Watch out Private, Public’s upped its game!

The public sector has been the butt of many ‘what not to do’ articles in terms of improving their relationship with the customer and engaging with the digital world to do this.

December 2014 by Sophie Massie

However, with the recent announcement of the East Coast Main Line being privatised, it got me thinking about the outstanding results achieved by publicly owned Directly Operated Railways. Through various new initiatives the DOR received a record breaking result of 91% in customer satisfaction. They saw an increase in the number of passengers and delivered revenue back to the government. “They’ve certainly set a precedence” I thought, which made me realise that this isn’t the only achievement the public sector has had this year.

‘The Public Sector can learn from the Private Sector’; a popular heading in the past. Yet, even in the face of severe financial pressures, leaders in the public sector said that improving customer experience was at the forefront of their strategic objective. They recognised the burning platform and their response is certainly inspirational. It made me wonder if there were any industries within the private sector that were suffering from similar challenges; utilities and energy companies immediately coming to mind.

The latest initiatives introduced by the public sector highlight three key themes in meeting customer demands; embracing technology to reduce cost pressures, providing convenience and control and managing customer expectations. Here are three further areas where the public sector is leading the way in customer experience:

i. Project ‘Verify’: the UK governments’ virtual ID scheme that provides a one-stop-shop for users to store personal data online, file tax returns and apply for driving licences through a single website. This ability to store data and access public services via one website is a huge stepping stone in providing convenience to customers.

ii. The original one-stop-shop initiative: last year the UK government received the Design of the Year award for the Gov.uk website. Acting as a portal for all UK government websites, yet again they have provided convenience to the public requiring access to information and services. With the motto “simpler, clearer, faster” the site has been structured around the needs of the user, not the government.

iii. Paperless NHS: the NHS recently announced its plans to go paperless so that patients can manage their health online. Now we can access our test results online and have more control over booking our appointments. There are also plans to create smartphone apps so that you can have this control on your phone. This new paperless system is intended to contribute to £10bn in savings by 2020, proving that going digital doesn’t have to be costly!

The fact that the public sector are reacting to the challenge of cost pressures by going digital and developing new initiatives is a massive step forward in joining the 21st century. So, how can industries in the private sector, i.e. utilities and energy, benefit from these learnings?

Which energy and water company will be the first to provide convenience and control to customers by providing paperless, digitally interactive bills? Which utilities and energy service providers will embrace using new technologies and software to record damage to pipes or power lines in order to reduce inefficiencies and inevitably reduce cost? One industry that definitely requires some inspiration is the energy sector as its questionable that customer satisfaction is at the forefront of their business strategy; the recent attempt to roll-out smart meters being a prime example.

So perhaps we should give the public sector some praise for its fresh initiatives to improve its customer experience. Will those struggling within the private sector be inspired and respond to the similar burning platform of meeting the demands of the customer and embracing the digital world? Only time will tell.

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