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How does customer service in the public sector compare?

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Governments across the globe are moving towards a more integrated digital approach to serving citizens, writes Sydwell Shikweni, transformation director at Merchants.
According to the 2016 Dimension Data Global Contact Centre Benchmarking Report, public sector entities globally are prioritising digital channel service capability, customer analytics and integrated customer journeys or omnichannel as part of their customer experience strategies. Remarkably while South African public sector respondents are focusing on the same areas, they are prioritising customer analytics over omnichannel and digital service capability. Despite this, 42,9% stated that they cannot track the customer journey.

What is shaping the local industry?
Analytics plays a key role in customer experience (CX), with 85,7% of local respondents stating that it develops customer experience. That said, less than half of the respondents believe it improves the customer journey.
When asked what the top things were that will reshape the contact centre industry and customer experience (CX) during the next five years, areas such as public scrutiny of service provision, personalised service offerings, changing user demands and access to new technology scored relatively low among South African respondents, which is quite interesting as the country is in a local government election year.
Seventy-five percent of local respondents said access to new technologies was one of the top three industry trends affecting their CX capability. Half of the South African respondents cited multiskilling or increased complexity as the second highest, with omnichannel strategies and the migration of traffic to digital coming in third. Changing user behaviour was only recognised by 25% of respondents as one of the key trends.
While CX is a key priority for private sector companies, less than half of the global public sector respondents saw it as a competitive differentiator in their space. The local picture is, however, very different, with 75% of respondents saying it is a competitive differentiator. This could be as a result of the local elections. All of the local respondents also stated that CX increases customer loyalty.

South Africa is spoilt for channel choice
The move to omnichannel has been a key priority for contact centres over the past two years and 50% of local respondents stated that they are already fully integrated, with 87,5% stating they will be fully integrated within the next two years. These figures are much higher than that of global respondents, where only 16,8% of respondents stated they were fully integrated and 65,5% saying they will be within the next two years.
Public sector entities are increasingly using self-assisted channels to improve customer experience. Sixty percent of local respondents also stated that it is part of the process of creating seamless customer journeys across channels. They also say it improves employee engagement, extends service coverage hours and satisfies citizens’ appetite for digital channels. They are, however, concerned about the impact on IT resources, the speed of technological advancement, security and creating the right solutions to meet their needs. Forty percent of respondents also said that the regulatory environment in South Africa can stand in the way of these services.
There have been some interesting changes in the types of channels used by citizens. As expected, the use of telephone engagement has dropped by 24% when compared to the 2015 results. The use of email has increased, but more significantly, the use of service kiosk support, which did not feature in the 2015 results, has grown to 8,5%. Social media as a means of engagement is also up and now sits at 6,2%. Interestingly, half of local public sector entities still prefer engaging with citizens via the telephone, while 31% state they prefer self-services.

Channel preference continue to differ
The use of the telephone as a preferred channel to initiate contact with citizens has dropped significantly since last year and we have seen particular growth in the use of email and proactive outbound contact, which includes SMS. Remarkably, social media use seems to be limited to service enquiry updates. What is also interesting to note is that email has become the predominant method for initiating contact around complaints.
When you consider that the majority of citizens under the age of 55 prefer social media, mobile apps and email as their preferred method of communications, there seems to be a disconnect between what they want and what they are getting. This could be as a result of a number of factors, including a lack of technology to support the use of these channels. Webchat does not even feature as a preference locally.

Can I get personal attention, please?
One of the most interesting outcomes when comparing the South African public sector to their global counterparts lies in the level of personalised services that can be offered. While 28,6% of local respondents stated they can provide a customised customer experience based on the customer’s profile or analytics, only 7,3% of their global counterparts have that ability, which indicates that we are ahead of the global curve in personalised customer service.