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46pc of those on gov’t assistance prefer mobile: survey

social services

Nearly half the recipients of assistance from United States human services agencies would likely download and use a mobile application for obtaining services, reflecting mobile’s perceived edge in convenience over traditional human services mechanisms, according to an Accenture survey.

The number jumped to 61 percent when respondents were asked if they would be interested in mobile access to such day-to-day activities as checking their benefits, applying for assistance or submitting questions to caseworkers. The finding suggests that significant benefits in time savings for both citizens and caseworkers may be achievable through the greater use of mobile applications. 

“It’s sad but not surprising that social services are living in the 1970s when it comes to mobile,” said Jeff Hasen, founder and CEO of Gotta Mobilize, a Seattle-based marketing consulting firm. 

“What’s not to like in the new scenario? Recipients of assistance save time, there’s less stress on an overloaded in-person system, 24/7 access to information helps all parties, and there’s a $14 million annual savings.”

Surveying citizens
Via telephone interviews, Accenture surveyed 500 citizens receiving social services in California, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, and North Carolina and Ohio during mid-2014.

The research was fielded by Penn Schoen Berland to gauge interest in mobile applications by individuals currently receiving social services. 

People want mobile in social services.

The results have a margin of error of plus or minus 4.38 percentage points.

Forty-six percent of recipients of assistance from human services agencies surveyed by Accenture said they would likely download and use a mobile application for obtaining services. 

When survey respondents were asked if they would be interested in mobile access to such day-to-day activities as checking their benefits, applying for assistance or submitting questions to caseworkers, the number of those who said they would likely use a mobile app jumped to 64 percent.

The most common means of citizen interaction with social services agencies currently is via telephone (32 percent), followed by in-person office visits (23 percent), according to the survey.

When they do make office visits, nearly half the respondents (49 percent) said they are able to get the answers they need in a reasonable amount of time, while 46 percent said they experience long wait times. 
Just 9 percent of respondents, on average, said they use Web sites for human services-related activities.

The benefits of convenience and time savings associated with mobile applications address the biggest pain points people associate with visiting human services offices, according to the survey.

Mobile applications also can provide potential benefits to agencies by reducing costs to serve citizens, while freeing up caseworkers for higher value-added activities. 

The report estimated that an average-sized U.S. state human services agency could save around $14 million annually by deploying mobile apps for citizens.”

Interestingly, the survey found that the likelihood of middle-aged respondents (35-49 years old) using human services mobile apps is on par with millennials (18-34 years old).

When presented with a variety of potential possibilities for handling specific human services-related activities, 78 percent of middle-aged respondents and 82 percent of millennials said they would likely use mobile apps.

The idea of using mobile in social services is not new. Several years ago, Nokia launched software to help public sector and non-governmental organizations collect data on critical issues such as disease outbreaks or disaster relief via mobile devices.

Lacking urgency
Although governments have used the power of the Internet to aid in the delivery of services since the mid-1990s, most governmental mobile initiatives have focused on Web site design and information delivery.

A cost-savings necessity?

 “The excuse that we would probably hear is that this group of recipients has lacked smartphones and that therefore was no urgency to upgrade the program,” Mr. Hasen said. “But information could always be delivered via SMS, making the efforts both inclusive and appropriate given the mobile times that we live in."

Final Take
Michael Barris is staff reporter on Mobile Marketer, New York.

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Michael Barris is staff reporter on Mobile Marketer and Mobile Commerce Daily, New York.

Related content: Government, Jeff Hasen, Gotta Mobilize, mobile, mobile commerce, mobile marketing, Accenture

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