Are you being served? Live chat in the public sector

~ Tamworth Borough Council adopts live chat software to provide digital assistance to residents ~


We’re all becoming increasingly accustomed to web chat simulating the in-store experience online. Like the characters in television’s department store Grace Brothers, pop-up chat windows are now exclaiming ‘I’m free’ and offering the promise of immediate assistance.

As service shifts into the digital space, the expectations of online consumers are expanding. However, many public sector services have been slow to meet this demand for a friendly digital customer experience. Live chat in the public sector is a rare sight, and many of us have experienced frustration trying to get quick answers to our questions. In Staffordshire, however, one local council service has invested in WhosOn to help support residents and businesses.




Breaking bottlenecks

Tamworth Borough Council provides local council services and facilities to those living in Tamworth, Staffordshire. As part of their resident-facing services, 30 members of staff form the customer service team which provides support to residents on a range of topics.

Traditionally, support has been offered to residents through conventional forms of communication: face-to-face, telephone, email or letter. However, these methods often result in delayed responses and bottlenecks in trying to reach service agents, as well as frustration for customers.

“Our staff have to be knowledgeable about a wide array of council services,” said Joanne Shaw, customer services operations manager at Tamworth Borough Council. “It’s important that they are able to provide the right support and answers to residents when enquiries are made. We all understand how frustrating it can be to not get the information you’re looking for when you make the effort to contact someone, or to have to wait for answers, so it’s always our aim to provide the best possible service to residents.”




Digital shift

As with many other government organisations across the country, Tamworth Borough Council is beginning to implement more digital options to service users in a move to reduce costs. Instead of investing funds and people to deal with face-to-face or telephone-led communications, the council is turning to digital communication channels to ease the load on resident enquiries.

Over 19,000 unique users on average visit Tamworth Council’s website every month, with peak visits reaching 30,000. The website is a vital source of information for many residents, providing their first port of call when seeking answers.

A study by Nesta, a foundation aiming to help organisations bring great ideas to life, says, “Local government is at a crossroads. Many councils have already transformed the way they provide information and how they manage transactions. However, the opportunity of new technology is much greater than digitising information and transactions.”

Nesta’s research shows that the average council could save up to 13 per cent of its total budget by 2025 by implementing digitalisation programmes.

“There is a big shift to digitalise our communications and services,” Shaw said. “We have been making changes to our Customer Service Centre, both in terms of infrastructure and team skillset, to ensure the information our residents and service users need is available online.

“One of our digitalisation aims is to encourage residents to use our website to find whatever solution it is they’re looking for. Historically, people would look online for the information they needed, but would then be directed to a phone number or to arrange a face-to-face meeting if they didn’t get all the information they needed. We want to change that, so residents can immediately speak to someone while they’re still online.”

To achieve this, Tamworth Borough Council decided to introduce online live chat software to its communication options.




Positive change

To source the right live chat solution for service users and customer service agents, Shaw and her support team completed research and attended a number of online seminars about web chat services.

“From both research and personal experiences, we knew that integrating live chat with our existing communications was the way to go,” Shaw said.

“However, we wanted to select the most suitable and cost effective live chat software available to us, particularly with the complex procurement and government regulations we must abide by.”

Based on research and after a free trial period, Tamworth Borough Council selected Parker Software’s WhosOn live chat software.

“We have initially set up WhosOn with just the basic features,” Shaw explained, “but we’ve already seen a positive impact on our capabilities as a team. Our agents can respond to customer queries without having to transfer people from department to department, and customers feel that they are getting an overall improved service.

“Despite live chat still being one of our smallest channels of communication for customers, with approximately 110 enquiries per month, the feedback we’ve received from customers who have used it is first-rate. We did a review of user’s satisfaction levels and live chat came out on top, with 83 per cent rating the service as excellent.”



“I’m free”

In a world where many services and interactions are transitioning to digital platforms, public sector departments, like the team at Tamworth Borough Council, need to work hard to keep up with the demands of local residents and businesses, as well as staying up to date with modern technology developments.

Instead of being passed from pillar to post to find the answer to simple questions, Tamworth residents now have the opportunity to speak directly to a customer service agent who’s online and declaring ‘I’m free’.


Useful links

Live chat in the public sector

WhosOn free trial