• Jo Thomson, Partner |
  • Jordan Orchard, Manager |
6 min read

To deliver the greatest value for citizens, councils must be focused on meeting the needs of individuals and delivering services in a people-centric manner. Yet doing this has become increasingly challenging given the rising demand on services, the post-pandemic backlog, the cost pressures within which councils operate, and now the cost-of-living crisis which is placing many households under financial strain.

The pandemic had a huge impact on local authorities and councils, who pulled out all the stops to provide immediate support to communities. This led to a noticeable ‘advocacy effect’ among citizens, who increasingly felt that councils were on their side and working to support them. As with other sectors, the pandemic also propelled the importance of digital channels for interaction and led to a shift in citizen behaviour.

Experience Excellence research

The challenge for councils now is to build on these hard-won successes and keep driving a citizen-centric model. It’s an area that we have been tracking at KPMG through our longstanding Customer Experience Excellence research. Running now for 13 years and captures the views and feedback of thousands of respondents from their dealings with hundreds of organisations across sectors – and for the last two years, has specifically included interactions with local government bodies.

The headline findings from the research are given in the form of a Net Promoter Score (NPS). NPS is a measure of advocacy or often called a recommendation index. Respondents are asked how likely they are to recommend their local council on scale of 0-10. 0 being Not at all likely, and 10 being very likely. It shows that despite some highlights such as 82% of respondents saying local council staff are friendly and courteous, NPS is one of the lowest across sectors, standing at -25. This is a 25% decline from the score in 2021 (-20), indicating that the pandemic boost in advocacy has started to decline as conditions have returned to normal. The score is some way below the overall public sector rating of +5, and a long way behind the amalgamated score for leading organisations in the private sector which sits at +29.

‘Citizen’ or ‘Customer’?

Clearly, there is more work for councils to do if they are to be perceived as truly citizen-centric. Or should that be ‘customer-centric’? Using the ‘customer’ word in the local government context is contentious to some, as after all there is no element of choice for individuals as to who provides their local council services, and it is essentially a non-commercial relationship. However, in our research around three-quarters of respondents consider themselves as ‘customers’ of public services – even extending to health and medical care settings. 

In our view, this should give pause for thought. Indeed, in the aftermath of the pandemic, more and more councils are viewing their users as customers and applying a customer-centric view to the way they operate and deliver services.  Six pillars of customer-centricity. The KPMG Customer Experience Excellence Centre has grounded their research in 6 fundamental components of great customer service. Achieving true customer centricity means focusing efforts on all 6. 

  • Taking a customer-centric approach is key to creating excellent customer experience. KPMG’s Experience Excellence research has highlighted that there are six key pillars to achieving this. Integrity is the first building block – being trustworthy and engendering trust.
  • Resolution comes next – taking accountability and dealing with poor experiences competently to minimise inconvenience or distress. 
  • The third element is Expectations – managing, meeting and exceeding customer expectations of service. 
  • Another critical pillar is Time and Effort – minimising the time and effort customers need to put in to do what they want to get done, and creating frictionless processes (digital being important here).
  • These four building blocks then allow organisations to manage more sophisticated customer-centricity elements which are Personalisation – treating customers like individuals and adapting to their needs, and Empathy – truly understanding a customer’s circumstances to drive deep rapport. 

Challenges to driving citizen-centric experiences for local government

Where then are the challenges for local government in building these pillars? Our research highlights three key pain points:

  • Citizens don’t see the value from their council – Over 30% of citizens think that their council doesn’t act in the best interest of the community. Many say that they don’t see the value from their council tax, despite increases. This damages trust.
  • Staff are not empowered to provide resolution – While there is a positive perception that staff are helpful, it still takes too long to have issues resolved, often involving being passed from one department or person to another.
  • Digital channels are sub-optimal – Although around 60% of contacts are now made through digital channels, the NPS for these services is a disappointing -24. Satisfaction with face-to-face dealings is higher at -17.

These issues broadly relate to the Integrity, Resolution and Time and Effort pillars – showing that there are some foundational enhancements needed if councils are to be in a position to really drive experience excellence and move to those top-end attributes of Personalisation and Empathy.

Applying a citizen-centric model

In our work with councils and authorities around the country, we see a genuine determination to deliver on a customer-centric model. Increasing numbers of councils are focusing not just on notions of customer service but of customer experience – which takes the whole issue out of the silo of the ‘customer service department’ and makes it a wider corporate deliverable that is part of everybody’s objectives and responsibility. 

Councils are putting a citizen-centric strategy at the heart of how they work, through the lenses of Who they are delivering to (citizen segmentation and understanding), What they are delivering (the future vision, core services, the customer journey), and How they are delivering it (channels and touchpoints, as well as creating a culture that is focused on citizens). 

There are no easy fixes – it’s a continuous process of evolution and improvement – but one mechanism that we have found highly effective in driving progress is to recognise that in the local government sphere, almost any citizen interaction or requirement falls into one of six categories: Register – Book – Tell – Check – Apply – Pay. Such as paying for council tax, registering for various citizen services, or telling the council about something that needs to be fixed, such as a pothole in the road or a tree falling.  

By creating a template for good practice in each of these categories, councils can make a significant contribution to consistency and standardisation, efficiency, comparability/usability of data, and smoother, user-centred processes. Future gains?

We have seen first-hand the passion and commitment within local councils to transform the service experience and put citizens at the heart of their operations. It will be fascinating to see how this translates into our Experience Excellence research results in future years.

It’s only by understanding what truly matters to citizens that local authorities will be able to combat its existing resource pressures whilst also delivering an experience that is truly citizen-centric.

To read the latest KPMG Citizen Experience Excellence research report in full, click here.