Putting the customer at the heart of digital

Customer focus.  It’s a familiar phrase.

Easy to ignore, and much harder to get right.

When I took over Leicestershire County Council’s digital services in 2015 we were days away from launching a brand new website.  Shiny and new.  And built with customers right at the heart of it.

It was the product of several months of research and was based on what people were looking for online.

We were clear: day one was just the beginning.  The real work was to come.

Our website is used by 1 million people each year.  And they visit more than 5 million pages.  Getting it right can really pay off.

We committed ourselves to an ongoing process of revisiting each online task – and interrogating how customers were moving through our website.

We’ve invested in understanding online journeys – right from the words that people type into Google, through to whether they complete an online form – or jump onto the phone.

We convened a small team made up of digital experts, business intelligence professionals and a specialist in Google analytics.  Over the last few months we’ve dived into more than 500,000 online customer journeys.  And identified more than 250 areas of improvement.

Small tweaks have made huge differences.  When we tinkered with our ‘contact us’ page, we saw calls to our customer services drop within a week.  It was paying off: all the nudging people in the right direction, but keeping them online.

Bigger leaps have been taken.  Based on our research, we knew that call volumes peaked in the summer when people wanted to know when their grass verge was due to be cut.  In the old days people would need to scroll through a complicated PDF document, zooming in and out of tables.  Impossible to use on a mobile or tablet, which now accounts for more than half our traffic.

Now, people can search a dynamic map for their street or postcode, with each area of grass marked.  Residents can see if there’s a problem or if a cut is due.  Calls dropped by around 40% year on year.

Our aim is to help reduce demand on council services.  As the lowest funded county, with mounting budget pressures – there’s a huge financial driver to think differently.  But there’s also the need to embrace technology, design modern services and keep pace with customer expectations.

Two years in, we’re now in a position to use evidence to try new things online.

One area of current focus is foster carer recruitment.  With a digital marketing strategy in place, our online shop-window is a major asset in attracting people.

Rather than sticking with the approach which our research supported back in 2014 – we’re now much more mature and able to pull on richer insight.

Our ambition is unwavering.  The world isn’t standing still – and neither should we.

Joanna Morrison is Head Communications & Digital at Leicester shire County Council