Digital Trends That Could Send Your Project Back to the Drawing Board

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Government agencies that want to improve their customer experience will need to adapt to  changing consumer trends, including people’s urge to unplug from their digital devices.

People increasingly want to opt out and unsubscribe from the alerts and newsletters that have become a part of modern life, according to an annual trend report from Accenture Interactive’s Fjord, a global digital services group that focuses on human-centric design.

“The trends themselves capture early signals about what’s happening in the commercial sector. The most applicable part of that to government agencies is what we call liquid expectations,” Lauren Oliver, Fjord’s group design director at the recently expanded Accenture Federal Digital Studio, told Nextgov.

Those expectations are shaped by the digital interactions people have every day.

“In the commercial sector, we talk a lot about how you’re not just comparing one bank to another bank, you’re comparing that bank to Venmo or you’re comparing that to your experience at Disneyland where there’s totally frictionless payments with your MagicBand,” Oliver said.

Changes in commercial sector products affect what people expect from government services. For example, the trend report found people are taking a Marie Kondo-approach to digital tools: They’re asking whether content and apps are adding value to their lives and getting rid of the ones that don’t. Oliver said this trend gives agencies a clue about how people want to be communicated with right now. Instead of frequent messages or shouting to be heard, agencies should create intentional communications strategies that are more signal than noise.

“A couple years ago the trend was, ‘Oh everything’s gotta be sticky’ and if people aren’t opening this app every day, it must not be very good. And I think what more and more companies and agencies are realizing is that is the wrong measure of an app,” Oliver said.

It can be easy to measure the wrong thing. In call centers, for example, Oliver said agencies frequently look at changes in call volume to determine whether they resolved a citizen’s issue. Instead, officials should zoom out to see if the agency understood the question and whether the citizen got the answer on the first try.

Customers’ relationship with data is also changing; they question why organizations ask for certain information and whether they can be trusted to protect it, according to the trend report. For agencies, Oliver sees an opportunity to make collecting data easier on the user while also improving the information the agency receives.

“Users see forms as a point of friction and the more information you’re asking for and/or need to collect, the more of a burden you’re putting on a person who’s trying to get from point A to point B,” she said. Agencies could create smart forms to whittle down choices based on the user’s previous answers, flag potentially incomplete or incorrect data (like when a user misses a digit in a credit card number) or, if systems allow it, prepopulate data.  

“As a designer, there’s a lot of really simple things you can make smart for that tactical interface level,” she said.

Another challenging trend is that people want to be treated as individuals by organizations but personalization is hard to scale. That leads to the inclusivity paradox—when a design tries to appeal to everyone but unintentionally excludes groups. The trend report suggests to design for consumer mindsets instead of using demographics like age, gender, location, income or family status. Mindsets are more useful for understanding what will define a user’s behavior over time, Oliver said.

“The other challenge that sometimes happen within agencies is that ideas get knocked down because they are not going to work for everybody,” Oliver said. “When you’re thinking about mindsets, it gives you permission to not have to force ideas into a one-size-fits-all bucket.”