How Queen can teach us about Customer Expectations in the Digital Age

“I want it all, I want it all, and I want it now!”.

Little did Freddie Mercury realise back in 1989 how prophetic his lyrics would be in describing the future of customer expectations. Although it’s likely that this subject wasn’t at the forefront of his thinking as Brian May penned the track, it did touch on the themes of ambition and social upheaval, both of which are highly relevant in today’s complex and constantly changing service landscape.

The fact is that the average customer in 2017 expects more, and this is increasingly the case within the younger age groups. Younger service consumers have grown up in an age where the Internet has always been a thing, apps are part of everyday life, and the ability to Snapchat an image to your friend two thousand miles away and get an instant response is not only possible, it is expected. Technology has, to all intents and purposes, liberated us from the shackles of conventional communication.  We can now speak to our friends and family pretty much anywhere and at any time, using an array of services to get the job done.  The rise of instant messaging via SMS and subsequent evolution to asynchronous messaging via apps such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger have changed the way in which people communicate, at a fundamental level.

Over time, these technologies have become the new normal, and they continue to evolve. A perhaps unexpected implication of this is the change in expectations that customers have of their service providers. For many it feels jarring to switch from a seamless and frictionless conversation with a friend via WhatsApp to then have to call, for instance, a retailer’s customer service helpline, using the actual phone bit of their phone, deal with the automated response system, wait in a queue and then have to speak to a real live human in an effort to get what should, in theory, be a relatively simple piece of assistance. The immediacy, convenience and ‘always’ on nature of app-based services and mobile communications technologies has given customers a taste of the future; namely autonomy.  Instant access to what you need, when you need it and via the channel of your choice is rapidly becoming the new normal for large swathes of the population.

Research bears this out.  A recent UK survey of one thousand consumers showed that 65% were happier using chat services to talk to businesses than five years ago, and that 68% would rather use chat than either email or phone. This is a trend that is only going in one direction as the consumer demographic is populated by increasing numbers of young and technologically savvy folk who would think nothing of flitting between a conversation with their BFF in one instance and their mobile phone provider support desk in another, on Facebook Messenger, in real time.  On the bus.  At midnight.

In short, the very existence of these emerging technologies is making us, as people, more impatient, more selfish, and increasingly demanding, and this is starting to rub off on how we approach our service providers. If you are providing your customers with any kind of digital experience, whether this be via Web or Mobile, people now simply expect an experience similar to that obtained elsewhere within the digital domain. But let’s be real here for a moment. Providing a service normally reliant on people that can simultaneously tick those boxes of ubiquity and immediacy is, quite frankly, a real challenge.

Availability of people and skills to service your customers will always be a constraint, and simply adding new channels only compounds this issue.  The advent of useful Artificial Intelligence, however, will address this constraint. Intelligent bots to augment chat, messaging and voice channels can provide your existing workforce with the additional manpower (botpower?) needed to bridge the experience gap between ubiquitous immediate access to assistance, and sitting in a call queue.  These bots won’t replace your human workforce, but they will work alongside them to do the initial triage, understand and respond to common questions, route enquiries to the appropriate team or, in time, enable real-time transactional processing (e.g. buying a train ticket).

As a service provider, if you don’t respond to this challenge, you will be ignored.  It takes less than a nanosecond to close an App and go elsewhere, and probably only slightly longer to make the decision to do so, when the experience does not meet expectations. Adding friction to your engagement processes will push customers away, and it is simply not an option to do nothing. If your business fails to respond to the roll-call of providing a seamless digital customer experience, you will get left behind, and possibly quicker than you might think.

So when you’re thinking about how to encourage your customers into your digital embrace, think of Freddie Mercury and remember his primal scream; “I want it all and I want it now!”.

What do you think? Leave a comment below or contact me by email.

When fast gets very fast: the dizzying pace of technology in the private sector and what this means for the public sector

In recent blogs I described why I think organisations are compelled to introduce new business models due to intense competition. And this competition is accelerating because of global markets and the introduction of new technology.

Contrast this with the system that is supposed to drive innovation and service improvement in public services.  Innovation in a global market does not – and cannot – rely upon a best practice circular. Yet our mindset in government and across the public sector is that this is precisely how we expect innovation and continuous improvement to be stimulated and reproduced.

We still have a distinctly top down system based on sucking in best practice to some central agency.  There it is checked, audited and inspected.  Then it is spat out over the next five years to a reluctant audience on the front line.  The manager in the local hospital or council has neither the incentive nor the inclination to accept what a ‘colleague’ down the road is doing because, as you would have heard many times, ‘it might work there but we are different’.

This mechanism is clumsy and ineffectual. Yet in the private sector, we appear to have found a different way to share best practice – we pinch it.

The intense pressure from competition forces the best companies to copy and refine whatever they can from their competitors to become best in class.  And the rate of innovation and adoption will continue to accelerate. Take, for example, the smartphone technology that gave rise to Uber (despite their recent problems in London) and how, before the world figures out how to regulate ride-sharing, self-driving cars will have made those regulations obsolete.

It is in that vein that I am increasingly struck by the dichotomy of language that describes the difference between the public and private sphere. It is not uncommon to hear the Government, when talking about the economy, to constantly emphasise the challenge to improve private sector productivity and to create a more entrepreneurial society.

Yet, when it comes to reforming the public sector, the emphasis tends to default to centralised controls.  There is unease and opposition in some quarters to flexibility and change, with insistence on preserving structures and centralised systems.  These two worlds, public and private, which you and I inhabit daily, cannot remain artificially divided forever because, contrary to popular belief, these two worlds are not made up of fundamentally different people.

Nor are the pressures on the public and private sectors completely different.

Both face the challenge of becoming more responsive and accountable to their customers or service users, their employees and wider society.  Also, if we are to remain true to concepts of the welfare state, universal provision, social justice and equity in the delivery of public services, we need to address the pressures of global markets and the challenge to representative government.

Why?  Because these pressures are calling into question the ability of traditional tools and levers – such as the way the Government exercises legitimacy, ownership and control – to respond to modern needs and pressures.

Our challenge is to construct new tools and levers that stimulates public services to find a way of promoting practitioners whose experience and reputation gives them the self-confidence to lead others to innovate. And for the system to develop a set of incentives, and the institutions a set of capacities, to continuously reinvent themselves in ways that align individual interest with the wider public realm.  I am not saying the private sector has all the answers, but it is certainly worth exchanging ideas.

If you enjoyed this, you might also enjoy another recent post inspired by the innovation demonstrated by Apple.

I future blogs I plan to dig deeper into how public services can be reformed and the role of competition and choice in public service supply chains. As always, I’d be grateful for your thoughts and comments – please get in touch.

Developing a digital culture to meet citizen expectations in Local Government services

Originally published as a guest blog on techUK Insights

A recent conversation with a Local Government IT manager led me to consider again what ‘digital’ means and what digital transformation means to the way that we deliver local services.

My colleague argued that ‘digital’ is just an expression of new technologies, and digital innovation could be best expressed in traditional IT terms, after all the IT world has always embraced change and new ideas.

I accept that it is certainly true that technology is important to deliver the ‘digital revolution’ and new technologies form the bedrock on which transformation is built.

But I would suggest that digital transformation is not primarily about technology changes but by the changes we observe in culture, communication, consumerism and the unprecedented transformation of society’s operating model.

The ubiquitous and unprecedented scale of societal change has happened in just the last five to ten years, and it’s getting more difficult to remember a life before Apple, Google, Facebook and Instagram.

In Local Government, where digital transformation is looking to leave a lasting and sustainable legacy that genuinely improves citizens’ lives and futures, the Sopra Steria approach has certainly been to make the best use of available technologies, but has always been supported by a strong business spine. We have endeavored to match both the ambitions of our clients with the desire of their stakeholders to consume services in the ways that they are increasingly using to access other markets. Game changing platforms such as Facebook, Uber, Deliveroo and Amazon do not allow other providers of goods and services to continue with traditional methods and still retain happy customers. For these and other digital leaders, digital transformation has been powered by an enormous leap in customer expectation.

In Local Government this customer expectation across a diverse range of services is also driving change and we see many different approaches to delivering digital business strategies.

So how should Local Government drive through this digital change?

We recognise four key ingredients for success which concentrate on how digital can transform the way Councils and their citizens both provide, and receive, services. They recognise that it needs careful planning if it is to provide real, useful, affordable and usable alternatives to the current methodologies.

1. Make the most of existing technology

The first stage focuses on long term planning, and encourages the immediate use of facilities already available within existing technology applications and platforms to ensure that current investment is used to its full potential. This approach encourages quick wins at low cost.

2. Small step transformation

At stage two, we start to enhance the physical service delivery with digital content, taking small manageable steps towards digital transformation. The intention is to enhance the customer experience by increasing the ability to interact with the council online and to start to introduce new ways of working.

3. Re-imagining delivery

Stage three makes greater and greater use of a redesigned on- line presence to replace or extend existing physical processes with digital operations and digital enablers. This would be visible through continuous customer improvement processes that increase customer contacts through digital access channels and offers the digital fulfilment of service requests. Where appropriate, the web will become the default channel of choice, allowing greater service time and funding to be diverted to supporting more vulnerable citizens.

4. A digital business

The final stage of the digital transformation is to develop new digital business and operating models that reach the full potential of the digital environment without just reflecting and duplicating existing physical process.

The activity would be to redesign existing business structures to take full advantage of a digital approach to service delivery. This may take the form of working with partners to improve business outcomes by sharing data and processes. It may consider new commissioning models that are not restricted by traditional barriers but that continue to improve service delivery whilst also reducing operating costs.

The world is changing and digital is changing the ways that we work, rest and play. In another five years we will look back at an unprecedented period of change. Let’s make sure that Local Government is able to embrace the opportunity to deliver lasting and sustainable change today and provide that solid foundation for the next revolution – whatever that may be.

The clock is ticking!

What do you think? Leave a reply below or contact me by email.

The world is still flat: how economic change is straining our ability to remake public services

I want to talk to you about what is arguably the greatest domestic policy challenge facing governments over the next decade.

How to create the conditions for a sustained transformation in our public services in a way consistent with the fundamental values that underpinned their creation.

In this first in a series of blogs, I want to anchor the debate about public service reform in the context of a number of global pressures affecting governments.

Every government is challenged by a similar set of pressures. The most significant of these is when a combination of rapid technological change leads to profound transformation of the economy. This has significantly increased prosperity. But governments are struggling to maintain a consensus of support, particularly as communities experience periods of insecurity and upheaval when technology is introduced.

The change unleashed is provoking tough and searching questions for governments of all political persuasions.

How do we reconcile rising flows of goods, services, capital and labour mobility with the need to create and sustain socially cohesive communities?

At the same time the capacity and capability of health, education, social care, housing and other public services to respond to change is curtailed by continuing austerity. And our ability to build cohesive communities is even more difficult when the very mechanism for reconciling competing tensions within communities – the institution of government and the process of democracy – has never been more questioned.

People’s sense of ‘connectedness’ with government and the political process looks increasingly weak and shattered.

Next week, I’ll post about how business has responded to the challenge of technological change. The most successful businesses are agile – attempting to reinvent their their business model to meet rapidly evolving customer needs.

Meanwhile if you enjoyed this you might also enjoy my summary of our government digital trends survey. We asked civil servants how their work is influenced by new digital ways of working and the benefits for the public

Digital in Government: the next step is true transformation

Have you recently tried to access a government service and wondered why it can’t be as simple and easy as Amazon? Were you frustrated, like me, when required to print, complete and return a physical form rather than fill in a pre-populated online one?

In our recent survey of civil servants we wanted to understand how digital – the powerful combination of disruptive technologies underpinned by new business models – was being adopted across government. How is government seeking to enhance digital customer experience by optimising its digital infrastructure and insight from analytics?

Transformation = Restructure

Our Government Digital Trends Survey of nearly 4,500 civil servants over three years found they have a consistent understanding of what digital means. The most popular definitions chosen were ‘restructuring services’ followed by ‘improving online services’.

With government facing pressures from multiple directions, not least the challenge of implementing a successful exit from the European Union, civil servants view digital transformation as a win-win. Not only can it improve the quality of service that citizens receive, through the development of more convenient delivery models, but these same models can help government to reduce their costs.

But the sheer scale of changes facing the government means that the civil service needs to think harder about the way it works.

Breaking down ‘stove-pipe’ government

Adding to the skills gap I described in my previous blog, there are in-built structural challenges across government. Public services tend to adhere to ‘stove-piped’ models that have largely been left untouched for decades.

Departmental structures encourage civil servants to focus purely on their own priorities. The organisation of government provides little opportunity to consider how citizens’ needs cut across departmental boundaries.

The good news is that civil servants view the collection of data that underpins their operations as a core process. In 2017, civil servants told us that the most significant benefits of ‘big data’ were reducing expenditure (29%) and improving operational efficiency (21%). But opportunities for innovation in new processes (7%) and improving customer engagement (3%) trailed far behind.

Data-enabled government is needed

This example highlights the challenge and opportunity of digital transformation in government. A more innovative approach, such as a single interface for collecting data, is not only a source of efficiency. It allows government to remove the duplication of effort and provides a catalyst for the development of end-to-end processes that place the needs of citizens at the centre.

As government is understandably cautious by nature, digital transformation was initially limited to narrow front-end activities. The focus was on creating digital channels to ‘bolt on’ existing business processes, rather than redesigning processes endto end.

Yet government benefits from being one of the most ‘data-rich’ organisations. The growing number of data sets that are now generated, through the automation of processes, create huge opportunities to drive digital transformation. The Policy Exchange think tank suggested that the UK government could save up to £33 billion through improved data use.

What does data enabled digital government look like?

I think there is an urgent need for the joining and sharing of data across government to help civil and other public servants to plan more effective services targeted at those most in need.

There are several aspects to this data enabled digital government, including:

  1. Predictive analytics: Human resources tend to represent the largest single source of costs for government. Predictive analytics can maximise the efficiency of operations and improve workforce utilisation (helping government do more with – more often than not – less).
  2. Coordinated government analytics: Sharing data across government organisations drives benefits by avoiding the duplication of effort. But going beyond efficiency, the creation of cloud-based big data hubs leads to more personalised and targeted services.

And tailored and preventative approaches are urgently needed to address high cost social issues such as troubled families and health problems such as obesity. Predictive and coordinated analytics lend themselves to addressing these so called ‘wicked issues’ because they are so complex, fast moving and they involve changing the behaviour or gaining the commitment of individual citizens.

If you would like more information about the Government Digital Trends Survey, or would just like to raise a question, please feel free to add a comment below or contact me by email.

Judging the young Inventors for #DigiInventorsChallenge in association with Andy Murray and the Digital Health & Care Institute (DHI)

There has been huge excitement in the Sopra Steria Scotland camp recently as we eagerly opened the entries sent to myself, Emily Walters and Graeme Harvey who were picked to be part of the judging panel for the Inaugural Digital Health and Care Challenge 2017.

Teenagers across Scotland are competing in the #DigiInventorsChallenge, giving them the chance to develop a new invention that will transform health, fitness and wellbeing amongst the nation’s young people using technology. The ideas include everything from fitness apps, gaming controllers and online challenges.

The winning team will see their idea come to life through the Digital Health & Care Institute’s innovation model as well as developing the skills and experience needed to make their idea a success.

I am sure the experience will stay with the winners for a lifetime and set them on their way for careers within digital health.

The role of the judges was to critically evaluate the submissions and decide on a shortlist of six teams that will bring their ideas to life at #DigiInventorsBootcamp.  We were all extremely impressed with the original and innovative ideas we received and we carefully considered the following elements when making our blind judging assessment;

  • What is the idea and how will it work?
  • What health and care problem does it solve and why is that important?
  • How does the idea apply to digital technology
  • Why would people want to use the idea and what benefits would it bring?
  • What design and manufacturing problems may occur, is there an outline of a business plan?

When I originally started talking with DHI about being part of this challenge there were three key reasons why I wanted to get involved:

  1. The challenge offers the #DigiInventors insight into a career in tech
  2. Working with young people and gaining powerful user research in their concerns on health and care and how digital services can transform outcomes
  3. Bringing the winning idea to life and working with the DHI to see the design developed and commercialised

Now the shortlist has been issued and so many different ideas have been generated I can see how powerful this kind of engagement is in getting young people to develop creative and entrepreneurial skills.

The next step is planning for the #DigiInventorsBootcamp where we’ll be meeting with the finalists to help take their ideas to the next stage. I’ll be back with more on this later in the year!

See more about Sopra Steria’s involvement with this great initiative.

Government needs to invest and build digital skills across government – the view of civil servants

Having the right skills and capacities to hand is pivotal to the effective digital transformation of government. For the past three years, we have asked civil servants to tell us how government is adapting to changing digital skills needs as part of our Government Digital Trends Survey.

The most startling finding from this year’s survey is a rise in the number of civil servants who say that a lack of training is a barrier to digital transformation

Lack of available skills continues to be a barrier to transformation

In 2017, 62% of civil servants placed lack of training for staff among the top three barriers to digital transformation of government. Despite a significant increase in training over the last twelve months, 43% of respondents told us that they had not received enough digital training to do their job well (an increase of 6% points since 2015). When asked about whether they personally receive adequate digital skills training to do their job, the number agreeing was just 12% (a decrease from 20% since 2016).

Seeking to fill this digital skills gap, we found that civil servants are taking a proactive approach to skills acquisition:

36% are using self-directed study in their own time to develop their digital skills (an increase of 12% points since 2015)

Civil servants are calling out a lack of specialist digital skills

Several types of skills are needed: technical and professional skills, including ICT specialist skills for workers who drive innovation and support digital infrastructures and the functioning of the digital services. This year we asked civil servants, including those working in digital programmes, to identify the top three digital skills gaps in their organisation.

Development and service design were the most popular answers, chosen by 44% of respondents. The next most common answers were agile delivery management (37%), user research and technical architecture (36% each).

To seize the benefits of digital, government needs these in-demand specialists: workers who can code, develop applications, manage networks and analyse data, among other skills. These skills enable innovation to flourish, often in collaboration with the private and not-for-profit sectors, but also support the infrastructure that government and users rely on.

What are the priority skills policies to meet these challenges?

Addressing the challenges of digital will require an overhaul of government’s skills policies. It must ensure that an increasingly digital world yields better quality jobs and that civil servants have the means to take advantage of the new job opportunities that open up.

In my opinion there are five priorities for skill policies to facilitate take-up of these opportunities:

  1. Part of the task is to ensure that all civil servants have basic ICT skills as well as solid problem-solving skills to use ICT effectively. Many of these skills are also acquired outside education and training institutions – for instance, and as we have found through the survey, in the workplace. Government could support and better recognise skills acquired by civil servants outside formal channels.
  2. It is not just sufficient for civil servants to have skills – government must fully use these skills to reap their benefits in terms of higher productivity. The use of digital skills, including problem solving in a technologically rich environment, varies substantially across the civil service. A key factor driving this variation is the use of high performance work practices such as teamwork, work autonomy, training, flexible work hours, etc.
  3. For ICT specialist skills, basic programming is no longer enough. For instance, advanced engineering and experience with machine-learning are increasingly important. In addition, ICT specialists also need domain-specific knowledge, given the potential applications of ICT in the business of government, such as health, education and welfare.
  4. Government needs to better assess and anticipate changing skills needs in order to adapt programmes and pathways offered and guide civil servants towards choices that lead to better outcomes. By including all stakeholders in skills assessment exercises government can ensure that the information collected is useful and that policies respond to actual needs. This includes working closely with industry to address shortages in areas of strategic importance.
  5. As skills demands change continuously, training for civil service to keep up with new skills requirements is crucial. This requires offering better incentives for civil servants to re-skill and up-skill. And includes, for example, the government fully supporting and embracing the Digital Academy initiative in the Government Digital Service (GDS).

If you would like more information about our Government Digital Trends Survey, or would just like to raise a question or add information, please feel free to add a comment below or contact me by email.