Nick Vat, in his recent presentation at our London workshop, used the example of a major fashion retailer to make some pertinent points about the importance of people, process and technology in providing excellent customer service.
In the context of digital transformation of public service, he discussed the importance of focusing on understanding the needs of citizens before embarking on a technology project. His presentation included some sequences from a video interview with a major corporate client in the fashion industry.
As part of a digital engagement trends report, the firm GovDelivery conducted a survey of 1,100+ government communicators at the local, state and federal level in the US and UK at the end of last year to find out what their priorities were for 2016. While some of the survey results are not surprising – in fact, they are expected – other results are very interesting and reflect a shift in governments’ thinking about citizen engagement.
In last year’s survey, some 51% of respondents indicated that improving citizen experience was a top priority. In this year’s survey, the figure is 82% – a major increase. Clearly, governments now understand the significance of providing a positive citizen experience. Good news here.
When asked what their four top challenges were for 2016, not surprisingly, 60% listed lack of budget and 50% lack of resources. Forty-five percent cited driving audience engagement with content and 40% driving customer satisfaction with online services.
The latter two challenges were not even mentioned in last year’s survey. These results reflect a recognition that achieving citizen engagement and satisfaction is not easy. But where do respondents perceive the challenges to be? User education, for one. Eighty-three percent believe their target audience has no or just a limited understanding of the services their agencies provide. Training is also a major challenge. Forty-three percent of the respondents felt they were not sufficiently trained on digital trends. An additional 24% were unsure if the training they had received was sufficient.
Websites remain the top digital communications channels (87%) followed by social media (63%) and email (51%). And that’s where the investment dollars are going. Forty percent of respondents indicated website improvements had the highest return on investment, followed by social media programs (22%) and messaging – eMail and SMS (17%).
I found the results of the survey very encouraging. I see a focus on the right things and a realistic assessment of the complexity of implementing effective citizen eServices. What’s the expression? Half of the solution is understanding what the problem is…
The video, below, is from the 2015 Government Transformation Forum. It’s a panel discussion about the issues and challenges of moving government services from labor-intensive, manual paper-processing operations to a “more customer-centric end-to-end self-service experience…that dramatically transform[s] the user experience and improve[s] customer satisfaction.”
The panelists do a good job describing the organizational and technological challenges associated with such a sea-change transformation. They briefly touch on the issue of change management: How do you transform the role of the employees from moving paper to knowledge workers?
Change management is raised in just about every discussion on optimizing citizen experience that I’ve read. Having employees understand how their jobs have changed is critical to the success of the transformation – but that’s just the half of it. What I’ve yet to see are discussions of how employees need to change how they think about their customer: the citizen. That’s something that seems to be taken for granted; which will magically happen once the processes and technology have been transformed.
Let me give you an example of what I mean from personal experience: My phone company has invested probably hundreds of millions of dollars integrating and upgrading their customer service systems and processes. As part of that, customer-facing employees were provided training and scripts to follow when customers called in for service.
I had just moved to a new home and needed a second phone line. I also needed to transfer the phone number of my second line in my old home to that of my new home. When I called, I was greeted with an outpouring of charm: “How are you today, Mr. Larkin? Thank you for calling XYZ. How may I be of service today? Once we got over the pleasantries and into the purpose of my call, I was informed the phone number could not be transferred (two customer service representatives had told me earlier this was possible). Furthermore, I could choose a new number from a selection of numbers. However, they could not guarantee the number would work and, hence, I would need to call in to get a new number (which, of course, was not guaranteed to work either – I’m not making this up). By the time we got to that part of the conversation, steam was coming out of my ears. The representative clearly could tell I was frustrated as she told me: “I understand Mr. Larkin why you would be feeling frustrated.” Since none of this made sense, I asked to speak to a supervisor and was informed none were available. At that point, I decided to end the call. The representative thanked me for calling and then asked: “Have I provided you with excellent service today?” My point here is that this employee was providing exactly the same type of (poor) service she was providing before the “transformation.” The only thing that was different were the responses she was giving.
So the moral of the story is: transforming employees’ behavior and attitude towards the citizen are critical and must be an integral part of optimizing citizen experience.
There’s a plethora of articles and white papers about the importance of optimizing citizen experience (OCE) in eGovernment and all the benefits it brings. So let’s say you’re sold on the concept and decide to embark on a citizen experience improvement program for your organization/agency. How do you go about it?
The first question to ask is: What is it exactly that you’re trying to achieve? Or, put another way, what problem are you trying to solve? It has been my experience that OCE implementers commonly focus either on a subset of all the things that need to be done or on the wrong things altogether.
Rick Parrish, a Senior Analyst at Forrester Research, has articulated the problem very succinctly:
“When people think about improving the customer [citizen] experience, oftentimes they think about these surface-level solutions only. They think it’s only skin deep. But to really create an organization from the ground up or, sometimes even more difficult, changing an existing organization – to really be focused on the customer experience – goes far deeper than just the sort of thin patina that the customers actually deal with on the surface.
“We really [need to] break this down to a series of different disciplines of customer experience: there’s strategy, there’s customer understanding, there’s design, there’s metrics – measurement, there’s governance and there’s culture. And if you’re missing one of those, you’re not getting the whole picture – which is why this idea of improving the customer experience isn’t really just about this particular touchpoint or that particular interaction. It’s really about creating or recreating an organization that’s designed to function from the outside in.”
The point here is that improving citizen experience involves many dimensions and is a complex thing to do because each dimension is a discipline in and of itself. Take, for example, something as simple as making data available on line. As Mr. Parrish again puts it very succinctly: “[There’s a] difference between having information technically available and actually making it discoverable and easy to use. There’s a lot of information that’s out there but if it’s not easily discoverable or easily usable by people, the “product” is OK but the experience is terrible.”