In conversation with James Marshall
James Marshall is the Service Lead for Customer Experience and Insight at Southampton City Council and will be speaking on Understanding your user when delivering accessible and inclusive digital services Panel at 15:30 on 25th June at the Public Sector Solutions Expo.
How has the successful introduction of a webchat function changed the behaviour of citizens in how they interact with council services at Southampton?
We are now able to avoid calls and resolve issues straight away (last month we had an 86% first time resolution rate), it gives customers a really quick way of getting answers to unusual questions. We have tried to keep a careful balance between using webchat to direct customers to the correct web form and dealing with their issue through webchat. Webchat is a key part of our channel shift approach, we want customers to self-serve where possible but sometimes it is better just to resolve their issue we don’t always get the balance right but we keep reviewing what we are doing. Our webchat advisors also work closely with the web team to let them know about common questions so they can make improvements to pages or navigation, this has worked really well.
What advice to you have for councils who, like Southampton, had previous problems with implementing digital solutions and now want to try again?
Firstly it doesn’t hurt to try things again, just call it a pilot then you can get away with anything! The first time the council introduced webchat it didn’t have the desired impact and the function was turned off. When I came into the role I was keen to reintroduce it as I saw value in it and had used it as a customer of other organisations. We made sure we understood what had gone wrong last time and then got one of the improvement team to focus on it once live and analyse the use data and transcripts and help us keep improving it.
What lessons can public sector service providers learn from private sector companies that lead on customer experience?
There is plenty to be learned about what creates a good customer experience, our own webchat implementation was partly based on my own good webchat experiences with my bank and when buying a bike. I think it is also important not to fall into thinking that the private sector has all the answers, there is lots of great practice in the public sector! The key is to learn from what you see elsewhere but don’t just assume it will work as well for you, things need tweaking to fit the customer need and situation.
What is upcoming in Southampton’s plan for improving digital experience?
There’s loads of stuff we are doing, we are working on an AI chatbot, developing our online forms, upgrading our CMS and making some wider improvements to the council website, we are also developing our social media customer services with some work on social listening. We are always busy listening to customer feedback and making changes to our digital services to make things easier or clearer. We have a dedicated customer experience improvement team who drive forward this work with colleagues from across the council.