Empower - transforming public services

Empowered people using an empowered medium

Digitisation is changing the way public sector organisations operate and how they interact with their customers. Citizens expect to be able to access public services online and interact with public sector organisations in the same way they do with brands and companies.

While ‘digital by default’ is a key strategy for many governments in Europe as a way to deliver more with less and reach the younger generations, its implementation often requires a new approach that can be challenging for the public sector.

New technologies and channels might be readily available, but using them requires people with the right skills and openness towards a different way of communicating.

An outsourcing project in the Netherlands demonstrates how rigorous training combined with trust in an empowered workforce has enabled a forward-thinking government to embark on a new digital journey. 

140 characters for 16.8m people

Challenge: to offer a first point of contact for citizens on social media

Arvato has been a partner of the Dutch Central Government for the past six years, providing customer service via telephone and email. By operating a central telephone number and a contact form to reach central government, the partnership acts as the first point of contact for questions from Dutch citizens regarding national policy, laws and regulations.

Building on a successful partnership, the Government wanted to expand the service to new digital channels to provide broader access and connect with younger citizens on topics such as the Digital Government, rent increases, travelling abroad and current events. A driving force behind the move was a desire to become a more open and transparent organisation by being present on social media. 

Solution: to trust an empowered team to tweet for the Government

Arvato conducted extensive research into citizens’ use of social media and the types of questions being asked via existing channels and elsewhere on the internet. It emerged that Twitter would serve as both a well-established channel – the Netherlands is one of the most active nations on the social network – and a suitable way to communicate with the public in an open and simple way.

However, Twitter’s 140 character limit and more informal style, as well as the instant and public nature of tweets, clearly required a different way of communicating. The partners set off to develop a joint framework which would allow a greater degree of freedom for handling enquiries while also addressing concerns around a potential lack of control and how to manage critical tweets.

Arvato worked closely with the Dutch Government to define a set of guidelines which would empower the social media customer service advisors to shape their responses. Drawing from its experience of providing social media customer service for private sector clients, Arvato developed a new training programme for the project – focused on helping the team to make their own judgement calls so that they could better react to different live situations. The Twitter agents were also carefully selected based on their previous digital experience and strong performance on existing channels.

To limit risks and reassure the client, the project initially started as a pilot and was steadily extended as the team gained more experience. For the first six months, every Tweet was checked by supervisors before it was posted, but advisors now operate more freely – including the odd joke if appropriate. Robust processes were put in place to help take conversations offline if necessary.

Arvato monitors Tweets to measure effectiveness and to continue to refine its approach. An on-going analysis of enquiry topics and sentiment, which is fed back to the client on a regular basis, even helps inform wider Government policy and communication.

Successes: to extend reach and be seen as open and transparent

Introducing Twitter proved an immediate success with the public, with followers growing from 17,000 to 19,600 in 7 months. Overall, offering a Twitter feed is starting to enable the Government to reach more citizens, with a growing number of enquiries received every month.

Queries via Twitter are answered within two hours, offering a convenient and responsive channel for enquiries that can be dealt with in 140 characters. 

In addition, lessons learnt from the use of Twitter have improved the existing service channels. Customer service representatives are empowered to use their creativity to deliver a more personal service. 

Our service is about connecting with citizens and our Twitter channel has helped us reach more people. It’s a unique platform and you have to embrace the fact that it’s instant, direct and personal – and therefore sometimes hard to predict. But we’ve had trust in the approach we’ve developed with arvato and in our customer service teams who know what they’re doing.

Martin Spijker, Senior Advisor, Central Government of the Netherlands