This is Participation Cymru’s first guest blog, which comes from Tanwen Berrington. If you would like to contribute to our blog, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Towards the end of February, I went along to the somewhat elaborately-titled conference, ‘Multi Channel Customer Contact Strategies & Channel Shift for the Public Sector’, organised by PSCSF. I found myself surrounded by public sector customer service specialists and private sector companies sponsoring the event. Now, I am not an expert in these areas and I imagine many readers won’t be either.
However, I was pleasantly surprised at how the wider concept of public engagement has become a key consideration for both these sectors; public engagement sells nowadays.
There was quite a mix of presentations on the day, including speakers from English and Welsh local authorities and private sector companies specialising in social, online and electronic customer communication (though not enough of the latter to turn the conference into a sales-pitch).
They all focused on multi-channel customer contact and making the best use of these channels. Some focused on the technology available to manage your public engagement and all were interested in providing a better customer service through improved communication and engagement.
For us lay-people, some of the presentations which specialised in customer contact centres might have been a little above our heads. For me, the presentation given by Sarah Barrow from Wokingham Borough Council on selecting appropriate channels of communication and by Leon Stafford from LiveOps on ‘empowering your agents to autonomous engagement’ were particularly interesting.
What did I learn?
- To my understanding, channel shift is not just a case of shifting your citizens to social and online media; this is, after all, a little dictatorial! It is rather about engaging citizens on the most appropriate channels. This means shifting between different media depending on the nature of the service and the media the citizen is most comfortable using, or uses in their day-to-day lives. So, a customer complaining about a service on Twitter might appreciate an immediate response via a web chat (which of course, conveniently comes with the added bonus of privacy).
- It’s not necessarily good practice to use your social and online media just to broadcast information. Twitter can be useful for broadcasting traffic updates, for instance, but it is also a cheap and easy way to actually listen to your citizens. Social media and technology can be used as a pre-prepared ‘human sensor network’ (a nice concept used by Professor Dave Snowden) that you can use as a temperature check, to become aware of local issues which are a source of complaint or praise. Why arrange irregular and infrequent consultations when you already have a regular feedback loop?These networks can also be ‘activated’. I was charmed by the example of the network of dog walkers in Wokingham Borough; when a dog is lost, the Council sends text messages to network members, who then turn into a borough-wide search and rescue party (though I must admit, I am a ‘dog person’).
What does this mean?
- Often, organisations already have many of their engagement channels set up. You don’t necessarily need to re-invent the wheel therefore, just make the best use of what you already have.
- This can be as simple as actually paying attention to what your citizens are saying!
- Or managing your channels so your messages are co-ordinated. Citizens will feel they can get in touch by whatever means they feel comfortable with, without getting lost in the system.
– Tanwen Berrington
Working in public sector improvement. These views are my own.