A COVID-19 story

With COVID-19 forcing Australia to go into lockdown, councils across the country responded quickly, dividing their teams across channels and locations.  Councils who’d already launched and trialed digital customer service channels were able to fully adopt Live Chat as main contact channel – allowing them to continue to engage with customers in this turbulent time, while enabling their teams to work remotely.

With COVID – 19 impacting us all, we have witnessed many organisations embracing technology and innovation in order to connect and serve their customers.  While the focus of recent weeks has been on adopting and adapting to new processes and systems, customer centric organisations are now shifting focus and looking to embrace the digital transformation, using it as an opportunity to provide customers with better experiences.

Nick Donerty from Maroondah City council, Brandon Davis from the City of Kingston council and Peter Cracknell from Mornington Peninsula Shire council have managed this challenge.

In this article we take you through each of different steps needed when using Live Chat to support customers.

Evolving with changing times

On the front foot.

The COVID-19 crisis impacted local councils like no other sector.

Uncertainty and confusion about restrictions and new behaviours to adhere to in the community have seen councils experience a tremendous increase in enquiries. In addition to handling more enquiries than usual, councils were simultaneously implementing safe social distancing rules in the workplace for employees.

Many councils were responsible for restricting access to public areas such as beaches and parks, and hence had the enormous task of communicating a consistent message around this to the community.

Three Victorian based councils, Maroondah City Council, City of Kingston council and Mornington Peninsula Shire Council,  established that the community needed information, support and quick resolutions to these types of queries. They decided that they could utilise their Live Chat channels to better serve customers and, at the same time, enable the team to handle the larger volume of enquiries.

Whilst these councils had varying degrees of experience with Live Chat, the challenge for all was to maximise the full potential of this channel to become more accessible to customers all while managing the disruptive nature of the pandemic to their operations.

The benefits of using Live Chat for the community

For many councils, existing processes, systems and equipment made it difficult to handle phone calls from home. Live Chat – and Chat Bots in particular – helped ensure that service could be maintained via Chat channels if customers found it difficult to get through on the phones. Kington Council implemented their remote working solution for staff in 5 days, which meant the available staff on the phones were reduced during this period. Kingston’s Chat Bot didn’t skip a beat and continued to offer service to website customers 24/7.

There were several reasons that using Live Chat to serve customers in this time of crisis made sense;

  • Expanding the hours of availability (including outside of business hours)
  • Higher accessibility for all residents
  • Higher resolution rate
  • Faster enquiry handling
  • Proactive engagement and instant replies
  • Clearer pathway to resolution and providing follow up information on website (easing website navigation)

Since adopting Live Chat as a core contact channel, members of the CS team at Maroondah City council have fully transitioned to working remotely. The success of handling enquiries through the channel has surpassed expectations, with more than 100 live chats being handled every day and more than 1,500 proactive offers of assistance offered daily to online customers.

Launching Live Chat

Piloting and building confidence first.

Our three guest speakers all shared similar experiences launching Live Chat and are at a similar stage in their organisations uptake of digital channels. Each council led the organisational transformation projects with a strong focus on customer strategy, identifying two major areas for improvement: service led, and customer focus.

For Maroondah City Council, the customer service team received strong support from their organisation to start the implementation of digital touchpoints to improve their overall customer service.

A small scale launch was planned to enable team members to get exposure to Live Chat and build confidence. Managing the launch was a straightforward process:

  1. Agents willing to be involved and grow their skillset
  2. Each agent handling around 10-20 enquiries a day
  3. Adjusting and building skills along the way
  4. Capturing impact and assessing success internally  (Handling time, resolution rate, etc..)

Despite a promising soft launch, Live Chat revealed a lot of ground work was needed in re-designing the council’s website to help residents better navigate online, and to give agents digital support. All digital channels are intrinsically linked and need consistency to be successful; regardless of this being social media, Live Chat or the councils’ website.

On a positive note, Live Chat allowed the councils to standardise their responses and align their communication style across agents, teams, channels and departments.

‘We started learning about this evolving channel with a very small volume of enquiries but it received such positive feedback across the organisation, we’re glad to now be supporting customers online during lockdown and receiving great feedback. It was perfect timing for a full launch’ 

Nick Doherty | Team leader Customer Service
Maroondah City Council

Lessons in agility and collaboration

Providing employees with the right tools, training and support has been the main priority while transitioning to working from home. Initially the main focus was on ensuring and enabling access to technology to maintain productivity, whenever possible. Unfortunately for some councils with limited monitors to take home, some team members have had to adapt with working from home on their personal computer and were not able to access some of the software used in the workplace.

With Live Chat being easily accessible, just needing an online connection, team members were able to jump on board and connect with customers online without any hurdles.

Furthermore, making greater use of the digital channel unveiled  many indisputable benefits for councils, by centralising enquiries to the customer service team and re-thinking their service model.

Moreover, at an agent level the flexibility in working across different channels and through different shifts produces a higher engagement and life balance across the team.

‘‘Live Chat and Chat Bots have enabled us to remain close to our community; our chat enquiries have increased and we are now handling 85% of all enquiries via this channel without any human intervention! A lot of these questions for the chat bot have been around changes to services and availability of council facilities’

Brandon Davis | Team leader Customer Care
City of Kingston Council

Bouncing forward

COVID-19 has challenged councils’ ability to adapt and led to existing ways of working being questioned. The days where an organisation could simply rely on a phone call or an email from their customers to answer their queries and provide them with support, are now long gone. The recent challenges councils have had to go through have actually revealed endless possibilities with how we deliver the best customer experience. Live Chat as a channel has proved to be extremely effective when it comes to answering customer queries quickly and efficiently.

Ultimately, it has created a virtuous cycle where customers feel better served and as result agents feel more engaged, motivated and satisfied in doing their job right.

The trend is expected to continue, with Live Chat solutions becoming even more advanced and councils learning how to better utilise them.

Councils have witnessed the positive impact of Live Chat and can now see its potential to transform the face of customer support. Now councils can only expect to go further and get to the next level, complimenting Live Chat with other digital channels such as SMS, Messaging and social media.

A channel volume shift is expected, but probably not over night. Phone and face to face interactions will always serve a specific purpose, however, once customers have had a successful and positive experience using Live Chat to connect with their councils, they are likely to use it again as a first port of call.

CSBA offers front-line agents and team leaders training and is currently developing a Quality Assessment program based on digital channels, to help agents perform better and fine tune their digital interaction skills.

Want to explore how CSBA can help you provide your customers with better experiences?