City of London online services grow in use only as system gets friendlier

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Londoners are increasingly turning to online resources to contact the city, but the majority still like to pick up the phone.

New data in an annual satisfaction survey show only a quarter of residents prefer contacting the city digitally — online or via email — compared to 66 per cent that favour the phone to share their concerns.

But the city’s new online Service London portal, which allows residents to report everything from a pothole to a flood, has been used 550 times since it was launched at the end of April.

“The city’s website is our fastest growing service channel, and traffic is increasing every year,” said John Nolan, a Service London manager.

Why, then, do Londoners lean toward the phone?

“I think it’s indicative of the systems you have in place,” said Coun. Virginia Ridley. When websites or digital portals aren’t user-friendly, people may decide to pick up the phone, she suggested.

It may also depend on the type of concern, city officials said. A simple request, like reporting a pothole, is easy to complete with a few clicks online.

“When they have an issue, they want to speak with us on the phone, and when it’s just sort of a general transaction, the preference is online,” said Rosanna Wilcox, another Service Londoner manager.

The citizen satisfaction survey, conducted by Ipsos, seems to bear that out. When it comes to conducting business with the city — rather than reporting a concern — 38 per cent of residents prefer to do it online, compared to 21 per cent in person and 13 per cent by phone.

“Online is just an easier way for people to interact — when it’s set up properly,” Ridley said.

She was inspired by the 311 system used in Edmonoton, where mobile and desktop apps utilize open source technology. Residents can share photos, their complaints can be precisely located using GPS, and users can even view the service requests submitted by others.

“I was absolutely amazed . . . and saw how effectively it was working in that city,” Ridley said. “We are quite behind where I wish we were.”

Council recently decided to go ahead with creating a municipal 311 number, despite having recently instituted a one-stop-shop with the 519-661-CITY line.

Ridley understands the value of phone services — her grandmother is one who eschews online communication — but said for most, digital is the most convenient and accessible option.

It’s also cheaper.

“It’s a really desired service channel because of convenience and 24-hour access, but also in terms of cost effectiveness,” Nolan said.

Digital interactions with Londoners cost the city far less than those done on the phone or in person, Nolan said, though he didn’t have numbers to show just how much.

So growth of the online service site is good news for the city’s bottom line.

“We’re pleased with it so far. It’s continuing to grow,” Nolan said. “We see each month that more and more service requests are coming in through the portal.”

The site allows residents to submit 70 of the most common requests at More options will be added in the coming months.

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