Martha Dorris is the founder of Dorris Consulting International, focused on delivering an outstanding experience to the public when interacting with or accessing government services. She provides strategic advice to both governments worldwide and private-sector companies on customer experience.
As the new leaders take control of the government over the next several months, they will have many priorities to balance, such as understanding the complexities of managing government operations and determining what the priorities should be for their departments, agencies and organizations they will be appointed to run.
The newly appointed leadership will be working closely with the career senior executives to ensure veterans, seniors, students and parents, and taxpayers have a government that delivers for them. The partnership between the political and career staffs is critical to ensure the experience and expertise of both teams are leveraged in partnership.
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Agencies should remember that 75 percent of all transactions begin online. Contact centers, however, are still critical to overall service levels. Agencies need to manage the citizen's experience by focusing on the entire journey, not just touchpoint by touchpoint.
Each touchpoint may perform well, but if they aren’t integrated in a way that delivers a consistent experience, the overall satisfaction will not be good. Contact centers are the foundation of the knowledge base that provides content to websites and to customer service representatives.
Sharing best practices and leveraging communities of interest across government, and learning from other countries have the possibility to save millions. Consider the following five strategies to create a citizen-centric government and to drive governmentwide efficiencies:
1. Develop a strategy at the highest level of the enterprise. Of course, creating a strategy at the national level for improved citizen services would provide greater savings than agency by agency or office by office. However, a National Strategy for Citizen Services requires buy-in at the highest levels of the administration and collaboration across agencies. By assessing the “state of citizen services” enterprisewide, savings can be accomplished by:
- Determining where common products and services could be built once and used governmentwide. This has been done many times by the Office of Management and Budget and the General Services Administration, but create products and shared services agencies need, not just a “new shiny thing” that will never get used or fully supported through its life cycle.
- Collecting information centrally on what drives citizens' satisfaction. The kind of information to be collected should be driven by agencies with citizen-facing missions. There may be some gaps that need to be filled by agencies but a large percentage of customer needs can be assessed centrally. If you think this can’t be done, check out the Citizens First 7 in Canada at the Institute for Citizen-Centred Service.
- Create a strategy to transform USA.gov to focus on delivering information and services for agencies and to provide centralized access to common government services informed by agency partners. Identify services that need to be provided at key life events and may cross multiple agencies.
2. Focus attention on the entire journey, including measuring the entire citizen experience based on the entire journey. However, integrate the channels to ensure the citizen gets consistent information from each channel. Questions answered through social media, phone and emails should be mined for common issues and content updated on the appropriate website to encourage self-service, which is the least costly channel.
Consider all strategies to solve the citizen’s problems at the first touchpoint. Many agencies are finding costs rising because of increased number of calls. To divert calls to the self-service channels—including virtual agents—content needs to be easy to access, easy to understand and easy to complete a transaction.
Managing content across channels can deliver ongoing savings. If someone gets a problem solved on the first call, email, or website visit, repeat callers to solve the same problem will be reduced.
3. Manage the citizen’s expectations by focusing valuable resources on what matters to the public. The government tries to do everything for everyone—which is almost impossible. By understanding what matters to citizens, agencies will be able to focus resources in those areas and not on things that don’t drive satisfaction.
In Canada, officials found their Ministry for Immigration believed processing time of an application for citizenship was the most important driver of customer satisfaction. Through human-centered design and research, they found what mattered the most was knowing if their application was received and where it is in the process.
To address this, they are piloting efforts like barcode applications and sending text confirmations when the application is received. This reduced repeat callers to the contact center by 35 percent, thereby saving millions of dollars.
In another example, the Internal Revenue Service was able to reduce calls to its contact centers by managing the public’s expectations for the time it takes to process their returns. Once the IRS began promising tax returns would be processed within 21 days rather than seven to 10 days, satisfaction went up because 70 percent were processed within seven to 10 days.
4. Leverage contact centers and the latest technologies in contact centers to improve overall customer or citizen experience.
Contact centers are a critical touchpoint in the citizen journey. While 70 percent of all journeys begin on the website, customers may begin at the website and still transfer to the phone channel. For high-volume services where it’s almost impossible to not have some level of wait time, there are technological capabilities agencies are not taking advantage of. Contact center companies can manage the knowledge base, or the caller can use the callback or virtual hold features as well as click to chat.
5. Continue leveraging agile development, open source and human-centered design going forward when creating digital services.
The need to improve customer experience is driving many agencies and companies to transform their digital services. Digital citizen engagement platforms provide the ability to integrate channels (i.e., web, phone, email, web chat and social media).
The government approves drugs to cure diseases; provides loans to students so they can attend college; to veterans to buy homes or to entrepreneurs to start small businesses; provides health care insurance; provides applications to become a citizen and disability and/or retirement benefits to our seniors. These services are just a few of the reasons why it’s important that we continue delivering improved services via the public’s channel of choice.