For one reason or another I wasn’t blogging much at the time I attended the inaugural channel shift camp in November 2013, organised by the amazing Nick Hill and others at Public Sector Customer Service Forum so this is a very delayed post on that event and my thoughts generally about channel shift.
I get that there isn’t much money about in Local Government. I get that there isn’t the same level of staff resources. I get the reason for channel shifting. I’ve even seen the average cost per transaction for the various channels. And I don’t want to sound like a luddite about channel shift but what I’m not sure I really get is the aggressive, almost guerrilla style tactics deployed by some councils to shift their customers to another cheaper channel.
There seems very little evidence that councils have actually asked their public how they prefer to contact their council for the vast number of reasons they might want to contact them, and each reason might mean a different channel.
There seems to be very little communication with customers about why they’re implementing this culture change, about why they’re discouraging contact by phone, or a withdrawal of face to face services.
There seems very little thought for customer satisfaction. There seems very little practical support for their public to use other channels.
It seems they’re slowly minimising the way in which customers can contact them. They want them to act the way they want them to act. They’re manipulating them. They’re forcing people to do something they didn’t set out to do.
I’m not sure we’re looking at channel shift anymore, it feels more like channel shove.
At channel shift camp I heard of a council who removed their phone number from the website, a tactic which surprised me and one which I’m pleased my local council hasn’t done. But are customers suddenly getting in the way of delivering services because resources are tight? Are all customers now lumped under one heading? Have councils forgotten the different needs of customers, don’t they care about being customer centred, are they no longer focused on customer service? Shouldn’t they be putting in a range of ways to help their segmented customers get closer to resolving their problem, completing their transaction, getting information?
How can we stop channel shove being a hindrance for customers and a positive win win? How can councils save money (service win) and yet still deliver a quality service which is appropriate for needs (customer win)?
I experienced a channel shove recently when I tried to telephone Ofsted. They gave me five options, was I:-
- A child and wanted to tell them something
- Wanting to make a payment
- A provider
- An applicant
- A member of the public.
I was calling in a work capacity. I wasn’t any of those listed above. I selected option 5, Member of the public, only to go through another list of selection options, to eventually be signposted to the website and then cut off. I was being shoved towards a channel I’ve already tried. I’d tried online and failed to find the information I needed and so now wanted to talk to someone. Why was it proving difficult?
I phoned back and began randomly pressing numbers in the hope that someone would answer the phone. Again I was signposted to the website and then cut off. I finally realised a way in would be through the complaints option. There’s bound to be someone on the end of that line, surely. I was on hold for what seems like ages, listening to some annoying music, which really wasn’t helping my mood. I was told 5 times that all advisors were busy. I was wasting time, but I felt like I’d come too far to hang up now. And if I hung up I still wouldn’t have the information I needed.
I finally got through to a human, we had a conversation. It was nice. He was nice. Although I wasn’t filled with confidence that he could help. He put me back on hold as he ‘went to check’. He checked and gave me the information I needed. He also gave me a secret telephone number which would bypass the selection process. I would never have to go through this again. But a member of the public would. A provider would. I hoped a child never would.
This channel shove strategy had failed. It has wasted time, resources and although I got the information in the end, my customer satisfaction was firmly on the frustrated level.
- We should ask and then listen to our customers about how they prefer to contact the services they need.
- We should be clear that one channel doesn’t fit all customers. There should be an element of choice.
- We should be clear that we don’t just have one customer. Segmentation gives us insight.
- We should communicate with customers if services are no longer available through a particular channel.
- We should be honest and open and explain why services may no longer be available through a certain channel.
- Whatever the channel, we still need to deliver a quality customer service.
- We should offer practical support to encourage customers to shift channels.
- If we’re trying to shift customers to websites they need to contain the information customers want.
- If customers are required to select options, they need to be able to see themselves in the options.
- We should invest in our staff to ensure they have the training and support they need to be able to respond to customers.
Friday 4th April 2014