Recession must not derail public sector investment seen during pandemic

07 November 2022 4 min. read

With the UK economy now believed to be in a recession, government figures are falling back on talk of ‘tough decisions’ and austerity – but according to Graham Brown, Chief Revenue Officer at HGS UK, cutting investment in public life could be a big mistake. He argues that now is actually a time to invest in services, rather than to look at ways in which cost can be removed.

Throughout the pandemic, public sector organisations responded to adversity with increased investment and a firm focus on offering support to those most vulnerable. Although the prospect of further lockdowns is now behind us, the effects of the pandemic are still being felt in Britain’s economy and will continue to be felt for years to come.

As Britain faces the possibility of recession, the widespread need for support – especially for vulnerable people – shows little sign of disappearing. A cost-of-living crisis now looms over the British economy and its citizens.

Graham Brown, Chief Revenue Officer at HGS UK

Public sector contact centres have a major role to play in providing a comprehensive, reassuring service to citizens at a time of crisis. To help vulnerable people, public sector organisations and their contact centres must put responsiveness at the heart of their strategy to ensure people have access to the support they need during these unsettling times.

The value of responsiveness

Responsiveness and communication were crucial during the Covid-19 pandemic and will be more important than ever as households, individuals and businesses face unique challenges that will influence their interactions with public authorities. With the expected increase in individual and household vulnerability, public sector departments must continue to invest as they did during the Covid-19 pandemic, or risk leaving large numbers of the population struggling at a time when they need assistance more than ever.

During the pandemic the government demonstrated its ability to quickly focus, adapt and invest in services and to respond proactively to the needs of its citizens. It demonstrated ‘the art of the possible’ and what can be achieved when all government departments work together to protect the health and wellbeing of their citizens.

Whilst we’re through the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic, we now face rising inflation, a possible recession and everything else that comes with it. Leaders must reflect on what worked (and what didn’t) during the pandemic for both citizens and public sector employees and use this to inform decisions for their future engagement strategies, such as the need for flexibility, agility, and resilience.

Handling increased call volumes

It is expected that the volume of inbound queries will increase for many central and local government departments, particularly those that handle financial matters such as benefits, social care and tax. Undoubtedly, many of the interactions will be time-sensitive and contact centres will also need the capacity and expertise to handle individual needs and concerns.

When there are an increasing number of vulnerable customers with a wide variety of complex enquiries, it is important that citizens feel like they are being listened to and understood, and not made to feel that they are being rushed during interactions. Advisors may find that vulnerable customers need longer to go through their options, so contact centre managers should ensure staff are given the extra time employees need to deliver this. In effect, it is about empowering support agents to handle customer vulnerability in any way they can, so public sector organisations need to be prepared to be flexible and open to new ways of doing things.

Be adaptable

As this period of economic instability looks set to continue for the foreseeable future, the need for responsiveness is greater than ever. Most organisations will naturally keep cost front of mind and look for ways to make savings, but this should never come at the expense of high-quality customer service, even more so during a time like this.

Responsiveness is the benchmark for building trust, which is critical when handling vulnerable customers. People will have less money in their pockets and may also be experiencing well-being issues as a result, so it is important that their needs are addressed in a timely and respectful manner. Now is a time to evaluate current quality of service and make any necessary changes to ensure citizens are properly looked after.

Professional services firm HGS helps optimise CX, supporting clients to become more competitive every day. HGS UK has over 3,000 employees making a difference to some of the world’s leading brands, central and local government partnerships.