I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the opportunities and challenges of all things social within my council and the wider public sector and wondering what it is that might be at the root of some of the fears or issues people have around embracing or adopting social within the mainstream operations of the organisation.
I’ve spoken to a number of people who have shared various reasons as to why they can’t possibly use social tool, but none of them really are actually “real reasons”, they are mainly born from alternative perspectives and a lack of awareness of what social is really about.
“It hasn’t got anything to do with technology” is what I often say and it usually helps the conversation along better than saying “Facebook has about 1/3 of the UK population so you better get a move on or you’ll be left behind”
What I’ve started to hear more of is that the thought of all staff having direct access to the public is quite a scary situation to suddenly jump too from perhaps a situation where only a limited few and those who actually understand how to deal with the public…yes we have to learn how to deal with the public before we can interact with them…
This isn’t an insurmountable challenge but you should really take stock and look to understand your local context and the short history of how some of your existing communications and customer access channels and technologies evolved. I think this may help you devise a strategy to how you can socialise the business without focusing on the technologies and tools.
For illustrative purpose your short history might go something like this:
In beginning your organisation only had reception areas and those staff were trained to work in those environments and you rarely got to phone an officer direct.
Once the telephone became more pervasive, cost-effective and mainstream you could continue to visit the reception areas but if you were unable to travel you might also check your local yellow pages or phone book and try one of the 100’s of phone numbers that emerged to contact the various departments. You were unlikely to get a “friendly” service if you got through to someone who had never previously been in a direct customer contact role…if you had dialled the wrong number or simply wanted to deal with more than one enquiry you were often asked to phone back on a different number.
You were essentially witnessing and experiencing the traditional hierarchy and structures that are now breaking down in local government.
After the phone became the default access channel – staff were often sent on customer service training to ensure that those who called got a consistent experience, not always but that was the intention.
Then email came along and this was initially used as an internal system for sending memos etc, but again once the use of emails became more commonplace and more pervasive we started publishing email addresses as a way to contact the council. This also happened to coincide with the emergence of very simple and narrowly focused websites (primarily tourism and visitor information based sites).
Now that email is an official contact channel, standards and training emerge to support those staff who have responsibility to respond…now these standards were different to the phone as the standards included things like acknowledge within 1 day respond within 3 days. This presented challenges to the staff who have worked a particular way for at least the previous 10-15 years plus without any major change to they way they do their work.
In local government terms the web really became a major channel between 2003-2005 when the government at the time embarked on the national eGovernment programme which among many other things had a target that all councils would have a website and that 100% of services were available online.
This was also the time when contact centre within councils became an official “channel” and the 100’s of numbers were rationalised into either one or at least a consolidated set of numbers to make it easier for the public to contact the council.
As a citizen or customer, you could access the council through a number of channels 24/7, 365 days a year – a major shift and something we should sit back and reflect on for a moment.
In my personal view, organisations could create effective websites without fundamentally impacting their organisational culture and I don’t believe that actually changes anything in the long-term.
Now to the last couple of years and the emergence of social channels
A completely new approach to contact and the biggest thing is the impact and implication adopting social means to the organisation as a whole.
This means your whole business needs to be social and customer focused if anyone in your business can be contacted via social channels. It represents a flatter structure, one in which knowledge flows inside and outside your organisation seamlessly.
Going back to the comment about contacting anyone in the organisation so suddenly is quite scary for people, this is one of the reasons why it scares them. It challenges everything that know about their current role and job and that will change, in fact it will also change and that is also scary for most if not all people.
So it is worth taking a bit of time and thinking about how you might “sell” or “communicate” all things social within your organisation as there are people who do not want to change and will fight to keep things as they are now. We all know they won’t last or stand a chance but they believe they do…