The majority of UK citizens have a very poor perception of e-Government initiatives, with almost three-quarters saying they hadn't noticed the impact of investments made in e-Government, and 50% of them saying they were unhappy with the current level of customer service offered, according to a survey by e-service software provider Transversal.
The survey investigated the ways in which the public contacts local authorities and government departments. One of the key objectives of e-Government initiatives is to make public services more accessible to citizens by investing in more effective web-based and call centre-based services.
Communication by telephone was still the favourite medium for 58% of the survey's respondents, compared to only 32% who prefer to use e-mail or web sites. This finding suggests that local authorities and government departments have yet to establish a fully effective way to deal with enquiries electronically.
What citizens want
When asked about ways in which public sector websites could be improved, the most common answer was "the ability to answer questions from the public" (32%). Furthermore, 88% said they would be more likely to use such web sites if their questions could be answered immediately and correctly.
Additionally, 39% of respondents thought technology that automatically answered questions on web sites would improve their experiences with public sector websites, and 26% said that more contact details would be a significant improvement. The most common queries about which people said they tried to contact the authorities were to do with Council Tax, refuse collection, planning and building.
The main problem
"Our survey suggests that more needs to be done to raise the current perception of e-Government. The public clearly hasn't noticed any improvement in public sector websites," explained Transversal's CEO, Gerard Buckley. "While significant public funds have been ploughed in to content management and CRM systems, there are few public sector websites that allow a citizen to ask a question and receive an intelligent answer in return."
According to Buckley, not only is this problem highly frustrating for citizens but it also increases their dependence on public sector call centres, many of which have also been criticised for poor and slow service. "If the government is really serious about e-Government, it must go back and do some basic things to ensure the public can easily access information and have the ability to ask and receive answers to their questions efficiently online," said Buckley.
Transversal believes that the UK's public sector is misguided in its tendency to implement limited static FAQ lists (frequently asked questions) that are not interactive and don't offer the government any insight into public needs or concerns. As an alternative, the company suggests using a simple but dynamic web-based self service solution, driven by interactive knowledge bases that respond to online customer queries more efficiently and cost-effectively. Solutions such as Transversal's own offering can also use a dynamic question-and-answer process to generate an up-to-date, self-organising knowledge base of information that is relevant to citizens' needs at the time.