4 Myths of Citizen Experience


What is required for success is to abandon old myths and fundamentally shift our thinking.

Josh Plaskoff is director of learning and technology service development at HighPoint Global

Any time we face new challenges that require a shift in thinking, we are naturally drawn to pathways that are the familiar, the comfortable, the expedient or the one of least resistance. The result is that we generate myths based on old ways of thinking that can derail even the most conscientious effort. What is required for success is to abandon old myths and fundamentally shift our thinking.  

The government needs to revamp the way it interacts with citizens. Recent surveys show incredibly low “customer satisfaction” and trust levels with federal agencies. Citizen experience, or CX, is more than improving call center metrics; it involves a holistic look at how and where citizens interact with the government and improving these touch points to meet their expectations. To do this, we need to do some myth-busting to ensure the changes implemented make a real difference.

Myth #1: The right technology will create the best citizen experience.

This has been a classic error made with almost every organizational change. In the early days of knowledge management, technology was often pitched as the solution to harnessing an organization’s intellectual capital. What resulted were many systems that at best stored information but not knowledge and at worst served as electronic paperweights.  

While technologies are ubiquitous and necessary components of a citizen experience project, we must recognize they are merely components. The relationships, messages and quality of communications that take place through those media are the critical pieces.  

Citizen experience, first and foremost, springs from human relationship and human needs and must be treated as such. Technology can help to supplement that relationship and bridge the distance between individuals.

However, if its implementation does not reflect a relationship of empathy, appreciation, and understanding of the citizen, it will set back rather than elevate the citizen experience. Instead of focusing exclusively on technology as a solution, truly understand citizens and then use technology as an enabler for citizen experience relationship.  

Myth #2: If we reward employees for citizen experience, citizen experience will improve.

This myth is based on outmoded psychology that simply doesn’t work. Daniel Pink has dealt with this at length in his book, “Drive.” While this will work for simple mechanical tasks, it does not work for complex and demanding tasks like providing great service.

What drives employees to provide great experiences to others is a sense of purpose, of meaning. Don’t get me wrong—reinforcing behaviors that lead toward great citizen experiences is important, particularly through leadership messages, promotions systems, and verbal feedback.

But in the end, what drives employees to provide great service is that they find personal meaning in their actions. This can come from a variety of places—participating in improving the agency’s approach, using their talents to help others, feeling valued for their work, or building caring relationships with others. It is easy to implement rewards and assume the work is done. Be sure employees are motivated by a meaningful vision of what a good citizen experience means and how each employee contributes to it.

Myth #3: Process improvement is the heart of improving citizen experience.

This myth is similar to the technology myth. The assumption is that if the correct processes are put in place, great citizen experience will follow. Relationships are not built through processes, no matter how good they are. They are built through attitudes, values, communication, and genuine connections of trust and empathy.

The heart of improving the citizen experience is not changing process; it is transforming culture. The organizational culture influences employees’ actions through the values, assumptions and beliefs it holds dear. 

Processes are indeed important. But if they do not reflect a culture of service and care for the citizen, they will create conflict in the minds of employees, which will reflect in their actions. Citizens can easily distinguish between genuine care and concern and mechanical “recipe following.” Be sure you spend time on developing the firm foundation of a strong culture of service that is meaningful to employees at all levels of the agency.

Myth #4: The leaders of the agency own citizen experience.

Organizations often look to single leaders to make initiatives happen. Leaders then often take ownership of that initiative, as they are accountable for its success. This leads to initiatives that drive for compliance from the top. For citizen experience to be successful, it must spring from a commitment to ownership from the bottom—from those that touch the citizen and processes that impact them.  

A different type of leadership is required. Leaders must take the role of facilitators, creating an environment that enables employees to feel personal responsibility for the citizen’s experience. Ownership for the citizen experience falls on everyone in the organization – not just the leader.

The front-line employees who touch the citizens enact the experience for the citizen; the leaders foster a vision and culture that rally those employees behind a common mission of service. Be vigilant about spreading ownership throughout the agency rather than assuming it resides in the hands of one person.

These myths represent some deeply entrenched beliefs about change and organizations that are difficult to surface and challenge, but they must be if the government hopes to transform the citizen experience. Primarily, they remind us that what we are tackling is a need to change complex human relationships, which requires a thoughtful human solution.  

Understanding the citizen and using technology to enhance the relationship, guiding employees with a meaningful citizen-centric vision, building a strong culture of service, and spreading ownership for citizen experience throughout the organization are keys to a successful transformation.