Today’s customers expect to be able to relate to a company or a local authority through a variety of manual and electronic channels and integration should be a priority, says Mike Manson, president of the Association of Local Government Information Management.
Manson, from Palmerton North City Council, spoke last week to a meeting of the Direct Marketing Association, bringing out the similarities between the contact centre services that local government and commerce should provide.
Often an organisation will advertise phone, fax email and website contacts, but give responsibility to separate teams who communicate inadequately among themselves, Manson says. He gives the example of making a booking at an Australian hotel; the hotel had panoramic animated views of its rooms on its website, email booking was provided; he obtained a quote, made a booking then waited for a confirmation that never came. On contacting the hotel by phone, he was told the one person who handled the emails was away.
There is no reason why every incoming message, whether a phone call, email, fax or even a phone text message, cannot be handled in much the same way — put into the same queue for a group of contact centre operators who can relate the various communications to the same customer record, says Manson..
Palmerton North uses software from Auckland’s Zeacom to integrate in this way, but the software to support such a set-up is not common, he says.
SMS messaging is an emerging ingredient of such a setup, particularly attractive to people with low income who cannot afford time or money to wait on a telephone at a call centre. Those whose first language is not English might also find text a more comfortable way of communicating.
The 24 hour-a-day availability of the internet will in due course lead ratepayers to expect local government to be available continuously through other channels too and it is wise to prepare for such an expectation, Manson says.
All this thinking is being fed into an evolving e-local government strategy involving a large number of councils working cooperatively. However, unlike local authorities in the US, UK and even Australia, they have to do it without central government support. In the UK, which Manson visited last year, central government has allocated £675 million for development of e-local government, £75 million specifically earmarked for collaborative efforts between authorities. A council which demonstrates that it has a coherent e-local government plan can be given up to £200,000 a year for two years to implement its plan.