A few months ago, I posted an article called ‘Becoming Digital.’

It got 51 shares on LinkedIn, so I’m guessing it struck a chord?

I talked about the challenges – and opportunities – that councils face in their quest to foster truly digital cultures. And I promised to keep you posted on our progress here in Wrexham.

One of the most exciting things we’ve been working on since that first article is an online customer service portal.

The portal – called My Account – will provide a personalised experience for people who want to access our services online.

We’re going for a soft launch – offering things like council tax and benefits claims – and then gradually building the range of things people can use the portal for.

It’ll look and feel like part of our website, and the technology behind it is very clever.

We’re not the first council to do this. Far from it. But it’s an important step in our digital journey.

My Account screen shot

how will it help our customers?

Simple question. Simple(ish) answer.

A lot of people expect to be able to do certain things online. A lot of people prefer to do things online.

Pay for stuff. Apply for stuff. Book stuff. And so on.

Generally speaking, doing stuff online is convenient. You can do it in on your laptop, tablet or phone in front of the TV, on the commute to work or whenever you like – just so long as you have an internet connection.

For those people, making our services available online – in a way that’s intuitive and easy – will meet their expectations.

They’ll get the convenience they want.

However, not everyone likes to do things online.

So when it comes to switching the focus to digital, a lot of organisations talk about ‘channel shift.’

They’re talking about the need to get out there and actively encourage some customers to try the digital option.

Take the Barclays ‘digital eagles’ for example.

The company wants more customers to access its services digitally – and it realises it needs to help certain groups do that. Customers who might not be comfortable using online services.

Achieving this channel-shift is probably a bigger challenge than the technology. It doesn’t happen on its own.

We’ve been running workshops at our customer contact centre to show people how to use our new system, along with other basic skills – like how to set up and manage an email account.

They’ve been really popular, and it’s great to see people lose their fear of the technology – and suddenly grasp the benefits that online services can offer.

ok…so how does it help wrexham council?

It helps us in two ways.

It’ll help us understand our customers better.

And it’ll save us money.

The cost of handling enquiries face-to-face or over the phone is – typically – far more expensive than online.

National comparisons suggest the following averages…

• Face-to-face = £8.62 per enquiry
• Telephone = £2.83 per enquiry
• Online = £0.15 per enquiry

We’ve done our sums, and we think My Account will save us £38,000 in the first year, £141,000 in the second year and £210,000 in the third year.

At a time when public sector budgets are shrinking, those savings are going to be important.

It doesn’t mean we can – or want – to do away with one-to-one interaction where its needed. Algorithms and artificial intelligence can’t solve everything.

But for services suited to the internet, encouraging customers to get online will save us money or free it up for where it’s really needed.

The other big win for us is the data.

The portal will help us understand what services different sets of customers use, when they use them, how often and so on.

That could help us manage those services, predict peaks and dips in demand, and target resources.

We’re not talking ‘big brother’ stuff. Just the kind of thing most digitally enabled service providers do – all within the bounds of data protection and with terms and conditions explained to the customer.

The data will help us deliver services better.

So come to think of it, it’s the customer who wins in the end on all counts.

That’s got to be a good thing.