Fully transactional websites and the confusion with local government buzzwords

Local Government is always full of the latest industry buzzword. In the last few years we've seen the likes of sustainable communities, step-change, joined-up, streamlined and community engagement.

Buzzword and local terminology often cause confusion across departments and for citizens and can be open to interpretation. Where would our PR agencies, the media, consultants and industry experts be without the buzzword? In a clearer world perhaps?

Lately I have heard the term "Fully Transactional Website" (FTW) banded around in various meetings, conferences and user groups. It appears many people have different interpretations of this same term. Most local authorities are striving for a website that is, to say, "transactional" but what does that really mean?

London Borough of Sutton - Do it online  Is a local authority website transactional if it provides the user with a "Do it Online" facility that is easy to find? Is it transactional if they enable a user to download a PDF, or provide a telephone number on the website? How do Customer Service Managers measure a successful transaction, and verify the users satisfaction with their offering?

It is commonly understood that to go online is a cheaper process for the Council, this is a belief we cannot argue with. However, it must be understood that there are many different meanings to the word "transaction". It is important that a Council offers the visitor the opportunity to conduct a service online, to the same degree of service they would expect by visiting the Customer Service Centre. Contacting the Customer Service Centre is also "transaction" and is likely to have significant costs attached. This I believe is the great confusion with the "fully transactional" buzzword and the strategies of many local authorities. It is no longer acceptable for a Council to just "tick the box". Money has to be saved and it has to be proven. This, I feel, is the strength in the "fully" transactional website. An understanding that interaction with the website is not skin deep. A user conducting an enquiry through the web channel is actually interacting with many different applications throughout the organisation in one clear and concise easy to use interface. This will bring true savings to the Council when business is conducted successfully through the website.

For example, I needed to renew a parking permit recently. Delivering such a simple service online can massively reduce enquiries at the Customer Service Centre and provide a better service to the citizen. The online process worked perfectly. I completed a simple form, gave some personal details received an email acknowledgement and then the actual permit within the deadline published on the website. I was blissfully unaware that multiple back-office systems are involved, it was designed and developed properly and worked first time.

Sometimes however, even in the private sector, the web is recognised as the poorer sister to the phone. From my own experience picking up the phone to engage with a supplier provides a much higher level of service, the "web" in itself has its own inherent delay which is somehow acceptable. Last week I went online to book a service that I needed organising quickly. The company also provided a phone number that could be contacted 24 x 7 x 365. However, on this occasion I decided to use the website to request my service. Having not had a response within 12 hours I rang the company. The company explained that my online enquiry had been received but it would not be dealt with until 0930 the following day. So a website and call centre that is 24 x 7 x 365, however, one provides a much more responsive service than the other. I wonder for how long this disparity will be accepted by those that use it. Now that mobile devices are much more capable, people's expectations will rise for shorter response times on the move, and will not want to be held back by the latency of an online enquiry.

So on reflection we all need to strive to deliver websites that satisfy expectant customers and provide a more rich and engaging environment than calling a contact centre. We must consider that just because a website appears to provide a service or is available 24 x 7 x 365 we have to ask ourselves is the business prepared behind the scenes, and just what level of interaction are we really getting? Fully Transactional Websites might be a new term but it is not a new concept, and with a given level of commitment and drive will reduce costs and improve service delivery.