A couple of weeks ago, we were invited to present to the Customer Services for London Group, a group of Heads of Customer Service from across London who meet regularly to explore emerging trends in the sector and share best practice – right up our street!
We presented on the topic of apps. It seems as though every council we meet or work with at the moment is under pressure – from politicians, senior management or peers – to develop an exciting app which is ahead of the technological game and will both wow residents and save millions. Unsurprisingly, the senior managers present at this meeting didn’t fully believe the hype. They asked us when an app is worth investing in, and when it is a waste of valuable resource.
WHEN TO USE AN APP?
We believe that if you’re making an app, it must meet these three criteria:
1) Apps work best when they have a specific purpose:
Councils have developed the best apps where they have a specific purpose, whether this is a core council service or not:
i. Tourism in the area
ii. Renewing library books
iii. ‘Street bump’ in Boston has released a pioneering app to help residents improve their neighbourhood. As users drive, the mobile app collect data about the smoothness of the ride, providing the city with real time information which it can use to fix problems and plan long term investments
2) Apps work best when they add value:
Apps which really improve the lives of residents or make routine tasks easier will always succeed – but they may not save you money through channel shift!
i. Real time parking availability in Central London
ii. Food hygiene ratings in local restaurants
3) Apps work best when they are for services customers access regularly:
The main thing people think about when downloading an app is how often they will use it – apps will be more popular if they speed up regular tasks or are for a longer term process:
i. Planning processes would be a good ‘apportunity’ and would reduce chaser calls throughout the application process – a Dominoes style tracker would be best
ii. Tower Hamlet’s business and local services directory app is a good example of this
If you decide to provide an app for your residents, we recommend you present this in an attractive way in order to maximise take up:
If you decide you need an app, consider:
• Calling it the name of your borough, not the name not council e.g. Love West Sussex, Love Carlisle
• Harnessing a community spirit to promote your app e.g. “Go! Oldham” or encouraging residents to report things they see around the borough through it
• Promoting it to the specific group it will interest – so visitors to the area, planning applicants, people completing parking permits
WHEN NOT TO USE AN APP?
Apps are not the best solution for general council services and adding in this extra layer of contact will not result in channel shift savings.
• Residents are unlikely to want to download a Council app to complete their transaction:
• Time to download the app and understand how it works
• Desirability of owning a Council app
• Can you really fulfil the expectations of your community through an app within your resource?
• Apps which provide links to emails addresses or phone numbers will not result in channel shift!
• An app good enough to host all council services in a transactional format would most likely be prohibitively expensive
WHAT’S THE ALTERNATIVE?
If the cost benefit analysis for an app does not stack up, councils can still harness the power of mobile to encourage channel shift:
• Only 17% of UK local authorities are creating websites that can be viewed adequately on a mobile device, despite the fact that almost a third of people accessing online council information are now using such devices
• Providers such as Mobify can render your website to be more easily navigated by smartphone