Low-cost channels deliver high value

As governments come under pressure to deliver better value service at lower cost, public sector organisations across Europe are fine-tuning their multi-channel strategies to encourage more people to use lower-cost channels, without compromising on service quality.  We look at how two government organisations are rising to the challenge.  Since March 2006, life has got a lot easier for the citizens of Amsterdam.  If someone sees illegally dumped rubbish, wants to find somewhere suitable to get married, notices a dangerously loose paving stone, or has any other enquiry or complaint about the city’s municipal services, there is now just one number they can call – 14020.

14020, which combines the city’s dialling code (020) with the number for all national and local government information (14), is a new, multi-channel city information service managed by Amsterdam City Council.  Whereas previously citizens would have had to look up the number of the department they wanted to contact with an enquiry or complaint, with the new ‘Amsterdam Antwoord’ (‘Amsterdam Answers’) service, they now only have one number to remember.

The impetus for the Amsterdam Antwoord service will be familiar to anyone working in information services in government today.  Modern governments must fulfil their service obligations by delivering efficient, accurate and timely information to citizens through a wide choice of channels, catering to citizens wherever they happen to be and however they want to interact.  In practice, budgetary considerations mean that many governments want to encourage citizens to use lower-cost channels, but without compromising – and if possible, actually improving – the speed, quality and accuracy of service delivered.

In the UK, for example, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) is keen to steer taxpayers and employers towards the self-service functionality available on its website, particularly because it will soon require employers to file VAT returns via the internet. However, although the website provides a rich array of tools and information services, online self-service is not currently the most favoured channel for interacting with the agency.

“Increasingly, customers want to use email,” explains Simon Hough, who is the HMRC’s Requirements Manager for its online customer service initiatives.

To cater to this preference for email while subtly steering customers towards self-service, HMRC chose to implement a sophisticated email response management solution.  KANA Response was rolled out agency-wide in 2005 as the HMRC’s strategic email management platform following a successful series of proof of concept projects that started in December 2002.

The rich functionality of the KANA product allows HMRC to deliver a high level of service to users who like to use email, but also helps the agency to direct customers to online self-service for additional information. Sophisticated analysis capabilities mean that the content of incoming emails can be automatically analysed and appropriate responses suggested either directly to the sender, or to the contact centre agent handling the email.

“If somebody asks how to calculate sick pay for an employee,” says Hough by way of example, “we can send back hyperlinks to the online tool and invite them to get in touch again if they need more help. It’s of strategic importance to us that when people use email we have a chance to direct them to self-service. It gives us the opportunity to educate the customer and make better use of the material on our website.”

HMRC is not driven by cost control so much as by an obligation to provide the best possible service to the customer in the shortest possible timeframe. It considers first-time resolution of enquiries to be critical, given tough legislative requirements, the high demands of employers, and the need to increase job satisfaction among advisors.

The goal of first-time resolution for all citizen enquiries is one that is shared by the City Council in Amsterdam.  It too relies on KANA software to power its ‘one number’ information service. In this case, a constantly updated knowledge base of information and answers to frequently asked questions means that the agents who man the phones at Amsterdam Antwoord can answer 80% of calls on the spot, with the remaining 20% being referred to the relevant department.

While saving money for the city council, Amsterdam’s ‘one number’ service is also delivering positive benefits to citizens that go far beyond providing them with easier access to council services and information. “It is much cheaper to have one contact centre instead of several at different departments in the city,” says Hester Maij, a councillor for the City of Amsterdam. “That yields cash that can be spent on serving the people of Amsterdam.”

“The Amsterdam contact centre is good for the people and for the council,” confirms the mayor of Amsterdam, Job Cohen. “It’s good for the people because they get quick answers to a wide variety of questions. And it’s good for the council because we can provide efficient answers to all queries.” For further information on KANA or to request the City of Amsterdam DVD, click here