How Government Can Improve the Customer Experience

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A new report from Forrester ranks government last when it comes to customer experience, but that could quickly improve by adopting some commercial best practices.

Karen Terrell is vice president of federal at SAS.

Unlike hotels and restaurants, government agencies do not depend on the satisfaction of their “clients” to stay in business. As it turns out, government is lucky that’s the case.

According to Forrester Research’s Customer Experience Index, the federal government finished last among 21 major industries when it came to customer experience. Government even fell behind industry segments notorious for poor customer service, such as airlines and cable providers.

Given the Obama administration made improving customer service a priority, it is a bit puzzling agency efforts have yet to yield widespread results. Of the 319 brands Forrester ranked, five of the bottom eight came from the federal government.

While some agencies have made notable strides in improving their customer experience, the government as a whole clearly has not. So what can be done to tip the scales on customer satisfaction?

Look to Commercial Best Practices

Rating the government on customer experience is difficult given the wide-ranging missions and areas of support to the citizen. And quite frankly, agencies probably lack the tools, budget or expertise to make this a priority. The industries with the best customer service rely heavily on customer intelligence solutions.

These tools not only reflect how customers rate their current experience, but also provide valuable insight into what customers want that experience to be; these capabilities would serve the government well. Agencies looking to improve customer experience should consider the following:

  • Public sentiment analysis that can delve into all types of citizen comments and feedback from a wide-range of public data sources. Text mining everything from public records to social media posts will provide agencies insights into how their constituents are feeling about current levels of service and enable them to adjust accordingly.
  • Service response that ensures citizens who need specific services the most receive them effectively and efficiently. To make the largest impact, agencies need to provide the best service to the citizens in greatest need. While all citizens will say their need is important, determining what tasks will have the most impact makes the most sense, especially for agencies that interact more frequently with citizens.
  • Predictive analysis that can gauge citizen reaction to potential policies, initiatives, communications and the like. Agencies need to know if how they intend to communicate with customers is in a way customers actually want to interact. Similarly, what may seem like a good idea in theory may turn out otherwise in practice. Testing policies or initiatives before they are enacted is a great way to gauge citizen response before launching.  
  • Early indicators and warnings that can identify and categorize patterns and potential issues. Human behavior changes over time, so policies or methods of engagement that once worked may not be as successful in the future. By looking at early indicators, agencies can make proactive changes that mitigate problems before they surface.

Customer Intelligence Improves Canada’s Parks

The Government of Alberta, Canada, recently witnessed the power of customer intelligence. The province’s park service emailed a survey to more than 1.8 million visitors, following a park visit. While the more than 15,000 returned surveys included a large amount of numerical data, the surveys also allowed respondents to provide written feedback. While valuable, it was difficult and time-consuming to make use of this type of feedback.

By implementing a text mining customer intelligence tool, the Alberta government could quickly make sense of that written data. The text mining tool reviewed the responses, provided weights to each comment and submitted a report on a weekly basis, allowing the government to gain information needed to make changes.

Big Changes Require Small Steps

While this is a small improvement, listening to customers and acting on their input is the most straight-forward way to see improved results. Enough small improvements, and agencies can see major change over time.

As noted, the Forrester survey is a bit unfair to government as agencies are generally more focused on their mission than dedicated customer service, unlike the other industries surveyed. With that said, government is in a position to make quick and lasting improvements. With the right customer intelligence, and a dedication to customer experience, agencies can drastically improve their reputation in a short time.