What Citizens Are Trying to Tell Us


Are we listening?

Agencies have long struggled with how to both improve customer experience and reduce cost to serve. For many, these have seemed competing ambitions. By using new channels, particularly social media and artificial intelligence and advanced analytics tools, it’s now increasingly possible to more efficiently deliver enhanced services that improve customer experience.

For federal agencies looking to improve their customer experience and reduce costs, new technologies can deliver enhanced service at a lower overall cost. Through the use of artificial intelligence and related analytic tools, they can engage social media in support of measurable improvements. 

Even for the savviest brands, using social media can be challenging: It’s a crowded, fast-moving, ever-changing space, with unprecedented visibility. That said, social media is the tool of choice for millions of people, used every day to share ideas and experiences. That makes it an opportune place to engage. Government can gather substantial insights about the citizen experience through close scrutiny of the social media channels their customers use, like LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. 

This point was particularly evident in our work with the Partnership for Public Service around customer experience in government. Our most recent report—Government for the People: Profiles on the Customer Experience—provides thorough analysis of eight of the federal government’s high impact citizen services, including airport security screening, student financial assistance applications and paying taxes.

As a part of this work, we analyzed some 80,000 online posts. We found that social media can be an especially powerful tool in the quest to deliver services that meet ever-increasing citizen expectations. Our analysis showed a number of specific ways in which agencies can leverage social media to enhance citizen experience—and increase efficiency in delivering services.

Why social media?

Government does not lack for citizen feedback. Agencies routinely seek input on the user experience through a variety of conventional methods including questionnaires and survey mechanisms, and increasingly by gathering voice of the customer feedback through interviews, focus groups and other means. Social media offers a new lens through which to view these encounters and gain valuable, timely insight.

Social media is immediate: It reaches people where they are, in near real time. It’s personally engaging and allows for very broad amplification. That means agencies can use social media to engage with customers in a genuine and human way, having conversations that often aren't possible through other means.

Given its breadth and scope, social media can act a force multiplier. Providing information in a public forum helps not just the single user but any other individual who may have the same question. 

Beyond these ways in which agencies can leverage social media for valuable insights, we can point to five specific avenues by which the comments (and concerns) posted online can be used to drive enhancements in government service.

  • Social media offers a pulse check, an early indicator of emerging issues that agencies can easily fix. For example, when a citizen notes a broken link, a wrong phone number on a form or missing information on a website, agencies can move quickly before the issue becomes widespread. This can avoid surges in calls to contact centers –which are costly and take time away from addressing more complex customer needs
  • Predictive analytics applied to social media can also help agencies to spot trends and identify emerging risks in key areas like health care or national security, directing resources to where customer need them most. 
  • Agencies can use social media as a place to answer questions. Providing authoritative information in response to a social media post not only resolves the issue for that user; it magnifies the agency voice, potentially aiding others who may have the same question. 
  • Misconceptions often arise online, so why not address them online? When incorrect information emerges on social media, agencies can act quickly in that space to deliver timely, authentic, and accurate government information. 
  • Finally, social media is a great place to highlight successes. While many people turn to social media to complain, others are equally likely use their online voice to compliment excellent service. By tracking and sharing the compliments, agencies are able to celebrate people who are doing a particularly good job, and to recognize locations that are being praised for the efficiency and effectiveness of their service.

We know that information gleaned from social media can serve as a powerful complement to surveys, anecdotal information, and other means of monitoring and measuring citizen experience. By combining diverse qualitative and quantitative data sources, agencies can build a more complete and actionable picture of citizen experience spanning all channels – in person, on the phone, and online. Voice of the customer feedback – including from social media –

consistently reveals unexpected insights that may otherwise be overlooked.   

Many agencies are making this journey a priority, focusing on better understanding and enhancing citizen interactions. The next step for most will be to more thoroughly and consistently analyze their data, revealing actionable insights that yield measurable improvements in customer experience and service delivery.

Kathy Conrad is the director of digital government for Accenture Federal Services.