AGIMO's report make it clear that the online channel has become THE channel of choice for Australians to engage with Government.
To quote the report's executive summary,
This has been driven by citizens' desire to engage Government at the time and place of their choosing. To avoid queues and phone wait times. To be in control of the relationship.
The internet is now the preferred way to contact government.
- Two in five (41%) people would now prefer to contact government by internet. This is a substantial increase from 2004–05, when less than a third (31%) nominated the internet as their preference.
- At the same time, there has been an ongoing decline in preference for in-person contact; this has fallen from 33% in 2004–05 to 20% in 2007.
Naturally Government in Australia has sat up and taken notice. Massive funding is pouring into the online channel and Agencies are busy planning the closure of many of their outlets and call centres.
Many Agency maintain a phone-first philosophy.
This is driven by 'common knowledge' that their customers do not use the internet, that they are happy contacting Government strictly between 8.30am and 4.45pm (excluding international customers) and that only via phone can customers receive the level of personal service they crave (except for those customers who refuse to call Government agencies).
While I have expressed the view above in an emotive way, it does reflect the thinking of many senior people across the Public Service.
And they aren't totally wrong.
AGIMO's report measures both actual use and intentions. As they say about the road to hell, you can find yourself in very hot water if you plan for intentions while ignoring day-to-day reality.
Certainly online is a growing channel - growing faster than the wheels of Government can turn.
Certainly also people find phone and face-to-face engagement frustrating. Both require them to be in a certain place at a certain time.
And within my own agency - which is also 'phone first', I track more minutes of website use per month than our total inbound customer calls (and more visits than phone calls).
However Government in Australia is not yet ready to change the balance from calls or face-to-face to online transactions.
People say they are willing to transact online and, in many cases, the Australian Government has those services there, online, waiting for people to use.
When they begin using them in great numbers and the phone volumes drop off Agency Heads will revisit their channel strategy.
However until agencies see that occurring their philosophies will remain in place, notwithstanding the efforts on those, such as myself, who see the online channel as being the best way to effectively deliver consistent customer service to citizens in a cost effective manner.
Of course this is based on a few assumptions;
- that the right services are provided online and they are usable and accessible,
- that Agencies will resource and promote their online channels so people realise they have the choice to not call, and
- that senior management in the Public Service - most of whom are baby-boomers, will adapt their reality to match customer behaviour, rather than attempting to follow the approach that has served them so well for thirty years.
I'm certainly interested in seeing what will happen.