Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Don't focus on Facebook, deliver via digital

Local Governments have come a long way in the past couple of years in terms of communicating and listening to people via social media. The recent snow that affected much of the country showed that many councils now understand the power of delivering and distributing information this way.

This is great but I suggest it's time to move the focus on to the more difficult task of delivering services via digital. We've had the debate about social media, it's a good thing, lets start working on delivering the services that people want.

I know there are already councils that are doing some of this very well (and if you are, please get in touch, I'd like to promote it as good practice through LocalGov Digital) , but they're few and far between. There are also some that think they are, but aren't.

Let's take a hot topic at the moment for all councils that look after the roads, potholes, and put a checklist together:

  • Is there a page on your website to report potholes? I mean a page where users can add details of the pothole, not just an email address or worse still, a phone number. 
  • Is there a map and an address search on the page so the customer can easily pinpont the location?
  • What happens when the customer hits send? Is the page linked into your Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system, so the record gets saved in it and an officer doesn't have to type and cut/paste in the details? 
  • Did the customer get an email receipt of the case if they requested it?
  • Is the case automatically assigned to the correct back office team?
  • Can the back office email the customer using the CRM with updates on their case?
  • Does the customer get a summary of what the council did in an email, or can they check on screen what actions the council carried out to resolve the problem?
If you've answered yes to the above you're probably delivering a digital service to the same standard of someone like DHL or eBay. Now apply this to all your top tasks and you'll be starting to do what customers want and already expect of the private sector.

If you've just got a website form that sends an email to Customer Services, you're not really delivering a digital service.

Obviously there's a cut off point. I'm not suggesting at this stage, unless you can do it easily, councils should be developing the above for some of the more obscure tasks that only get a handful of uses each year. Perhaps one day, but I'm realistic about the resources councils have.

I'm also not advocating giving up on social media, far from it, but I think it's time to start focusing on doing what really boosts the reputation of councils; keeping people informed when they request a service or report a problem, and of course increasing capacity in traditional channels by doing stuff digitally.

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.