4 Key Customer Experience Strategies To Become Citizen Obsessed

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Governments that fall further behind in customer engagement risk much more than just public criticism and electoral defeat.

Rick Parrish and Jennifer Belissent are analysts at Forrester Research. Rick helps governments with customer experience strategy and Jennifer works with government CIOs on BT strategy.

Seven of the 10 worst organizations in Forrester's U.S. Consumer Customer Experience Index are U.S. federal agencies.Only a third of Americans say their experience with U.S. government agencies meets their expectations, and state and local governments don't fare any better.

Faced with this dismal performance, federal, state and local governments are learning what organizations in every industry have discovered: The only sustainable competitive advantage is knowledge of and engagement with customers.

Make no mistake -- the pressure is on. As companies in every industry become more customer obsessed, the people's expectations of government will continue to rise. Governments that fall further behind risk much more than just public criticism and electoral defeat. They jeopardize their stability and economic prosperity as people, companies and other investors vote with their feet and find better places to live and work.

Sound dramatic? Perhaps, but to many cities, states and countries, the brain drain is a reality. When the U.K. lifted immigration restrictions in 2014, Bulgarians and Romanians boarded buses en masse, and more than 50,000 made the move by the end of that year. Detroit lost 25 percent of its population over the past 10 years. On the business front, investments often flow in and out based on ease of doing business, a measure the World Bank tracks at the national and subnational level.

Four imperatives are critical to drive citizen-obsession in every government organization:

Embrace and enable the mobile mind shift. Governments must shift their thinking on mobile, building it into a primary customer connection to provide services on demand and in context, facilitate the dissemination of information both to and from the public, and become a societywide mobile enabler. In the U.S., Federal Student Aid engages high-school students about college financial aid on Snapchat and provides information for their parents on Facebook. FEMA’s mobile app and website let witnesses upload geotagged pictures of disasters so officials can mount the right response faster.

Turn big data into insights and innovation. Governments already collect the data they need to make better decisions -- then lock it away in organizational silos where it can't achieve its potential. Governments must integrate their data and build the analytical systems to act on it. When they do, they'll become more responsive to the public's needs, improve both short-term operations and long-term planning, and fuel public innovation. SFPark in San Francisco is now using analytics to smooth parking. SFPark changes hourly parking rates to reflect demand, potentially raising city revenue and reducing congestion by discouraging the use of cars during peak hours.

Transform the customer experience. We already gave you the bad news on your CX. Ad hoc efforts to find and fix the highest-profile CX disasters aren't enough -- truly improving CX requires a strategic, systematic approach. Governments that get serious about improving their CX find their efforts improve people's patriotism, the efficacy of legislation, public engagement and the effectiveness of government offices. The Transportation Security Administration was a laughingstock a few years ago, but big CX improvements starting in 2012 have changed the public's --and Congress' -- attitude toward the agency.

Accelerate digital government. When governments make the move to digital, they will achieve greater operational efficiency and flexibility and give rise to powerful public-private digital ecosystems. Colorado's new digital unemployment insurance systems will reduce fraud by making it easy for the state's Department of Labor and Employment to identify improper payments and track down the recipients.

Our research shows governments achieve breakout success with customer obsession only when their strategies combine all four of these imperatives in mutually reinforcing ways. For example, faced with a rapidly changing customer set and a CX scandal, the Department of Veterans Affairs is reinventing itself to provide better experiences and health outcomes for tech-savvy veterans. VA fast-tracked the creation of a digital services team to modernize back-end systems, expand digital workflows and create better digital touchpoints like a mobile health care portal.

The agency contracted with IBM Watson to leverage big data for doctors who need the best clinical information for patients with post traumatic stress disorder. To ensure all its changes stay focused on the customer, VA hired a chief customer officer with the mandate to work across silos and achieve an easier and more unified VA customer experience.

These four imperatives are the path to success in the age of the citizen. Business technology powers this change. Governments can no longer make decisions about technologies, products, services or channels in isolation from each other. Instead, leaders must focus on technologies, systems and processes that can power all of these aspects of government. This is the BT agenda: A set of priorities that ensures that technologies, systems and processes are up to the ever-more difficult task of serving customers.

Embracing these new market imperatives will not be an easy task for government leaders. Legal challenges abound. Procurement offices will dig in their heels. Citizens won't always take advantage of new service options. But these challenges pale in comparison to the dangers of doing nothing. If you’re not already customer obsessed, the time to start is now.

(Image via totallyPic.com/ Shutterstock.com)

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