adopt a consultancy-led approach which focuses on big wins for the customer and organisation and then maps out practical steps that can be taken towards achieving those. Technology is an enabler in this, but it's customer-led, not technology-led, solutions that we are promoting.

For example, when we built Orbit’s digital e-tenancy portal and app we made sure that internal customers were considered just as much as external ones. Subsequently, that’s had very good staff feedback because it’s freed-up time from admin tasks. Interactions with new housing applicants have became more value-added and focussed towards spend more time on giving them an understanding of who they are as an organisation, as well as obviously helping them find the right home for them and their families.

Equally, from an external customer perspective, they are seeing tangible benefits from the new application process not least that it’s shortened the time in being allocated a tenancy from Orbit.

If you want to find out more about how digital channel shift can increase efficiency and improve customer service, download our ebook, Channel Shifting & Increasing Efficiency: The How-To GuideYou’ll learn how to start your channel shift and reap the benefits of digital transformation.

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