As the Government’s Digital by Default initiative encourages local councils and government bodies to make the move online, many are finding social media to be a more effective, low-cost alternative to traditional customer service channels.
Numerous public sector institutions are beginning to embrace the power of social networks including Twitter and Facebook to respond to customer queries and discuss the issues affecting their local community.
Dudley Council provides a pioneering example of this trend, having recently hosted the first live social media public meeting to distribute information on funding allocation. Over the course of the hour-long Facebook session, the council received more than 780 views and dozens of comments from community members, leading Councillor Pete Lowe to comment:
“We want the community to help shape the way this council moves forward and I am delighted so many people took that opportunity to get involved.”
Despite the evident benefits, there are some considerations councils must take into account before embarking on this form of channel shift, including the differing standards consumers often hold for digital channels. In particular, the rapid nature of social media communications means councils must have resources in place to respond to queries within a much shorter time-frame, as outlined by John Fox, reviewer for the Society of Information Technology Management.
“Response times – often contained in customer ‘charters’ – must now be revisited to ensure customer interactions via social media are both recognised and suitably resourced internally,” states Fox, adding. “A failed attempt by a customer to engage the council using Twitter or Facebook, for example, may be followed up with a further, more exasperated attempt.”
Additionally, councils should be wary of replacing traditional customer service channels entirely, as there could be significant implications for accessibility. As a result, the ideal course of action finds a balance between several different channels based on users’ needs, with integration between them to create a seamless approach to customer service.