Ideas factory: A permanent digital helpdesk service for the EU

This entry was the winner of the 2014 #Talkdigital writing competition, an initiative through which the digital team of the European Commission gave the opportunity to citizens to present their ideas about institutional communication.

Digital communication is not only about communicating issues — it is also about practical help and direct social links between individuals. The EU should learn from online customer feedback products and mix it with Reddit’s AMA culture.

Let me briefly explain: Companies often use online channels to help customers and provide a service that adds real value. Take for example @DB_Bahn, @eurostar or @talktalkcare on Twitter — they provide a simple service for their customers: Ask us any question about our service and we will try and help you. Another example: Today’s digital culture could not exist without Reddit’s ‘Ask me anything’ (AMA) events. The reason why they are so successful is simple: everyone can join, it’s fun and the barriers to participate are perceived to be minimal. The EU needs to learn from these examples: Create a friendly online helpdesk that is not only useful but also easy to reach and fun to interact with.

The good news is that the Commission (and other EU institutions) already operates quite a few services that aim to help citizens to find information — but they need to be adapted to the digital age. For example, the EC’s “Europe direct” services are a great way of finding information — also on the local level. The European Commission operates a phone and a web chat service, an email enquiry service for more complex question — even with the promise of an answer within three days. However, I think those services need a better digital presence. But to make it really useful for citizens this service needs to cover “the EU” and not only one institution! Phoning the Commission or writing an email are good ways of getting in touch but in a world of digital communication we should think about more innovative methods that provide a more direct feedback experience.

So here is the idea: Create one single helpdesk website (in an ideal world for all EU institutions!) — maybe by using one of the various customer feedback management software solutions (something like uservoice) — which can cater for all sorts of citizen enquiries. This service should cover everything from finding a specific website or document on to more elaborated questions about policies and EU law. Multilingual “AskEU” twitter and facebook profiles could be used to immediately answer the quick and easy questions. A strict policy would would need to be developed to focus on information — and not on debate. Of course not everything needs to be answered immediately, requests could also be forwarded to other services — the important thing is to keep people informed about the status of their request. By publishing all answers you will quickly develop a memory of FAQs that many people will find useful to read. The service could also host regular interactive AMA-style events “Ask us anything about directive X, policy Y or role of EP”. A new digital helpdesk service with a strong social media component could be innovative way to explain EU issues and create a new way to interact with citizens.