The world has changed rapidly over the past two decades. Technology has altered the landscape for businesses worldwide. Still, some sections of service provision have held fast to methodologies of the past. 2020 changed the way people access professional and public services, and even adjustments made out of necessity will not disappear. The public and professional clients receiving the benefits won’t let improved access fade without a fight. 2021 will see changes inherited from the circumstances of 2020 either becoming mainstream or evolving into something new.
Evolving Public & Professional Innovation Standards
Private enterprises in retail, technology, fashion, beauty, fitness, and many more areas have always been at the whims of clients and competitors. Consequently, constant and continual innovation and evolution had always been necessary to stay ahead of the game. Professional and public services (including medicine in countries with nationalised healthcare) have different benchmarks.
Professional standards are so ingrained that any innovation moves at a glacial pace. Likewise, public services don’t have to worry about competition or concern that their clients will go elsewhere if they have a poor experience. In the public and professional sectors, the slow pace of innovation stems almost entirely from a perspective of “if it ain’t broke; don’t fix it!” However, 2020 proved that the system is insufficient if there are no alternative working methods in extreme circumstances.
Driving Demand for Innovation
Clients of public and professional services have been clamouring for a more broadly inclusive customer experience for years. Ever since the age introduction of the Smartphone, have people made the demand for easier mobile access, text, video conferencing, and more. We’re not just talking about Gen Z here; there are even Boomers using Smartphones and social media for things they would have had to make in-person visits and sit in long phones queues for only a decade ago. And the demand is intensifying as the more tech-savvy Gen Z has entered adulthood.
It’s not just the end-users who are demanding innovation from their public and p[rofessional organisations. The entire infrastructure of companies, government departments, and professional organisations have been forced to adapt to the working conditions of 2020 – and very few want the situation to revert.
Creative energy is usually sustained by economic needs or competition and the need to improve efficiency and adapt to new situations. More than any other time in recent history, The COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 has provided a perfect storm of a problem that requires significant adaptation, efficiency improvement and economic restructuring.
Clients, Workers & Budgets – All Demand Change
The demand for changes to the ways that professional and public services operate come from multiple directions. The public requires omnichannel (or at least cross-channel) access to services and a more comprehensive approach to remote support. Workers demand flexibility in their working situation (and 2020 proved that flexibility is achievable and sustainable, despite what management have been saying for years). Budgetary requirements demand increased efficiency and productivity for reduced costs.
Clients require significantly more straightforward access to their public servants.
They used to have to stand in line even to make an appointment to see a real person about their issues; 2020 provided the perfect excuse to streamline that process. Hastily implemented procedures for accessing public services online will become mainstream in 2021 – no one is letting go of convenient access.
Websites for scheduling appointments, instead of waiting rooms and queues, will become the norm. Likewise, video calling instead of on-site visits will become significantly more popular. Chatbots and live chat functions to answer simple questions will replace telephone queues and terrible hold music (if you’ve listened to Chariots of Fire for twenty minutes, you know what I mean).
It’s not just about how customers can access public services, it’s also about how local and regional departments reach residents. Social media and messaging is an easy way to reach a large proportion of people. A scheduled water cut-off for maintenance or repairs? Put it up on social media. It’s also a significantly quick way of reaching someone who needs to know. Tweeting a sudden power outage or downed power line to the local electrical board is easier than a whole neighbourhood trying to call at once.
That’s not to say that in-person and telephone access will disappear. However, when you factor in that 76% of Millenials suffer from phone-related anxiety, alternative modes of communication are necessary.
Public Servant Demands
It is still impossible for some public servants to provide their services remotely. We still need rubbish collection and other physical services. However, 2020 proved to management teams and public and professional workers that flexible and remote working is both achievable and sustainable for a large proportion of office-based staff. Moreover, it allowed people a more balanced home and work life AND enabled more service provision at different times of the day.
It doesn’t matter how much organisations might want to get people back into an office environment. Those who have thrived in a flexible or remote environment will fight to maintain that newfound balance.
So much comes down to money. 2020 put a massive dent in many country’s economies and, consequently, future public service spending budgets. This filters down from central government to regional and local spending. Implementing changes to how people access their public services might cost some money in the short term. However, cementing the changes made in response to the pandemic will save money over the long term.
Some of these changes will mean reductions in required office space, savings on staff numbers. Saving on public buildings, if remote access is the preferred methodology, is another way that it will save money, improve working conditions and provide more comprehensive service for the broader client base.
Local and regional public services are frequently fulfilled by private entities who bid for the contract. The private companies who can provide the best services for the least amount of money will come out the winners. Companies with the foresight to provide all the remote access modes for public services will spend less on human resources yet still provide the in-depth services that some people require without increasing staff numbers.
Similarities in Professional & Public Services
Professional organisations and public offices share a common trait. They have no natural competitors, which can stifle creativity and the pursuit of improvement. In both professional organisations and public services, the wheels of creativity and innovation grind slowly. That is until a significant event disrupts the status quo. Then it’s a case of adapt or perish.
In 2017 the UNECE (United Nations Economic Commission for Europe) published a paper on public sector innovation. We have achieved more in 2020/21 than in the intervening three years. Necessity was the driving force behind many updates and changes in 2020 and will continue to affect 2021 and beyond.
Benefits for Everyone
Providing alternate modes of access for clients to contact their required service doesn’t only accommodate the younger, smartphone-wielding generations’ needs. The facility to message a chatbot or send an email to a specific agent cuts significant time and effort for the customer. Still, it also makes life easier for the people dealing with the agents dealing with the calls. Reducing the workload with automation tools for simple tasks enables public service agents to provide additional time and care to those who need extra support with personal or serious problems.
These agents are trained to deal with these types of interaction and giving them the means to do so more effectively will reflect positively on their service outcomes.
Globally, mobile rules the contact sphere. So it is critical that public service contact centres operate across numerous platforms. It’s not enough to offer customers a helpline number and have agents answering calls one after the other. It’s not time-efficient or cost-effective. Neither is that model appropriate for the demands of today’s customer. Public services must expand their customer reach and enable anyone to find access to them at any time, anywhere.