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Since 2010, the number of people using the internet to help them go about their day-to-day lives has increased from 85% to nearly 95% of the UK population. And luckily for Leeds City Council, just over a decade ago they made the savvy decision to embrace social media – alongside other digital comms channels – after seeing an upturn in inbound customer service enquiries coming through on social.

Initially, ownership of their social channels sat with the Council’s customer service team, who experimented with a mixture of light-hearted content alongside more informational campaigns to really get a feel for what their audience wanted from their social media presence.

It soon became clear that social media, and the part it plays in the Council’s comms and customer service strategy, was here to stay – cue the creation of their standalone social media team! Maintaining close daily links with their contact centre, web team and comms team colleagues to deliver accurate and valuable information to their audience has proved a game-changer for them.

With this in mind, I recently sat down with Nick Moore, Digital Development Officer at Leeds City Council, to learn more about the importance of bringing customer service and marketing together to achieve winning customer experience.

Jack: What are the benefits of customer service and marketing teams working together?

Nick: As the Social Media team, we are the eyes and ears of the Council – working on the front line and bridging the gap between us and our citizens. With thousands of comments to read and respond to each day and hundreds of local community groups active on social, there’s lots to keep the team busy and informed on all the latest hot topics. 

Whether it’s a breaking local news story or police incident – we are able to get the important details in front of our colleagues in the press, web or customer service teams, so that they can be prepped and ready to respond. Working collaboratively not only helps facilitate a reactive response but also helps our marketing and comms teams be proactive in planning their campaigns, adapting their comms schedules based on the themes and information that we – as the social media team – help to identify.

Jack: How did that approach help you at Leeds City Council during the first lockdown?

Nick: Faced with the unprecedented lockdown scenario at the start of the Coronavirus pandemic, teams from across the Council pulled together to provide the best possible service to our communities. We began each day with a quick working group, made up of colleagues from across the organisation, all feeding back information from their areas of expertise. They quite literally gave us the word on the street, which proved to be the perfect complement to the chatter happening across our social media channels.

In terms of more day-to-day processes, Orlo allowed us to collate all of the information, messages and queries coming into us from social media – tagging messages and then directing them to the teams best placed to answer and ensuring all of our citizens’ concerns and questions were answered.

We were also able to filter out the noise with the help of Orlo – knowing our audience was crucial! Who were the trolls? Who were the conspiracy theorists? And on the flipside, who were our guardians and protectors in the comments sections. The visibility that this gave us allowed us to combat fake news and remove those people who were spamming with dangerous comments – many of whom weren’t even residents of Leeds! We are, however, very cautious about freedom of speech, so we could still be letting people share their opinions while keeping an eye on how the overall conversation is going.

Far and wide throughout the Council, this approach helped inform not only the strategies of our comms team, but also our website team, contact centre staff and key stakeholders across the board.

Jack: What savings have you made using this approach?

Nick: An amazing 88% of customer enquiries that come through on social media are now dealt with by the Social Media team or signposted to online and self-service channels, rather than being passed on elsewhere, which I think is testament to the investment that has been made in the Council’s digital presence. We have visibility on this thanks to the ability to tailor our tagging within Orlo, enabling us to track enquiry outcomes.

As an organisation, we’ve really embraced social as a communication channel so that we can be where it’s most convenient and comfortable for our citizens. Our response time via social media is now almost always under 10 minutes – something we are very proud of!

Sure, these low SLAs are great when showcasing our achievements to higher levels within the Council, but aside from that, the cross-team collaboration that Orlo helps facilitate is immensely valuable! As a social team, we are able to post the most accurate, in-the-moment information as a trusted source – passed to us from elsewhere within the organisation but very much influenced by the demand we’ve been able to gauge from our audience. In turn, we see the more obvious knock-on effects; fewer complaints, lower call volumes and wait times in our contact centre and – perhaps most importantly of all – more open, honest and trusted two-way communication with the public. Naturally, this information then has a proven track record of achieving the best possible organic reach, because it’s what people want/need to know – sometimes ten or more times our usual average.

Jack: Why do you think so many councils struggle with buy-in when it comes to a collaborative approach?

Nick: For many public sector organisations, social media is still very much uncharted territory – it’s new but it’s certainly not going anywhere anytime soon! With high profile media coverage of the negative side of social, and digital channels in general, the benefits and good news stories local government organisations can experience from embracing all things digital can often be overlooked. 

Yes, it’s true that the likes of Cambridge Analytica have done nothing to reassure people, but it’s important to focus on the ability of social to bring communities together, to help you get to know your audience, streamline processes, improve operational efficiency and in turn, reduce cost to serve.

Jack: What advice would you give to comms and CS leaders to get buy-in within their organisation?

Nick: I’m sure for many comms and social media professionals reading this I’m probably preaching to the choir, but my top tips for getting buy-in for a more collaborative approach from marketing and customer service leaders are:

  • Build a list of useful people internally – those who really ‘get’ what you’re doing to help demonstrate how far-reaching throughout your organisation the benefits of social media can be felt.
  • Dispel the common misconception that social is all about knowing the latest TikTok dance. Knowing what demographics are on different platforms is really useful, but don’t ignore the ones that aren’t ‘cool’ anymore. For example, Facebook is still one of the biggest for us in terms of reach engagement, despite having more numerous followers on Twitter.
  • Believe us when we say that social is how the majority of people communicate nowadays. Much of the world has moved online and the rest aren’t too far behind them. 
  • Create your customer service team with a social media focus and vice-versa. Get them trained up and armed with the knowledge and tools required to effectively manage inbound queries from the public and witness the seamless customer journey that unfolds. 

We’ve heard from Nick on both the challenges faced and successes experienced from embracing a collaborative approach to customer experience.  With the digital landscape made up of a whole host of different touchpoints, it has never been more important (or indeed easier!) for local government organisations to be there for their citizens, in the moments that matter, on the channel of their choice. Bring your organisations’ personality to the masses with a coherent tone of voice across teams, and meet expectations across multiple digital channels, with a little help from Orlo.

As Senior Digital Consultant at Orlo, Jack is passionate about helping public sector organisations connect with the citizens they serve by working with them to develop and enhance their digital engagement strategies.