month 10
day 26
year 2016

Is a Local Authority ‘too big to fail’?

Local Government

I recently had the pleasure of hearing a talk on ‘The Future of Local Government’ at the IRRV Conference, featuring three speakers: Wallace Sampson, Chief Executive, Harrogate BC; Duncan Whitfield, Strategic Director of Finance and Governance, Southwark LBC; and Chris West, Executive Director – Resources, Coventry CC.

When I say ‘had the pleasure’… Sadly the overwhelming impression I got from the session is that the future for local government is bleak.

Funding remains the central issue, and one which spans across all the services that local government provide. After a period of unprecedented budget cuts started in 2010 by the then coalition government, the panel remarked that funding remains worryingly unclear, and what impact Brexit will have on budgets is yet to be understood.

Duncan Whitfield  even suggested that there is a real possibility that within the next five years, a local authority could fail financially, and Chris West described Coventry City Council as “at breaking point”.

We’re used to this phrase being used for banks, but having worked with local authorities for more than 10 years, to hear it being used for local councils was sobering.

Is there any light at the end of the tunnel, any hope?

The short answer is yes. At the IRRV Conference, collections was seen as a super critical function within any authority. If (when!) we do enter a period of economic strife, getting debt collection right will be essential to keep local government services running. Shared services (where council neighbours share the burden of delivering services to their communities) could be vital to realise economies of scale.

Finally, the way that local government interacts with service users via “better systems and processes” was seen as a crucial strategy to achieve the “do more for less” objective. Central government have called this Digital Transformation or Digital by Default for many years now.

The definition of Digital Transformation is evolving

10 years ago the e-gov agenda meant local government started to communicate by email and customers had the ability to request a service online (although that typically just generated a paper form!).

Now, technology delivers so much more. Customers can interact with council staff through a variety of digital platforms, including live chat and SMS, but this is just the start. It’s possible to dramatically reduce the number of people who need to speak to a live agent, and encourage self service.

For example, these questions could be answered without any manual intervention through automated SMS, voice, email and even chat bots:

  • What’s my council tax reference number?
  • What are the opening hours for the local recycling centre?
  • When are the school holiday dates for 2017?
  • On what day do my bins get emptied?
  • What’s the status of my application?

The key to success is careful selection of the services that can be automated without compromising the customer’s experience. The benefit of doing so is that it enables council staff to focus on areas such as benefit assessments which need the human touch.

Even traditionally labour intensive processes such as collecting council tax debt can be simplified by offering customers the ability to self-serve, while retaining the option to speak to an agent if required. This example shows an SMS trigger:

Council Tax Collection


What was clear from the conference is that inaction isn’t an option. The speakers felt that digital communication presented the greatest opportunity to both improve outcomes and reduce costs, and our experience of working with local government suggests the same.

Download our Council Workflows in Action data sheet, and please leave a comment if you’ve any first hand experience of Digital by Default strategies.

month 10
day 25
year 2016

I app-solutely need one… Or do I?

App overload

Over the last few years I’ve spoken with many customers about how to improve customer interactions or their own internal processes, and the one word that seems to appear in almost every conversation is ‘app’.

Businesses either have one that offers their customers some form of information or access to their account, or they believe they need one to connect with their customers and compete with other businesses. They understand that for most people, the majority of time spent using a smartphone is in apps and feel that they need to tap into this market.

Are apps where it’s at?

Earlier this year my colleague wrote an article titled Apps vs web: is there a happy medium? This explored a survey of app developers, which found that the average cost to develop an app was $6,452.

Of course it’s not about the cost, but the return on investment – but that’s by no means guaranteed. The 2016 Deloitte Global Mobile Consumer Survey reported that “most users download just 0.00001 per cent of the millions of apps available.”

But I only want to check the weather!

In the same paper, the activity that was most used via an app was checking the weather, with 56% of people saying an app is their preferred method for doing so.

If I take a look at my own smartphone, with the exception of my Vodaphone app, the only business related app is for my bank. The rest are all social media, sports related or games.

“The majority of smartphone owners have downloaded 20 or fewer apps. Only ten per cent have downloaded 30 or more… Even among 18–24 year olds the majority have downloaded 20 or fewer.” – Deloitte

App installation statistics

How many apps do you have installed on your phone?

Why isn’t app adoption higher?

Apps are most successful when they’re being used for a regularly repeated action – playing a game, accessing social media, or reading the news.

For more irregular activity, such as paying a bill, providing information such as a meter reading or a change of circumstances, or registering for an event, while you might wish to deliver the superior user experience of an app, the likelihood of the app being downloaded for this sort of activity is fairly remote.

There’s also the simple fact that most people don’t want to have their smartphone clogged up with multiple apps.

What about mobile web apps?

“Native and hybrid apps are installed in an app store, whereas web apps are mobile-optimized webpages that look like an app.” – Neilsen Norman Group

Mobile web apps shouldn’t be confused with a mobile optimised website: the latter is generally a desktop website that has been reshuffled to fit a smaller screen.

Mobile web apps are built with the mobile user first and foremost in the developer’s mind. They focus on delivering a friction-free experience on a smaller screen, and typically only have one purpose in mind for the user – to complete a goal. They facilitate self-service, thus giving customers more choice and helping you reduce costs.

However, unlike a native app, mobile web apps don’t have to be downloaded or updated. Access to our mobile web app platform, Mobile Journeys, is usually triggered from a link delivered via SMS, email or social media.

Three things that really make the difference when it comes to getting customers to self-serve:

  1. Motivation: the customer has to want to complete the goal. In this context, it’s about educating your customer as to why it’s important that they do. Sometimes that’s the threat of penalties; sometimes it’s the promise of a great reward!
  2. Ability: the ease and simplicity of completing the goal (here’s an infographic exploring the six most effective ways to achieve this).
  3. Trigger: the method by which they’re prompted to take action. Different customers will respond better to different triggers (email, SMS), and your service provider should be able to provide you with (at least) detailed analytics so you can optimise future campaigns.

These are the basic principles of behavior-based design, which, if you’ve read all the way to the bottom of this post, it’s worth you looking into!

Are you exploring an app right now? Or have you built one that flies in the face of this article and is a qualified success? Let me know in the comments…

month 10
day 25
year 2016

Bridging the tech diversity gap with Women In Technology

Woman using computer

Two of the world’s four most powerful countries have a female leader, and next month Hillary Clinton could make it three. We are living under a record-high number of simultaneous female world leaders. But just as politics has the capacity to shape the world we live in, so too does a 30-year-old “internet industry” which is disrupting everything we’ve come to know about the world – from the way we shop to the way we wind-down.

Women occupy just 17% of tech jobs within this industry in the UK. It seems that while the internet and tech sectors have grown in importance to the world’s economy, the gender imbalance hasn’t.

Did you know that the first computer programmer was female?

Her name was Ada Lovelace and her success, passion and vision for technology led to her being named the “enchantress of number”. She’s still a powerful symbol for women in technology today.

October 11th 2016 marked eight years since a celebratory day was founded in her name, aiming to raise the profile of, and celebrate women in science, technology, engineering and maths, catalysed by a worry that women in tech were invisible…or just non-existent.

Are women in tech invisible?

While women account for more than half of the users of technology products and websites, according to a 2015 report by the National Centre of Information & Technology, only 25% of the computing workforce are women.

And, although Facebook tops the tech industry diversity table with a workforce made up of 33% women, only 17% of these are responsible for more technical roles. Twitter have a 70/30 divide with men accounting for 90% of all technical roles (The Guardian).

They have since set goals to change this ratio.

Co-founder of, Martha Jane Fox, famously said in 2015:

“We need 600,000 people to work in the IT and digital sector. By 2020, they’ll probably [need] one million. Right now there are 800,000 unemployed women in this country.”

Events like Women In Tech Notts hope to change the number and proportion of women in technical roles, and we’re in full support.

Supporting and inspiring women

Women In Tech Notts is a monthly meetup which is now reaching its ninth month. It’ss aimed at women in all areas of technology, from developers and testers through to engineers, digital marketers and those with an emerging interest in tech.

Speakers come from far and wide in support of the event, from various backgrounds: entrepreneurs, hackathon organisers and charities right through to tech companies (ahem).

It’s had overwhelming interest and support and is now moving to new premises, fittingly just over the road from our own.

We’re proud to be supporting such a worthwhile venture and one which we hope will continue to drive diversity and innovation within technology companies similar to our own.

Women In Tech Notts

Where and when?

The next event takes place on November 3rd at 7pm at Accelerate Places, The Poynt, Wollaton Street. RSVP here.

month 10
day 21
year 2016

The three Rs of retail marketing

Retail Marketing

It was my first day at Esendex in 2011 when I came across the three Rs:

  • Right Message
  • Right Time
  • Right Person

This became my business mantra and five years later, it’s just as important. The difference is that we now have the tools and channels to give us a deeper insight into the behaviour of customers, and so we can – and should – be more on point than ever.

In retail, the smartphone has changed everything. We can book a summer holiday while enduring a rainy Monday commute; we can pay bills in front of the TV, and do the weekly food shop on our lunchbreak for delivery that evening.

In short, we can buy almost anything, any time, in any place: a completely ‘on demand’ experience that’s light years away from the shopping experience of a decade ago.

Similarly, marketing to your customers by sending a ‘one size fits all’ message is not enough, now, to compete in retail. The three Rs illustrated the basic requirement to understand your customers, but must evolve to meet the needs of today’s consumers.

The evolution of the three Rs

Right Message = right content

You may have heard the anecdote about an American supermarket inadvertently alerting a teenager’s father to her pregnancy…? Her changing shopping habits had prompted them to send out promotional material specific to expectant mothers, which he saw, confronted his daughter with, and found out that she was indeed in the family way.

It’s an extreme example but retailers like Amazon have proved that the more tailored a promotion, the greater the adoption. Obviously, a campaign about Kobe beef sent to vegetarians isn’t going to fly!

Your easy sources of customer data range from the obvious – purchase history – to tracing which pages they’ve visited on your website, which offers they’ve clicked through from your email campaigns, and the contents of wish lists.

Right Time = *their* time

Do you read promotional messages as soon as you receive them? Of course it depends where you are, what you’re doing, what time it is etc. – and these are all elements that retailers need to be aware of when scheduling content.

Even if you don’t know in advance when customers are most likely to engage with your message (reading it, clicking through etc.), you can experiment by sending your promotion at different days and times to segments of your database, and see which performs the best.

We’ve seen some of our customers achieve double figure uplifts in campaign engagement simply from moving a mid-afternoon message to a lunchtime message – so a continuous programme of testing, analysis and improvement should be at the centre of your engagement strategy,

Right Person = treating customers as individuals

Easy if you have a small number of customers, of course, but you need to be able to scale up and automate the selection of the right promotion for the right person. To do this you need to start collecting data and identifying trends.

If 100 customers who purchased x also purchased y, it’s worth sending a message to everyone who purchases x and doesn’t purchase y to suggest that they might like to.

If a particular demographic of customers (age, location, gender) proved more likely to engage with a text message promotion than an email, it’s worth adopting a mobile-first strategy to all customers who meet that same criteria.

Once upon a time, these sort of tactics were the preserve of the most successful companies, but now, business intelligence of this sort is built into almost every communications platform. You can start small – simply by testing different times of day for example – but the important thing is to *start* at all.

Learn more about Esendex’s communication solutions for retailers.

month 10
day 17
year 2016

Give marketing a boost with mobile

Almost 7 billion people in the world have one thing in common, and this one isn’t biological, but something material. The mobile phone; a possession we no longer want to have but something we need in order to communicate, get around and function within the modern world.

Despite all of the technological capabilities built into mobiles and smartphones, one of the most used features which still remains the same is messaging. Is this really any surprise? Its original build purpose was to make communication easier after all.

With mobile saturation currently at a peak, consumers have never been more addicted to their mobiles. As such, it’s crucial that marketers and businesses utilise SMS to their full advantage.

Our guide to mobile marketing is just the beginning of your SMS journey.

Esendex's guide to mobile marketing

If you would like to do more with SMS or explore other solutions, call us today on 0345 356 5758.

month 09
day 26
year 2016

6 ways to optimise your online forms (infographic)

Deloitte’s Global Mobile Consumer Study 2016 puts UK smartphone ownership at 81%, but makes the point that “businesses are still determining how best to use these devices.”

An app faces huge challenges in getting traction (Deloitte notes that “most users download just 0.00001% of the millions of apps available”), and our previous blog post explored why having a mobile responsive website isn’t the silver bullet to effective mobile engagement.

Does this mean you should just accept poor conversion rates from your mobile website? Of course not – and we’ve put together this infographic to illustrate what you can do to increase your form completion on a mobile device.

Conversion rate optimisation is big business, but not enough of it focuses on mobile users. We’ve a vested interest in mobile user experience, and a wealth of experience and data to help us identify what works.

6 ways to optimise online form completion

In our experience, any form will benefit from applying these tactics, improving completion rates both on a desktop and a mobile.

We’ve had notable success creating an app-like experience within a browser. If you’ve two minutes to spare, please go ahead and try out an Esendex Mobile Journey, where these features are effectively built into the platform, and let us know how it compares to a standard web form.

month 09
day 8
year 2016

Why responsive design doesn’t mean your mobile conversions will increase

Google’s penalisation of non-mobile optimised websites, dubbed ‘Mobilegeddon’, started in April 2015, and within months, 56% of UK businesses had a mobile friendly website.

The initiative was all about providing the user with a better experience accessing websites from a mobile – specifically:

What defines mobile friendly websites

Mobile users now benefit from an improved aesthetic and no horizontal scrolling, but, surprisingly, this hasn’t significantly improved companies’ ability to interact with their customers on a mobile.

Case studies have shown that simply having a mobile responsive website is not enough to increase conversions (measured by the number of people who complete an action, such as a form, on your website).

Online form completion statistics

In this particular study, the unresponsive website actually performed better than the responsive website when viewed on a mobile.

The team who conducted the research concluded that, while the purpose of responsive websites is to reduce friction (perceived effort) and anxiety (perceived concern), this doesn’t happen simply by applying Google’s criteria to your website.

Another example from the recruitment industry illustrates the issue: 8% of candidates accessing a job application form on a desktop will complete it, but that drops to 1.5% when accessed via a mobile.*

There’s a lot of advice available online to help you optimise form completion, although most of it isn’t device specific.

Here are our top tips for conversion rate optimisation on a mobile

Number 1Where possible, pre-populate fields so that users don’t have to re-key any data. This requires that they log in before accessing the form, or that they’re sent a unique web link to a personalised form

Number 2Aim for an app-like design that’s free of distractions, and focused on the single goal of getting the user to complete the task. Think Google, not Yahoo!

Number 3Provide clear error messages that appear *when* the error’s occured, not after you’ve clicked to submit the form – it’s incredibly tedious to have to scroll back up to find the error, and to find that other fields have been mysteriously wiped and need to be completed again

Number 4Don’t ask any ‘luxury’ questions – keep your form as succinct as possible – and provide a progress bar so users know how long it’s going to take them to complete the task

Number 5Avoid drop down menus – they look, and are, labour-intensive. You can replace these with radio buttons, steppers, switches, sliders and segmented controls (click here for great examples of all of these interactions).

Esendex’s Mobile Journeys have been specifically created to improve form completion on a mobile device, and with an average click-to-completion rate of 46.5%*, it’s clear that having a mobile-first approach pays off. Try out a Mobile Journey.

*Sources: Eremedia | Esendex customer data


month 08
day 19
year 2016

Reducing the cost of exceptional customer service

While reading “How Contact Centres Are Delivering Exceptional Customer Service” (Call Centre Helper), I learned that the average cost per call equates to £3.64. My first thought was that this seemed high, compounded when I read that for 3% of businesses, this figure rises to over £10!

Average call cost contact centre

While there’ll always be calls that will be lengthy due to the topic being discussed, in an era where so much technology is available to enable customers to help themselves, it’s actually jaw-dropping to see costs this high.

It’s time to embrace the age of self-service

I’ve written before that “the days of waiting on hold for 20 minutes to be connected are coming to an end” because customer now prefer to determine themselves how they interact with a company. Back in 2013, we learned that:

40% of global consumers said they prefer self-service to human contact; 70% expect a company website to include a self-service application (source).

A more recent study conducted by discovered that “Millennials ardently avoid calling customer service… 32% would rather go shopping on Christmas Eve.” (Source).

Whether it’s via website FAQs, or proactive outbound communications via SMS, email and social media, there are many ways companies can reduce the need for a customer call.

On top of this, companies can, and should, be providing multiple communication channels across all devices. Some examples we’ve seen recently are:

  • Allowing customers to text MYBILL to get their latest utility bill
  • Use Interactive Voice Response to book an appointment
  • Interaction via a chatbot to register for an event
  • Using an app or similar (i.e. Mobile Journeys) to validate credentials and so access information that previously they were having to dial the business and speak with an agent to get.

45% of companies offering web or mobile self-service reported an increase in site traffic and reduced phone enquiries (source: CRM Magazine).

Putting the customer at the heart of your contact centre strategy

Many of Esendex’s customers with contact centres have posed similar challenges to us: how can I reduce the cost of calls, while maintaining excellent customer service and keeping my customers happy?

The first step is always to understand why people are calling in, and of these calls, which ones need to stay with the agents. For the remainder, can we provide a solution that can move this expensive call away from the agents’ phones without compromising on their experience?

The solution itself can be anything and everything, from building payment channels via an IVR, to a Mobile Journey that enables customers to enter meter readings, to an SMS Automation that enables customers to text into a shortcode and upon validation be sent back account specific details for which they’d have previously needed to call.

These are just a few of the examples that have helped companies provide excellent customer service while reducing the amount inbound calls they take, thus significantly reducing the cost to serve these queries down from the £3.64 figure I mentioned above.

Plus this does not even take into account the opportunities created by enabling staff to work on other tasks!

A final thought:

“By 2017, 89% of businesses will compete mainly on customer experience.” (Gartner)

month 08
day 11
year 2016

Should customer satisfaction have an impact on your pay packet?

Performance related pay and SMS Surveys

Recently, an Esendex customer started using SMS Surveys as a means of gathering feedback from customers who’ve recently taken at taxi journey.

They’re using the results of these surveys to calculate the amount of bonus awarded to each taxi driver, which got us to thinking: in a culture where the customer is most definitely king, would more organisations benefit from staff incentives based on customer satisfaction?

How important is customer satisfaction when assessing good company performance?

performance related pay infographic

Sourced from The High Pay Centre’s white paper on Performance Related Pay, this graphic illustrates that directors at least say that customer satisfaction is the most important metric for assessment.

But the same report goes on to list the following factors as determinants of performance-related pay:

  • Meeting targets set by the board (50%)
  • Increasing profits (41%)
  • Returns to shareholders (30%)
  • Returns to stakeholders (25%)
  • Enhancing revenues (20%)

This is backed up by further research from the annual Aon Hewitt’s Salary Increase Survey:performance related pay infographic

So while lip service is being paid to customer satisfaction as a measure of performance, in practice the emphasis is still overwhelmingly on financial measures.

Does traditional performance-related pay work?

PRP is becoming more popular as new digital methods for measuring output become available, but it remains easier to measure the output of a factory worker or sales executive than for a teacher or doctor.

The public sector began phasing out automatic incremental pay progression in 2015. This is the process by which pay rises are awarded based on time served, in the perhaps naïve belief that time spent in a role always increases competence, and so additional pay is merited.

Although public sector organisations now have the power to withhold incremental increases, very few do, “as there is a culture of people moving up the pay scale irrespective of their performance” (Source). This can have a negative impact on morale, with employees feeling that regardless of their efficiency and productivity, they will receive the same reward as their peers.

So, on paper, PRP appears to reward the most hard working and skilled members of a team. In practice, it’s been blamed for “emphasising quantity over quality, overusing machinery, breakdowns in team work… extra stress on the job, and poor health” (Source).

It’s open to debate as to whether monetary gains are really what motivates people to perform well at work.

Job satisfaction factors:performance related pay infographic

The famous motivation study by Herzberg suggests that achievement and recognition are far more important for job satisfaction than pay.

Not dissimilarly to company performance, financials take centre-stage, belying the body of research that points to customer satisfaction and employee achievement as the most important factors.

Could company performance and staff motivation be improved by customer satisfaction-related pay?

As Aon Hewitt’s research shows, more emphasis is being placed on customer satisfaction as a means of measuring a sales person’s performance, and, as our original example demonstrated, this can be applied more widely to any customer-facing role.

SMS SurveyPractically speaking, gathering customer feedback is more cost effective and quick than ever before; SMS Surveys are particularly effective, garnering 3 x more responses than surveys delivered via an app for our customer.

Customers who’ve just completed a journey, or interacted with a call centre agent; received a parcel or had engineering work completed; received medical attention or completed a training course – any and all of these scenarios could be measured for satisfaction with an SMS message asking for a rating out of 10, or a Yes/No response.

That data can be fed back into a CRM system, resulting in either a financial implication for the person or team responsible, or an outcome of an award, promotion or simple recognition of a job well done.

The company wide results can then be collated to give the C-Suite an indication of customer satisfaction as a whole, which feeds into future sales projections, and helps identify areas for improvement.

A lot of organisations talk about putting the customer at the centre of their world, but implementing this practice would enable that to become a reality. It’ll be interesting to see how many more companies adopt this measure going forward – and we’ll keep you apprised of progress and set backs as we learn more.

month 08
day 9
year 2016

Utilities engagement: Millennials have the power

how can utilities companies communicate better with millennials?

They may never have thought this day was coming but millennials have now come of age. Starting their own families, embarking on their professional careers, establishing households and – paying bills.

The newest generation of energy consumers accounts for a large proportion of the energy economy and hold a lot of power.

Consumers aged 25-44 make up 37% of utilities customers and will account for 33% of the adult population by 2020. In fact 54% of respondents believe millennials will be the priority demographic for utility service and engagement between now and 2023 (Cognizant), and as a result what millennials want and how they behave will be critical to the evolution of the utilities sector.

Snapchat, Facebook and Pokémon Go are not the only reason young adults are glued to their phones, with tasks such as banking, and energy management carried out via mobile – daily.

Millennials are busy.

They want to be able to live life from one place: social media, photo apps, text messaging and portable browsing are all testament to that. This is likely to be the same of energy services and home management.

The Internet of Things (IoT) will result in 50 billion connected devices by 2020 so it is an exciting time for organisations and customers to change service and energy sector propositions to prepare for this.

Utility bills are a new concept to millennials

More than 46% of millennials have no formal system in place to remember to pay their bills on time, with 9% using email reminders and only 5% using mobile phone notifications. This creates a tremendous opportunity for all bill providers to create responsible bill paying habits.

More than 80% of 18-34 year-olds would like to log into their energy provider’s website with their social media credentials, and access billing information and updates, while 95% of millennials said they’d switch energy providers if they weren’t able to provide them with a seamless user experience.

This eagerness to embrace technology gives energy providers a new opportunity to sell their services to a much wider consumer group. If 36% of millennials have said they would change providers or buy electricity from someone else if given an easy option to. So before a better option is provided by a competitor, as yourself what are your plans to try and make them stay?

To discuss the range of Voice, SMS, Mobile & Web solutions that Esendex offer for use in the utilities sector, contact us today.