How technology can improve advice services

By Patrick Nash

We all want access to help and advice, and we all want it in the simplest and easiest form. Providing the right advice in the right place, at the right time, is a challenge for many organisations, especially when it comes to legal advice. The law is complicated and explaining legal jargon in plain English can be time-consuming and costly for organisations if repeated enquiries are being handled by employees.

Smart use of technology can help make advice services more accessible while reducing costs for the organisations providing it.

It’s worth stating that I’m not talking about a complete transition to exclusively digital advice services. Digital channels should complement traditional channels rather than replacing them completely. Providing digital-only services can be as negative as no digital at all in many situations.

However, there are many examples that demonstrate how the use of technology can engage with and advise more users, while allowing human operatives to focus on the most complex enquiries.

So how does it all work?

Using technology to boost your advice provision is about using a variety of platforms to connect with your service users in the right place, at the right time, when they most need your help.

Below, I’ve identified some cases in which organisations have incorporated technology as part of their advice provision, and how it has benefited them.

Sussex Police Force

Along with most other forces across the UK, Sussex Police Force has been subjected to cuts and therefore had to review its financial structures and identify ways in which it can reduce costs.

It had identified that the ‘101’ non-emergency call centre – designed to take calls for minor incidents such as reporting small traffic collisions – was taking an increasing amount of calls.

Further, those calls were often found to be from members of the public requesting general information and advice, rather than using the phone line for its primary purpose.

As a result, the force invested in a digital information response service to lighten the load on those answering calls to the ‘101’ line and free up time to focus on those callers that require most assistance.

The resulting website, powered by Connect Assist, now offers users an online Help Centre which includes answers to common questions. The site is simple and easy to use, and contains a cutting edge knowledge base.

The new service – along with an instant messaging service where users can discuss enquiries with operators – increased the amount of visitors to the website and also allowed police officers to focus on calls that require their unique skills.

Health for Work

The Health for Work Adviceline is a Department of Work and Pensions funded service, providing small businesses with the expert advice and support they need to help employees experiencing ill health and other occupational health issues.

It had a requirement to cut costs and develop a sustainable funding model, while delivering a high quality service to those who often feel unable to access professional occupational health advice due to the small size of their business.

To meet these expectations, Connect Assist put in place a digital advice service with a range of options available, from web self-service through to telephone enquiries.  Call handlers manage a tiered process and handle enquiries across web-chat, ‘ask a question’ – an online Q&A form – phone and email. This tiered solution enables the rapid identification of the user’s needs, ensuring that more serious incidents are escalated to a second-tier service provided by occupational health nurses.

Interestingly, the occupational health nurses, while initially sceptical, were very quickly delighted that the vast majority of the calls require their level of skill and experience (which had not been the case previously).

In a year Health for Work saw a 20-fold increase in enquiries which were handled at 30% of the cost of the previous service – a staggering result which secured funding going forward.

To summarise, for organisations that offer advice services there are clear benefits to incorporating digital services into your delivery model.  While often success is about being able to help more people at a lower overall cost, there are a number of other benefits as well.  Our experience is that many people prefer to contact a digital advice service, as they feel more in control and benefit from a clearer sense of empowerment.  Furthermore, advice staff report preferring a high proportion of calls or cases being of a more complex nature, rather than routinely answering basic enquiries.

 

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