Socitm: Council websites still fail to answer queries

Councils still have poor websites that fail to deal with queries from residents, according to public sector IT directors’ organisation Socitm.

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Councils still have poor websites that fail to deal with queries from residents, according to public sector IT directors’ organisation Socitm.

In the first half yearly briefing from its Customer Access Improvement Service, Socitm said councils’ performance across web channels varied significantly, and citizens frequently ended up phoning the councils, when a better website could have resolved their queries.

Alarmingly, little more than half of the visitors to council websites found all the information they wanted. Some 21 percent only found part of what they were looking for, and 19 percent failed to find any useful information. This meant up to eight million phone calls could have been avoided with better designed sites, Socitm said.

Citizens were, as a whole, dissatisfied with online services, particularly with regards to housing and council tax, Socitm said.

In GovMetric data, which compares usage and customer satisfaction across the main access channels, Socitm found “significantly different levels” of usage across websites. For queries about waste, recycling, and council tax, the most contact was by phone, but for all other services, the web was the most important channel.

Martin Greenwood, programme manager at Socitm Insight, said it was “very important for service managers to consider the data and feedback for their service, and consider what they can do to improve levels of satisfaction and decrease levels of avoidable contact”.

Socitm offers a Website Takeup service, to help councils measure usage of their online services. Users will be able from January to correlate information about the experience of visiting a council website with data on the type of visitor, including gender, age and ethnic origin. This would help councils understand who can be reached most effectively through the web, it said.

Data from the Channel Value Benchmarking service, which measures the cost of providing access to services through the web and other channels, can be compared against similar councils, when results from the first participants are delivered at a workshop on 15 December, Socitm said. The information will also be published in the next Customer Access Improvement Service briefing in June next year.

In March, Socitm warned that only one in three councils offered online transactional services.

Last week, Socitm and the Local Government Association jointly produced new guidelines for data handling in local councils.

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