UK councils fail e-service test

Compared to local authorities abroad, UK councils' online customer service is poor

UK councils are delivering poor online customer service compared to other countries, with some taking over three weeks to respond to queries.

Research tested response times to email queries submitted via the Web sites of 15 councils, ranging from London boroughs to rural areas, and compared them to the performance of other European countries and the US.

On average, local authorities took two-and-a-half days to answer the emails, but there were huge variations within the sample, with Glasgow the fastest at just one hour.

But Kensington and Chelsea took two weeks, while Lewisham, Westminster, Birmingham and Falkirk failed to provide any kind of response to the enquiries within three weeks.

The Netherlands performed best, closely followed by the US but the Austria, Belgium, Germany and the UK were all rated as "poor".

There are also poor self-help facilities on the council Web sites in the sample, with 80 percent failing to provide any kind of frequently asked-questions page or other online help functionality on their portals.

The conclusion of the research, which was commissioned by customer relationship management firm Kana, is that while many councils have successfully integrated email enquiry and help facilities into e-government services, they are badly managed.

Andrew Gough, the manager of government services at Kana, said smaller government agencies and local authorities must address the needs of increasingly Web-enabled citizens, yet 92 percent cite lack of money as a major barrier.

He said: "Citizens, who are the customers of the government world, are now more Web savvy than ever before. But the overall majority of government agencies who serve the public do not have the financial ability [to address that]."