Citizen Service Requests – Does digitization make sense for small municipalities?
To help answer this question, we recently conducted a survey of small municipality stakeholders and users to gain insights into how the AccessE11 platform is being used for citizen service requests, what the customer experience has been like, and where new investment could drive additional benefits. Responses were received from individuals in a broad range of job roles including day to day users of the system and managers needing a higher level view of service activities and issues. In terms of job function, we received feedback from users involved in customer service, operations, finance, administration, and IT, as well as from elected officials. The results are an interesting source of information for any small to mid sized municipality embarking on a digital transformation journey of their own.
Digital tools are not only for larger cities
It’s true that a majority of municipal software solutions, including those for handling citizen service requests, are not designed for smaller local governments. Complexity and cost often make these unsuitable for this market, but AccessE11 entered the sector based on an understanding that smaller municipalities are often underserved by technology and we designed the platform from the ground up with this in mind. With respect to population, 42% of current AccessE11 customers are less than 10000 residents, and a full 86% are less than 30000. AccessE11 is providing these customers all of the efficiency and service quality benefits of digitization with a solution that is easy to adopt and manage, and one that is surprisingly affordable.
As a case in point, Hastings Highlands serves as a great example of how a small municipality successfully transformed from manual citizen service request processes to a fully automated and online capability based on AccessE11 – all motivated by a strategic priority to build a strong customer service culture. For context, Hastings Highlands is a town of 4500 permanent residents with 10000 calling it home on a seasonal basis.
Prior to adopting AccessE11 in September 2020, residents submitted roughly 40-50 formal service requests to the town in any given year. Since that time, Hastings has received and dealt with 1900 citizen service requests without an appreciable change in staffing levels. Departments are using the data the platform provides for resource allocation and time management, automated quarterly reports to council have improved budget planning, and public feedback on the timeliness and quality of service and the managed communications has provided excellent validation of the results.
Certainly a key to making this possible has been the availability of online service requests that are automatically prioritized and routed to the teams that need to follow-up. In fact over the past 12 months, fully 72% of all service requests received have come through the online channel.
Citizen Issue Management – The Status Quo
Interestingly, of the small and mid sized local governments that responded, less than 20% had either custom built software or a purpose-built municipal software solution in place prior to adopting AccessE11. The remainder were reliant on manual processes including email and excel for managing the lifecycle of their citizen service requests. So if your municipality has not yet moved to digitize the citizen service request process, you are definitely not alone.
Remote Work is a New Normal
Another thing that was reinforced by the survey is that, for many, remote work is attractive. Like the citizens they are serving, the majority of AccessE11 users that responded to our survey regularly work from home or another remote location. This is not surprising given the pandemic but even under future, more normal circumstances roughly the same number anticipates continuing to work remotely. In fact, only 39% of respondents indicated that they do or will work in a central office location on a full-time basis again. Cloud-based solutions such as AccessE11 easily support this model, being accessible from any location where internet is available.
One Platform For Multiple Departments
AccessE11 is a platform that aims to consolidate and provide a consistent view of all issues, requests and complaints that get reported. To that end, we asked survey respondents about the types of issues that were being handled within their municipality. Almost all reported that the AccessE11 was deployed to handle requests for multiple departments, with a majority of customers leveraging it for public works, by-law/code enforcement, waste/garbage, water and animal control. Many were also using it for citizen engagement, elected official offices, and even internally for staff IT ticket handling.
What More Would Users Like to See?
Recognizing that there is always room for improvement, we asked for feedback on how users of the system would prioritize investment in new features. From the options we presented, an integrated and editable knowledge base for both staff and residents ranked high on the list. Almost half of respondents also indicated that augmenting AccessE11’s current authentication approach with a single sign-on option would be a welcome addition. Supporting what we have heard in the past through numerous one-on-one conversations, our current offer of a fully-responsive web form for resident case submission cases is working well and as such, a citizen mobile app is considered a low priority. Same goes for chatbots as a means to augment the customer service experience.
A Final Word
First and foremost, we greatly appreciate the time taken by our customers to respond. Just as they have worked to enhance how they learn about and deal with issues from the citizens they serve, we welcome the feedback to learn about what is working well with AccessE11 and how we can continue to improve.
The results are a clear reflection of the importance of both citizen engagement and access to online services not only for better service delivery, but also to making government operations run more efficiently. They also provide validation that cloud-based platforms that allow staff to work from anywhere are no longer nice to haves. These have become table stakes for any municipality looking to best support their staff and citizens in multiple areas including the handling citizen service requests.
And although there is always more to be done, the results provide a clear demonstration that, when created with intent, technology in general and cloud solutions in particular are well within reach of smaller municipalities.