Saturday, 5 January 2013

Why was December the month of "Digital by Choice"?

In December 2012 more people chose digital to report problems to us about broken streetlights, flooding, potholes, fly tipping, litter, trees and shrubs and so on, than any other medium. The figures were:
  • Web 44%
  • Phone 40%
  • Email 15%
  • Other 1%
I feel proud for everyone who's worked on what we refer to as Fault Reporting, as looking at feedback, customers have chosen to use the service because they prefer it to any other medium we offer. It's a real example of "Digital by Choice", rather than "Digital by Default"; building a service so good that people want to use it, not forcing them to use it by closing or running down others.

It's not something that's happened overnight; we've been improving what we offer online for years based on customer, member and officer feedback. So, you might be asking, what are the main things you can do to improve take-up of your own digital Fault Reporting?

Make it more convenient

This one's easy. Our phone lines are open during office hours which were of course were reduced by two days in December. Very often it's more convenient for customers to do stuff online, because they can do it at a time that suits them and we even received reports on Christmas Day.

Just by making sure your website is up, running and reliable 100% of the time you're providing a more convenient channel for many.

Email is also available all the time too, so why didn't more people use it? Perhaps the answer is below.

Make it easier to explain where the problem is

We show a lot of stuff we look after on GIS mapping, for example streetlights, salt bins, areas of grass that we cut and a lot more. If you want a quick map to show roughly where the location of something is then Google Maps is your friend. If you're after pinpoint accuracy and reliable locations (Google Maps used to show one of our libraries in the middle of a canal) then you probably need to use something else.

This makes it a lot easier than trying to describe the exact location of the problem, than either verbally on the phone or textually in an email and it's not only better for the customer, it's better for the people trying to fix the problem as it gives them an accurate location as possible.

Even when there isn't a layer on the map, you stand a much better chance of locating where a pothole is on a two mile stretch of country lane if you can put an X on a map instead of trying to explain where it is, on the phone or by typing it out.

Make it easier to describe the problem

We used to get descriptions that were thousands of character long. Now we prompt the customer for the things we really need, based on the type of problem. For example for a streetlight we ask "if the light has stopped working, if it is flickering or is on during the day". For a pothole we ask for "size, depth and where it is on the surface".

Of course the customer can submit whatever information they like, but we're found people are more likely to submit succinct, more accurate information if we tell them what we'd like from them. Of course, this also helps in getting the problem solved too

Keep people better updated

We built the ability for officers to be able to make updates to case notes public, into our Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system.

This means that should they choose it, customers can receive updates of how the problem is being resolved by email and see a summary on screen if they log-in. In fact they can see all the problems reported about this sort of thing, on one screen.

You probably wouldn't expect a phone call from the council, telling you they'd ordered a new bulb for the broken streetlight you reported and councils simply don't have the resources to do this anyway. A quick email, generated by the CRM, containing the information that was being added to the case keeps the customer up to date and it's no more work for the officers involved.

It's assuring to the customer that their report is being acted on, whilst opening up what actually happens to resolve their problem, highlighting the work the back offices do.

So what's next? Keep improving based on feedback of course, but providing a better offering for mobile customers given the rise in mobile use is a priority for 2013.

If you'd like to discuss this then you can find me at
This blog is written by Phil Rumens, Vice-Chair of LocalGov Digital, lead for LGMakers and who manages the digital services team at a local authority in England.

The opinions expressed in this weblog are my own personal views and in no way represent any organisation I may have worked for, currently work for, might be thinking of working for, might not be thinking of working for or have never worked for. In fact having said that they, might not even be my views any more as I might have changed my mind so I wouldn't take any of it too seriously.