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A recent survey by Which? criticised the HMRC helpline for taking an average of 38 minutes to answer a call. But in this digital age, shouldn’t the telephone be a last resort after live chat, self-service and automated help?
We've still got a long way to go in designing 'digital by default' public services. Well-designed intuitive online systems should need little, if any, intervention. If we want our public services to be more efficient and lower cost, then traditional communication methods will need to be used more sparingly. There are times when the phone is a necessity, but it should be used judiciously, with awareness of the cost.
The worry is that a move to ‘digital by default’ will de-personalise services and disenfranchise vulnerable groups. But this should not be the case if these services are designed with digital inclusion as a key principle. In fact, digital access can overcome many barriers that currently exist: making connections between related services, giving targeted self-help guidance, contact information, and helping families, community groups and charities to help others.
Public services need to be bolder in moving to digital models. This requires a cultural change in our public services and support from the public. This is what the Government Digital Service (GDS) needs to be about – not only stimulating digital transformation, but encouraging and helping the public to use common digital services and explaining why they can be trusted.
Delivering digital citizen services will mean recalibrating public expectations and adopting some common sense design principles:
So let’s just think, before we criticise HMRC for poor phone-handling. Are we are part of the problem in perpetuating outdated and inefficient public service models in the digital age?