Wyre Council has launched a new mobile advice centre to bring digital services to residents who lack internet access or skills.
The centre is located on a bus which travels around the community five days a week on a set route with seven stops.
Like most local authorities, the council is working to move its services online as part of a wider ‘digital by default’ agenda.
However it is particularly wary of excluding the ‘digitally disenfranchised’ as a survey in 2012 found that 17 percent of Wyre residents do not use the internet. The figure for non-use increases to 40 percent of those aged over 65.
Issues resolved ‘at first point of contact’
The council’s contact centre manager Sue Stephenson explained that new customer relationship management (CRM) software on the bus allows the team to record and resolve any council-related issues raised by residents and complete transactions and applications to the council ‘at the first point of contact’.
She said: “Initially we had no CRM system, so we had to fill in worksheets and then go back and process claims at the council. But now the new system has been brought in, the two girls who work on the bus can log every customer on it and deal with what they need right there and then.
“They aren’t just taking information and passing it onto the back office. And by recording each interaction we know how many people come in each day and what they’re asking about.”
By completing services such as filling in benefit applications entirely in one visit, the council has cut the amount of time it takes to process claims from roughly 32 days to just four, Stephenson said.
Thanks to the new system, the team knows they had 10,404 visitors to the bus last year, and they made 11,100 enquiries. 80 percent of them were about benefits, and 12 percent were about revenues.
The advisors use KANA ‘Lagan’ CRM software, which is accessed over a 4G mobile network, which allows them to not just fill in applications but also to direct enquiries and requests for service to the relevant team at the council, such as pest control, waste management or environmental services.
Supporting the ‘digitally disenfranchised’
On some occasions the enquiries have been handled so quickly that the requested service, such as dealing with fly tipping, has been completed before the resident even gets back home, according to Stephenson.
“This bus service means we are open and accessible, we’re not just a faceless council”, she added.
There is a good level of awareness about the service because although the bus is new, there has been a roaming benefits service since 2005, and the timetable has not changed in that time, Stephenson explained.
The service has been brought in to support and complement the council’s ‘channel shift’ strategy to move more of its services online by ensuring that those unable or unwilling to access the internet are still able to have full access to services.
Philippa Davies, Wyre’s corporate director of resources, said: “Investment in a face-to-face presence seems to run counter to the policies of other councils whereby the means of contact are concentrated in automated or remote channels.
“The Mobile Advice Centre takes the council into the locations where fewer people have ready access to technology and there seems to be widespread support for the bus amongst the communities which it serves. It has enabled a reduction in the time to process enquiries and helps to build social inclusion.”
David Moody, worldwide head of product strategy at KANA Software said: “This is a genuine mobile strategy which delivers online services directly to those who may feel digitally excluded. At KANA, we recently conducted research which revealed the major barriers to channel shift within local government.
“Interestingly, a recurring issue was the fear that shifting services online would neglect members of the public without digital access. The mobile advice service now offered by Wyre Borough Council removes that barrier completely and provides the best of both worlds.
“Wyre is a largely rural community and this partnership proves that with the right technology, a digital strategy can be tailored for any location.”