The Citizen is Always Right

Olivier Le Moal/

How to regain trust through a focus on customer experience.

IT modernization has been the driving mantra for federal agencies for years. Yet, there is still a disconnect between what the citizen, partner and employee experience feels like in reality and what we all know it should be. With IT modernization well underway, it is time government shift its focus from adopting and deploying new tech to making sure it meets expectations and is in service of the modern experience.  

Luckily, there is a groundswell of energy pointed at that very goal. The 2018 President’s Management Agenda mandate recommended that agencies “provide a modern, streamlined and responsive customer experience across government.” Not long after, the 21st Century IDEA Act required executive agency heads to deliver a plan on accelerating the use of digital services by June 2019.

But how can we put all this talk into action? Here are steps government and industry can take to become more citizen-centric.

Give employees the tools to be more responsive.

Ever wonder why Southwest Airlines has such good customer service? The company’s philosophy is built around happy employees = happy customers. In fact, research shows that improving employee experience has a profound positive impact on customer experience. If your agency is full of the people I remember working with, you already have a leg up on private sector: your employees are mission-driven and eager to be public servants. They already want to serve, but that doesn’t mean they won’t appreciate help.

Indeed, the Office of Personnel Management’s 2018 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey revealed that 91 percent of federal employees are looking for ways to do their job better. They want to serve but are asking for the tools to do so. That is low hanging fruit.

A robust set of modern communication channels can increase visibility into service requests or inquiries. For example, citizens who make an inquiry over the phone will receive faster and better-informed responses from contact center agents, who can then relay this information to the right department to give answers correctly and instantly.  Better yet, what if customers had the ability to answer their own questions, whenever possible?

This was the approach the District of Columbia’s Office of Unified Communications took when re-platforming their services so their 700,000 residents could reach out via social channels, website submissions, and more. This cut down their call wait time from roughly seven minutes to 0.31 seconds. Providing streamlined and personalized interactions are one of the best ways to both improve your employee-customer satisfaction as well as your citizen-customer satisfaction.

Look to see where technology can help.

While government agencies have made strides in online tools, the citizen experience is still far from uniform. Why is it you can apply for a loan online, but still receive it in the mail and deal with paperwork manually? Complex and outdated systems, processes and technologies are holding agencies back from the vision of government we all should expect and strive for.

Let’s face it, the best citizen experiences will stem from quality digital platforms and interactions. They drive customer centricity and meet citizen expectations shaped by years of online banking, video streaming services, same-day shipping and more.

For Amtrak, keeping a schedule moving across a mobile environment was challenging as the slightest delay in train turnover logistics, safety inspections or restocking could have huge ripple effects. Moving to a cloud-based platform made it easier to see, understand and quantify best practices across the entire train turnover process and ultimately improve both internal operations and passenger experience.

Be a trailblazer and create a coalition of the willing.

Governments are highly federated. It naturally takes multiple stakeholders who share an innovative vision to solve problems at scale. Too prevalent though, is the mindset that change comes from the top. We all have ideas about how to improve government and our agencies; we all have ideas about how to better serve the citizen. Pioneers for change shouldn’t wait for leadership to provide it but rather break down silos and challenge conventional thinking. The best way to do this? Find like-minded individuals in your agency and department, as well as outside of it. Be bold and bring ideas to the table. By showing broad support and incorporating different views and ideas you boost credibility and likelihood for success.

For the leaders among you, encourage creativity and seek out those trailblazers creating pockets of innovation throughout the organization; give them room to grow. An estimated 75 percent of workplace change initiatives fail, often because leadership neglects the people driving change. Sharing and celebrating progress in a transparent manner can also motivate teams and ultimately build a strong foundation for innovation.

It all comes down to building trust with citizens.

Trust is the currency of government. That trust is lost though when the citizen experience disappoints. But being listened to, feeling heard and being understood is powerful. The government of the future should be one of bi-directional channels. It won’t be easy to get there—new technology has to be in place, cultures have to shift—but we can all agree that the journey is worth the effort.  

Trailblazers in government often face the challenge of helping senior leaders understand what the mission value of IT modernization is. Fortunately, there are strategies and tools at their disposal that can give policymakers and public officials everywhere the opportunity to advance a future of better government services. Customer-centric technology can translate into improved interactions and renewed trust, and agency innovators should begin to explore how to reach that goal.

Todd Schroeder is vice president of Digital Government at Salesforce.

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