Terneuzen: Reducing the distance between residents and municipality with WhatsApp

It is the day after the general election. Sandra Huijsman, Information Coordinator of the Society Department of the Municipality of Terneuzen, says she is still recovering from this long day. She worked hard at the polling station and had to be there until late to count the votes. It is so nice to be close to the citizens again! The personal contact with the residents of Terneuzen is very important to Sandra. Despite the fact that she herself is not a Zeeuwse, she feels connected to the inhabitants. She tells us how WhatsApp Business contributes to a major goal for her and Terneuzen; short lines of communication between inhabitant and municipality.

A personal channel

Residents increasingly contact the municipality digitally, instead of physically at the counter of the town hall. Much information is now easily found on the website and as a result of COVID-19 there is less personal contact. Is that a bad thing? Sandra does miss the human interaction.

“As a municipality we think it’s really important to be close to the citizen. That personal contact is more valuable than you think. A lot of information is now available online but personal contact is still important. You notice that both residents and municipality are visiting each other more often. I really hope that this trend continues.”

“How do you make sure that residents feel heard again? How do you get residents to feel connected to the local government? In a time of digitalization and COVID-19 it is of course unthinkable to send everyone with questions to the counter of the city hall. That is why we use the channels that facilitate personal contact.”

With WhatsApp Business you are, as it were, ‘in the pocket’ of your target group. Messages come in between chats with family and friends. It feels like an informal and human channel. These are important qualities that the municipality can make good use of, particularly in this digital age.

“WhatsApp is a means of starting personal conversations with residents at a time when this is more necessary than ever.”

Smilies? Jokes? An informal approach to the conversation

The conversation on WhatsApp is different than, say, through the mail. The personal nature of the channel ensures that conversations are more informal. This is also reflected in a certain tone of voice. “We make more use of humor and emojis in our conversations. You see much smoother use of language through this channel. People also react loosely to it. They realize that there really is a person communicating with them and that there is not a large government institution behind it.”

Research shows that it pays to communicate with your target group in an empathic, personal, indirect and informal way. What does it show? A human communication style has a positive impact on customer satisfaction and organizational reputation. Personal and informal communication via WhatsApp Business? Municipality of Terneuzen sets the right example! 😄 👍

Make it easy for your residents

It was not only the personal nature of WhatsApp Business that won over Municipality Terneuzen back in 2013. There are also other benefits of the channel that make communication between municipality and resident easier.

“We want to help residents quickly by answering their question or sending a link. We respond to WhatsApp messages within an hour during office hours.”

Some organizations see the fast-paced nature of WhatsApp Business as a challenge. People expect a quick response to questions. Sandra sees mainly the advantages. “By far the most questions still come in by phone. In a phone call or live chat you need to have an answer ready immediately, while WhatsApp gives you a bit more time for this.”

As a municipality you cannot answer all questions via WhatsApp Business. The municipality’s website asks not to share privacy-sensitive information such as citizen service numbers and personal data via the platform. Is it necessary to share these data? Then municipality Terneuzen quickly and easily refers you via WhatsApp to the right channel or webpage. “It is certainly a lot easier to direct inhabitants to the right channel via WhatsApp than via a phone call,” says Sandra.

“And do you have a question outside of office hours? Then just put it in the chat! Outside office hours you will not get an immediate answer from the customer contact staff of the Municipality of Terneuzen, but it is nice to have already asked the question. Is a question asked in the weekend? Then we come back to it on Monday morning and ask whether the question still needs an answer, just to be sure.”

“Through the WhatsApp Business Solution, we are accessible to residents through their own preferred channel. We make it easy to contact us and do not sacrifice in terms of personal contact. Nice right!!!”

A clear overview because of the integration within OBI Engage

As a municipality you want to be accessible to everyone via your residents’ preferred channel. Of course we like to offer digital services: Digital where possible, but personal where it is better. For many, WhatsApp is an accessible and simple channel. Others prefer Facebook or Twitter. The municipality also wants to support the digital services with this personal channel. That is why we often use different channels interchangeably. One and the other instead of one or the other. By integrating these different channels within the online environment of OBI Engage, you always keep an overview of the incoming messages. That is very pleasant for the employees of the customer contact center. They are the ones who help our residents every day as best they can!

“We like the fact that we can extend the conversation within OBI Engage. We can send messages, whether it concerns Facebook or WhatsApp, to other departments. The reports within the tool are also useful. You can see exactly which messages have been handled and within what time frame. That way we also keep an overview so that we can deal with the messages in a timely manner.”

Less distance between citizen and government

Would you also like to reduce the distance between your municipality and its residents? Do you notice that the personal contact in a digitalizing era can be strengthened with extra channels? Perhaps the WhatsApp Business Solution is something for you! Of course we are happy to advise you on this. You can schedule a meeting with one of our experts here.