Last updated: How to improve citizen services: Digital governing requires empathy + CX

How to improve citizen services: Digital governing requires empathy + CX


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Customer experience is complicated. Governing is difficult. Combine the two and it’s no wonder that many in leadership are wondering how to improve citizen services as government moves to adapt to the digital age.

Although in business there’s a great focus on customer experience, many people wrestle with truly understanding the concept.

When we look past the buzzy, superficial use of the phrase, we find that it describes an exceptionally complex, multi-factor construct. Without a thoughtful and science-based consideration of customer experience (CX), it’s almost impossible to create and deploy the most powerful and compelling experiences.

Customer experience starts with a rich, multi-dimensional expression of inputs including cognitive, emotional, affective, physical, and social elements.

Next, the specific context in which those inputs exist layer on another level of complexity – add in the political nature of government, and you can quickly see how difficult it can be to communicate with citizens and get their feedback.

How to improve citizen services: 4 ways customer experience can improve government – and society

Since CX is embedded in virtually every type of service interaction, the sheer multitude of contexts make customer experience a daunting concept. Therefore, in order to better understand, create, and manage target customer experience solutions, we need to start by simplifying the concept.

A use case which seems especially relevant right now is citizen services. With both health and economic disruption being so persuasive this year, governments are increasingly communicating with citizens in digital interactions.

There are four ways leaders can apply CX principles to engage residents and improve citizen services: 

  1. Reduce complexity by focusing on the citizen journey
  2. Focus on alleviating citizen pain points by reducing bureaucratic red tape
  3. Experience management can help governments can better understand what citizens want and need
  4. Leverage insights to provide frictionless engagement between citizens and governments

Lesson #1: Reduce CX complexity in citizen services by focusing on a well-defined context

So many contexts, so little time

Studies indicate that customer experience can be particularly challenging when applied to the public sector.

Citizen experience in government: Treating citizens like customers drives triple value impact

A recent Deloitte study highlights the ways that governments around the world are improving the citizen experience, efficiency, and effectiveness of the services they’re delivering by making CX a central function of governments.

Citizen services address the vast portfolio of services that citizens need (and expect) to easily access from governments entities.

These federal, state, and local institutions provide:

  • Social programs
  • Transportation
  • Infrastructure services
  • Tax and revenue management
  • Public safety programs
  • Immigration services, and more
Citizen engagement (the public sector specific customer experience context) is the metric for assessing how intuitive and stress free these services are. Successful citizen engagement is tied directly to digital channel adoption, cost reduction, and decreased case backlog.

Unfortunately, only few governments have prioritized citizen engagement and citizen experience.

In the instances where they’re lacking and the experience gap is wide, we must ask what factors are most important to improve the citizen experience. Then, we need to determine how to optimize the citizen journey by activating empathetic design wrapped around a powerful technology ecosystem.

Lesson #2: Focus on fixing citizen pain points with a context that is relevant

Motivation and Frustration

To best optimize citizen engagement, we need to focus on the experiential components of citizen services.

Two cognitive factors play a particularly critical role. The first has an emotional connotation and is categorized as a “frustration.” The second falls into the decision-making domain and is categorized as “motivation.”

Although this may seem obvious, it’s important to understand how powerful these are in the experience domain.

The following hypothetical consumer buying process/journey lays the groundwork for framing citizen services implications:

Rob’s been promoted, and now can now afford the car of his dreams. He starts an information gathering phase, investing a considerable amount of time searching for the best car at the best price.

Finally, he has all the information he needs and begins the purchase process.

At this point, he’s highly motivated with no frustration. Unfortunately, Rob is told the car he’s selected will take 6 months to be delivered. Motivation is still very high, but some frustration starts to creep in.

After 4 months of waiting, Rob receives a call from his dealership: Due to production issues, his new car delivery has been delayed yet another 6 months. Now he’s frustrated, and when his frustration exceeds his motivation, he will no longer be willing to wait for his dream car.

This simple consumer buying example suggests that:

  • Motivation is usually very high at the end of the information gathering stage
  • Frustration generally develops as the purchase journey progresses (and, potentially, through post-purchase phases). This is the primary reason for customer churn which leads to lost revenue, higher customer care costs, and brand erosion.

Now, imagine the role these two factors might play in a context which is inherently ladened with anxiety and stress when it comes to citizen services, like accessing unemployment insurance or emergency services.

Traditionally, bureaucratic citizen journeys are not only insensitive and frustrating – they also usually depend on manual intervention, which frustrates both citizens and government employees, and also makes them overly expensive.

This can be a crushing experience if not managed adequately. With limited in person capabilities, antiquated portals cannot deal with surge demand, call centers volumes exceed capacity, and case backlogs soar. Sometimes, families simply don’t get critical services.

All these factors contribute to amplify the role that motivation and frustration play within such experiential conditions. Engaging citizen services means higher citizen satisfaction, greater efficiency, decreased case backlog, and reduced costs.

Lesson #3: Citizen experience management should always focus on the most relevant factors to mitigate frustration and maximize motivation

Poor citizen journeys are not only the result of an inadequate experience design. Often, they’re also the result of weak underlying technology. The two-prong experience failure of experience and technology breeds leading to an expensive lack of citizen engagement.

Powerful Citizen Services Solution

Experience led technology design can positively change human experiences and transform citizen services and engagement. Knowledge and insight are critical while technology is the enabler to obtain and understand the necessary actions to drive the future of digital citizen services.

When addressing citizen engagement, governments use the power of experience management solutions at the right touchpoints to help better connect them to available data and capabilities (e.g., education, employment, wealth, health, occupation).

Such data integration will not only inform governments about who their citizens are, but also provide valuable insights into citizen needs on an individual level. This allows governments to deliver highly personalized citizen experiences tailored to the specific use case at hand.

Lesson #4: Leverage the power of technology and combine it with the richness of the experiential components

What does this all mean?

It means citizen services need to be carefully designed on platforms that allow for rich, empathetic, and intuitive experiences which serve to minimize frustration and motivate citizens to navigate through the experience.

Human insight and personalization are key in the deployment of citizen services, making it a powerful tool to engage citizens, increase awareness, access, and consumption of social services. If citizen services are truly meant to benefit citizens, technology and design must work together to provide intuitive, stress free digital experiences.

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