Government customer experience: are we making progress yet?
Over the past several years I've been asked more times than I can count: "Why should government care about customer experience?"
The assumption is usually that governments don't have to care about customers, citizens, and residents because government is a monopoly. So what's the use?
I understand why people would feel this way. Government doesn't necessarily have the best reputation when compared to consumers' experiences with private sector organizations. Almost everyone has at least one story of how an interaction with a government organization impacted their life in a not-so-great way.
But there are multiple reasons why governments should care about the citizen experience, and some emerging examples of governments showing they do care. I shared some of those points on a recent mini master class for Julia Ahlfeldt's Decoding the Customer podcast. On the podcast, I also mentioned some of the not-frequently-talked-about roadblocks that can keep governments from moving as quickly as citizens (and even many public servants themselves!) want.
Here are some of the highlights from the recording.
Government touches everyone, every day. It belongs to everyone. Trust, efficiency, and transparency should be at the heart of the relationship between a government and its citizens. But there's usually a gap between what citizens expect and what government delivers.
Why Government Should Care: Two Big Reasons
From where I sit, there are two big reasons why government organizations should care about experience management.
First, government touches everyone, every day. It belongs to everyone. Trust, efficiency, and transparency should be at the heart of the relationship between a government and its citizens. But, there’s usually a huge disparity between what you expect as a citizen and what most government agencies deliver. You don’t need a lot of fancy data to tell you that. Just think about some of your own experiences at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), applying for student aid, veteran or social security benefits, or maybe a small business loan. When citizens’ basic expectations aren’t being met, that erodes their trust in government.
Second, there’s a business side to running a government agency. Just like experience management practices like voice of the customer, strategy, governance, and service design can help private sector businesses to be more efficient, the same is true in government. The nuances of politics, law, policy, and regulation make it more complicated to get the work done sometimes, but you can’t deny the business benefits of these proven practices.
Here are three examples of how some government entities are approaching and thinking about experience management.
There is a business side to running a government agency. Just like experience management practices can help businesses to be more efficient, the same is true in government.
1. Momentum Around the World
There's a lot of attention right now on Service New South Wales (NSW) in Australia as an example of what is possible in government experience management. More than 850 citizen transactions across 40 agencies are now streamlined beneath the Service NSW umbrella. As you might imagine, making that happen behind the scenes was no small task. It required a huge team of public servants invested in and passionate about their citizens. Now, there is less confusion for citizens about where to go for what. And they're not done yet. They created a role for a minister for customer service, and just got $50 million in funding. When you see top-most leadership and funding dedicated to something in government, then you know the commitment is serious.
2. Focusing on Resources Available
Not every government has a big budget or a senior leader assigned to experience management, but there are examples of governments using the resources they do have to connect with citizens. Dublin City Council in Dublin, Ireland, for example, is using opt-in online panels to increase the feedback they can cultivate when they’re making decisions about things like zoning, local events, and policies. Citizens and residents opt in to the panel, they get a quarterly survey on the topics that matter to the local community, and the city council then uses feedback to help make decisions. As a citizen, you don’t necessarily have to show up to a town hall meeting to voice your opinion on the big topics anymore. This is a win for citizens who want modernization and digitization from their local government.
3. Growing Influence of Oversight Bodies in the U.S.
Meanwhile, back in the U.S., federal agencies now have White House guidance, legislation, and the president’s management agenda goal on customer experience that move experience management practices from "nice to have" into the realms of reality and requirement.
It's also worth noting that oversight bodies like the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and Inspectors General (IG) are using their influence, as well, to call for agencies to collect more customer feedback, clarify communication with citizens, and speed up customer wait times at the post office. The Veterans Affairs (VA) IG is also now systematically using customer and employee feedback data to assess leadership and operational risks inside VA medical facilities. The GAO and IGs have similar missions: to make government better and to mitigate fraud, waste, and abuse. When they call for agencies to improve, that call comes in public, written form. Agencies can't ignore their findings and recommendations. They have to respond.
All this being said, it’s important to understand some of the roadblocks that continually loom for many government agencies. Sometimes laws that were created long ago stand in the way of agencies creating new solutions that would make certain processes easier, faster, and more transparent for citizens, agencies, and even their elected officials. In the U.S., Congress is responsible for changing laws. Agencies aren’t.
Thanks to Julia for the opportunity to highlight some examples of customer experience practices in motion around the world, along with some of the reasons why it isn’t always as easy as you might think for governments to just change how they do things. The good news is we haven’t seen the last of the progress. In fact, I believe this is just the beginning.
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Author bio: Stephanie Thum is a Certified Customer Experience Professional (CCXP) and the former head of customer experience for the Export-Import Bank of the United States, a federal government agency that finances and insures exports toward the creation of U.S. jobs. During her time in government, she also served as an advisor for President Obama’s cross-agency task force on customer service. She is currently the chief advisor for federal customer experience at Qualtrics. She has written and spoken extensively on the topic of customer experience management in the government world, and beyond. See more posts from Stephanie here.
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