The basic idea of channel shift is to take communication and shift it from one medium to another. Local governments have been shifting their communication to digital as technology continues to evolve. One hundred years ago you would’ve only talked to your government by mailing a letter or physically going into city hall. Today, communication has shifted to digital formats so there are numerous forms of communication that include email, forms on your website, live chat, social media, and even bots. The channel shifting process has been accelerated by the introduction of new technologies.

There are several reasons for wanting to shift residents away from old communication channels and onto digital platforms. One, the cost per transaction of a live telephone agent or in person is incredibly high because you must account for that employee’s time, which includes salary, benefits, and even the physical office space that they use to work. Because of reduced resources needed, digital transactions have a lower cost per transaction which is the biggest driver behind the channel shift we are now seeing.

However, the other reason to support channel shift is that it means that you’re including more forms of communication which your customer, i.e. the constituent, gets to opt into his/her preferred communication method. For many consumers today, the live interaction is not the preferred method of communication and they instead prefer using a digital channel. Perhaps the continually evolving and empowering device they all carry daily, their smartphone, will continue to be their main method of communication.

Two Approaches to Channel Shift Mentality

In the early days, our service request platform at CitySourced was greeted in one of two ways. The first mindset was one where the local government thought that we were just adding another channel of communication, which was adding complexity and cost into the way that they could interact with a customer. This approach can be effectively summarized as “that’s just more work for me” mentality. In this thinking, local governments thought that more channels meant more communication from customers and more work for government employees.

The second mindset was more accepting of new communication; these local leaders have embraced channel shift. Government innovators realized that for certain transactions, (such as those around simple service requests for reporting a pothole or a broken piece of park equipment) they could drive down the cost per transaction of reporting these issues, and they would welcome the reporting of issues from anyone willing to help maintain their community. They loved the idea that they could shift these types of service request reporting off the more expensive channels and use their more costly resources for the complex situations that need more attention.

ROI and annual costs for verification truck roll

Not Just About Cost Cutting

Most importantly, these leaders understood that this wasn’t purely about cost savings in the sense that you’re going to slash jobs for customer service agents that are in person or over the phone. And the reason this isn’t a job cutting measure is because cities don’t only deal with these simple low-cost transactions. Instead, you reassign these customer service agents to help with higher value, more complex types of transactions such as getting a building permit or submitting paperwork to start a new business or the process to redevelop a piece of land. These examples are all highly complex, but they are also incredibly valuable and warrant the use of a more expensive communication method.

To summarize, the local governments who realized that channel shift wasn’t just a cost or job slasher, but instead, it was a method of assigning the right resource for the right job and allowing you to free up resources from the low-value transactions to work on the higher value transactions including those that generate more revenue.

The Next Frontier

Channel shift has continued to develop in the public sector, the local governments who were early adopters have now started to scale their digital communications to include native mobile apps that allow customers to submit service requests. Beyond that, their customers can now apply for permits, make payments, and get notifications based on their location.

Communication between local governments and their constituents is going to continue to expand in terms of the number of channels in which they use to communicate. Forward-thinking governments will push innovative ideas to actively drive their customers to various channels depending on the type of communication preferred by the individuals, and they will proactively use the appropriate channels to promote the shift in communication.

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