Aylesbury Vale District Council (AVDC) is transforming local government for the digital age. With lower budgets and greater resident expectations, the council needed to change the way it delivered public services to 78,000 households in Buckinghamshire.
“Residents don’t differentiate between a local council and a global online retailer – they expect the same level of service,” explained Andrew Grant, Chief Executive at AVDC. “We need to be able to deliver 24-hour digital services while reducing costs and even generating income for the council.”
The council’s digital transformation programme, Right Here Right Now, started with a simple website refresh, but soon turned into a complete overhaul of council services. “We weren’t just deploying new digital technologies; we were creating a more commercially-minded, customer-centric council,” added Grant.
The council started looking at solutions to support its digital journey in February 2015. “We spoke to several companies, but they were shocked that a local council was so ambitious!” revealed Caroline Cooper, Right Here Right Now Programme Manager. “We needed a platform that was flexible and fast; we needed Salesforce.”
My Account, the council’s online community for residents and businesses, was launched in November 2015 just six months after it decided to partner with Salesforce. Based on Community Cloud, My Account has transformed council services with simplified customer transactions, automated processes, and real-time data.
The community’s features have been specifically designed to meet the needs of its users. “We organised a series of workshops with local residents to ensure the community would fulfil their expectations and deliver a great experience,” said Cooper.
Via the community, residents can check and pay their council tax, apply for benefits, sign up for new services, apply for licences and update their personal information. “We identified the most costly and time-consuming tasks and set about automating them first,” explained Jon MacKenzie, Cloud Project Manager at AVDC. For example, signing up to the council’s garden waste service used to involve nine different touch points – it is now fully automated, which frees up staff for other activities.
The Right Here Right Now team estimates that My Account saved more than 900 hours of officer time in the first six months after go-live: it now receives two-thirds of all direct debits via My Account, all taxi and vehicle licence requests, and up to 25% of council tax single person discount requests.
“It was a really complex project, as we had to integrate numerous council systems,” revealed MacKenzie. “We adopted an Agile development approach. It was completely new to the council, but the only way we were going to meet our deadline.”
Automating and digitising the delivery of key public services has not only massively reduced the council’s overheads, it has also helped it become more commercial. For example, with far more accurate resident and business information, the council can identify cross-selling and up-selling opportunities. This data also feeds into marketing campaigns and council newsletters. “We didn’t have permission to use resident and business data before, so couldn’t do anything with it,” revealed Victoria Caputa, Senior Communications and Marketing Officer and Digital Lead, AVDC. “Via the community, people can opt in or out and also update their own data, which means we always have their latest contact details.”
In the first 12 weeks, more than 10,000 residents signed up to My Account; this figure is now more than 20,000 – which represents a quarter of all households in the district. On average, there are around 100 new registrations every day. “We easily achieved our launch targets,” said Cooper. “We were concerned about excluding older members of the community that aren’t so tech-savvy, but we’ve had over 1,500 residents aged 75-plus sign up.”
This success with older residents is partly due to the council’s assisted sign-up programme, which is managed via Service Cloud. “We’ve spent time helping people of all ages understand how My Account works, as we see it as an investment in the future,” explained Cooper.
The Salesforce solution also underpins the council’s digital contact centre, which responds to My Account queries from residents of all ages across all channels, including phone, email and web chat. “On an average day, our officers participate in around 50 online chats – it’s been an unexpected but huge success,” revealed Caputa. “Officers can participate in three or four chats simultaneously and even securely receive documents; it’s a really efficient way of engaging with My Account users.”
Integration between the council’s cloud-based telephony solution and Service Cloud means caller information and previous interactions automatically appear on screen. This makes it much faster and easier for contact centre officers to respond to queries. Data captured around the type and volume of queries helps AVDC identify services that need to be improved or expanded to better meet the needs of local residents and businesses. The contact centre team also uses Chatter to share information internally on cases.
To foster a self-service culture, the council plans to start using Service Cloud Knowledge to provide officers and customers with access to relevant articles that will help them resolve their own queries. “The more we can empower people to help themselves, the more resources we have for front line public services,” added Caputa.
AVDC wants to further empower its officers by enabling them to report on issues, such as broken down vehicles or council equipment in need of repair, via the Salesforce1 Mobile App. “Council officers working in the field will be able to respond faster to problems if they don’t have to wait to get back to their desk to log an issue,” affirmed Cooper.
The success of the Right Here Right Now programme has helped to transform the council beyond just digitalised service delivery. “We used to operate in silos,” explained Caputa. “We’re now dissolving the barriers between departments and restructuring how services are delivered in line with our new customer-centric approach.”
AVDC’s achievements have been recognised by its peers within the public sector; the programme team now speaks at conferences explaining how going digital has helped it deliver substantial savings. The council’s efforts have also been recognised by the European IT and Software Excellence Awards, where My Account won the award for Customer Experience/Management Solution of the Year 2016. The Right Here Right Now programme also won the highly commended award for Digital Project of the Year at the Real IT Awards.
“We always knew it was an ambitious project. With Salesforce, we’ve not just met but exceeded our original goals,” said Grant. “The council is now both more commercially and customer focused, which means we can deliver a higher quality of service to everyone.”