It’s hard to remember a time without smartphones, despite the first iPhone release occurring just over a decade ago. Our lives have become increasingly integrated with these personal devices as we check emails, engage on social media, make purchases, and capture moments in time. Mobile phone penetration globally has now reached 61.2%, and undoubtedly the percentage of smartphones in this number will continue to grow. Australia remains a leading adopter with 88% of the population owning a smartphone, and further market growth is now driven by older generations.
The private sector has latched onto opportunities created by the smartphone, and customer engagement models have shifted to accommodate customer attitudes towards digital technology and data sharing. Mobile and tablet optimised websites and apps have become a priority, rather than an afterthought. Between 2015 and 2016, various analytics firms started to report that mobile had taken first place in generating web traffic in the world.
So, what does this mean for social security administrators? Long gone are the days when the prevailing attitude was that this type of technology was beyond the means of people experiencing disadvantage. Social security administrators around the world have recognised the potential of mobile channels to engage with customers but haven’t always followed through with excellence in execution.
Smartphone access is spread across all cohorts – it’s not confined to middle and high-income earners or young adults as we may assume. In fact, one-in-five US adults who are low-income earners are smartphone-only internet users and many homeless people see their smartphone as a lifeline connecting them to the support services they need.
Although the social services sector is on the mobile journey, there is catching up to do. Aside from digital and mobile channels being lower cost than in-person or call centre interactions, a well-designed mobile app also makes it easier for customers to fulfil their mutual obligations such as reporting income and job seeking efforts, as well as provide updates when their circumstances change. Perhaps more significantly, mobile has demonstrated it can empower customers as they connect with the social services organisation in their own time with help just a tap, click or swipe away if they need it.
Driving adoption of mobile apps (native or web-based) and leveraging the EAST behavioural economics principle, which I spoke about in my last blog, can encourage (nudge even) a willing and capable cohort of customers to interact through digital channels. This doesn’t mean intensive channels become redundant, but rather we enable those who can to self-service and provide additional support to those customers with complex needs.
There are some people for whom mobile may never be appropriate. Some people will need more traditional channels of servicing, particularly when confronted with various social risks and life events. However, there is a growing cohort of people who want to go mobile and social services organisations need to meet them there. Mobile strategies work best with a pull rather than a push approach. Through good design, mobile apps that are easy and convenient to use will draw people to them.
Pôle Emploi, the French public employment service, has taken mobile servicing a step further by enabling a collaboration ecosystem through the launch of an open portal for mobile apps development. Since its launch in 2015, the portal has enabled 300 offerings to be created from 180 partners of the public, private and non-profit sectors. Pôle Emploi also created “Le Lab” which is an internal innovation centre that sponsors opportunities for jobseekers, employers, counsellors, and start-ups to design new digital services.
As we move towards the era of empowerment in social services, mobile first is on the ascendancy as a primary method for empowering customers to interact with their social services organisation on their own terms.