Exploring how residents’ voice searches can help them find the information they need across multiple websites.

Full Application: Not funded at this stage

Residents often struggle to find the information they need due to website design. This project seeks to explore how access can be simplified to make the experience more human, avoiding the need for the resident to drill down through multiple pages or even across multiple websites.

How do we make website interaction more human? This is the problem we propose to investigate. In a digital era where people increasingly expect to ask Alexa or Siri for help instead of laboriously browsing through web pages, we seek to explore how our website entry points can be voice activated in order to simplify navigation through our many services, saving the consumer time. This discovery project seeks to establish a blueprint for enabling customers to get to key signposts beyond the website landing page by the quickest and most natural route – voice activation. It will seek to identify the key anchor points that need to be embedded in order that connectors to more transactional services can later be developed from.

When we say ‘Contact us,’ we want to make it as easy and as intuitive as asking someone for help. Councils are complex organisations and many don’t have a central customer service function. That and the trend towards hiding contact phone numbers and/or diverting users to online channels to save costs means we’re not serving residents in the way they would choose.

Our services are many and diverse and finding a way in should be made as simple as possible. Voice assistants are simple to use & many residents are using them already in their daily lives. We could use voice/AI to help residents fill in forms to access services or signpost them to the most relevant information. We want residents to be able to engage conversationally with our website in order to be routed quickly to the service they need. Whilst Google or Siri may lead the resident to our door step, that’s where voice activation currently stops. We want to take the journey further, in through the front door, enhancing the resident experience by leading them deeper into the website, closer to the information they need, bypassing information that they don’t.

The aim of this project is to allow the customer to find the information they need without superfluous webpage navigation. We recognise that difficult searches result in aborted customer journeys and exasperated customers resort to using more costly forms of contact. By enabling a customer to ‘talk’ to the website (as they once would have done to a customer advisor), the right information can be served up directly.

It is envisaged that the level of website penetration possible from voice activation will get the customer to defined contact points from which a contact route will be presented or traditional webpage navigation then possible. In time, the intention would be to develop a full Virtual Assistant experience, adding deeper connectors to voice activate the most used transactional services.

Working assumptions:
• People like to talk. Before the internet, people would ask customer advisors for help, this initiative replicates that natural behaviour.
• With more people now accessing information via voice activated devices such as Alexa, our services need to keep pace with the expectations of a local digital community in order to remain relevant and accessible.
• Many people will wish to access services on the move, on their mobile devices, signposting to our services via voice activation needs to penetrate further than the landing page of the website.
• We are already exploring Chatbot technology and artificial intelligence. We view voice activation as the natural evolvement of those implementations.
• Metrics will form the baseline, identifying current customer contact methods and abortive customer journeys in order that improvement can be quantifiably measured.
• We use Customer Thermometer already to monitor customer satisfaction online, we can extend this for this discovery.
• Customer forums and surveys will be used to explore the customer experience and help identify the priority areas for further transactional automation.

Councils are complex organisations and many don’t have a central customer service function. That and the trend towards hiding contact phone numbers and/or diverting users to online channels to save costs means we’re not serving residents in the way they would choose & making it even harder for them to find the help or advice they need.
Where users can’t find the right person they’ll simply call another service or the main Switchboard. Our main switchboard routed almost 40k of calls in the last two years, if only 5% of those were stopped (2k) we’d save an estimated £5,660 (£2.83 Socitm figure for a phone call). Putting people in contact with the right service first time, increases customer satisfaction as well as saving money when calls are bounced around from service to service.

Plus we’d save money where forms are filled in online not on the phone – hard to estimate volume of transactions, but if we estimate a digital transaction cost of 20p vs £2.83 for a phone call, the savings could be compelling.

This project would be led by East Sussex County Council but draw on the collaborative support, experience and perspectives of its partners working together under the umbrella of the Orbis Partnership.

East Sussex County Council, Surrey County Council and Brighton & Hove City Council already share support services, working together as Orbis. We share a common purpose to deliver greater value for our councils, residents and customers by generating efficiencies and exploiting the benefits of sharing people, resources and technology. We have a fully integrated IT & Digital service supporting our respective sovereign stakeholders. This puts us in a unique position to collaborate at pace with existing trusted relationships firmly established across a large geographical footprint. Representing three organisations gives us 3 different perspectives and influence in our negotiations with suppliers which we seek to leverage and a large network of contacts from which we can draw support.

We have a Joint Management Board in place through which decisions affecting all three partners can be made. We have a single Project Management framework in place to manage projects across the partnership consistently, ensuring that common governance methods are followed. Practically, we have meeting rooms equipped with Microsoft Surface Hubs so that we can Skype to easily collaborate across the geography without needing to always traverse the distance. In East Sussex where the project would be led from, there is an established Corporate Leadership Group that has a Digital Workstream which would oversee the development of this work. The actual project would be led by the Digital Task Group.

• The facilitation of networking opportunities with other parties working on similar initiatives.
• Peer challenge opportunities.
• Digital leadership training for senior managers