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The Three Keys to Improving Citizen Experience
April 15, 2019 |

The secret to getting ahead is getting started. — Mark Twain

Some may argue that comparing government services with commercial industries isn’t really fair. I understand this, but that’s not how “we” as consumers tend to think.

When was the last time you had a bad experience and said, “It’s okay, [this company/industry] is a bit slower than others; I’ll give them a break” (...Right, that never happens)?

Don’t all the execs in disrupted industries wish that was the case?

(CC: RIM, Blockbuster, Barnes & Noble etc., etc.)

“We”—aka citizens and consumers—expect nothing short of the best experiences regardless of who is providing them—even from our government.

The annual customer experience (CX) index survey conducted by the American Customer Service Index (ACSI) was released in Q1, and surprising no one, the government finished last in the field (a spot that the government has landed more often than not). While there were some signs of improvements with the government’s CX index each of the last two years—2018 marked a step back, as performance dropped 1.1%—thus reversing the upward trend.

Once you’ve experienced the simplicity of returning an item with Amazon Prime, or had a chatbot automatically look-up your account and adjust a billing error, or have pressed a few buttons on your phone while sitting on the couch to have a gourmet meal delivered in mere minutes—you don’t ever re-set your expectations for the experience standard.

The best experience becomes the absolute standard.

This level of experience is what we expect from our government agencies—not some of the time or with certain interactions—but all of the time with all interactions. After all, it’s OUR government.

And it’s not to say that all government agencies are lagging woefully behind in developing innovative, commercial or private industry-level experiences. If you haven’t signed up for USPS’ Informed Delivery, you’re missing out on a super helpful utility—a daily email that provides a scanned preview of every letter or package coming to your doorstep; it’s awesome knowing what to expect in the mail each morning.

Or how about being able to use Amazon’s Alexa to request local 311-related services, learn about local events, or even help your teenager prep for their driver’s exam!

But while there are pockets of outstanding citizen experiences in our midst, they are far from the norm. So how can we help our government get better at delivering top-notch customer/citizen experiences? Over the last decade working in this space, I’ve found a few common threads that can help make your next citizen experience initiative a success.

1. Who’s the Champ(ion)??

As you begin to consider your CX initiative, you’ll need a leader who understands the value of delivering outstanding customer experiences. (If agency leadership is not informed, committed, and supportive of the investment required to deliver experiences worthy of comparison to customer experience benchmarks from private industry, the initiative will not have the desired impact.)

I’ve seen, first-hand, the impact that an empowered project champion can have on CX-related efforts. Consider the following:

During a project kickoff for developing a new mobile application at a cabinet-level agency, the agency’s administrator joined the meeting (unannounced). While we knew this was a project that was important to him, he stepped into our first major meeting with his team and made it clear that improving the citizen experience was one of his top priorities and that we had his full support. This gave our team a true champion who had our back when running into tough situations during the project. The output of this was an award-winning mobile app that continues to add new features to deliver outstanding experiences for citizens. Do whatever it takes to get the support—at the highest levels—from your agency’s leadership!

2. Don’t Back Down!

Given the many challenges for developing world-class customer experiences for government agencies, it’s very easy to listen to the naysayers or your inner critic (“we’ll never be able to do THAT”) when thinking about a new or improved experience. But you have to set those fears aside and truly look at what’s possible without constraints.

Start by using a structured process, such as Design Thinking, that can help you uncover the most impactful, and achievable ideas for your next CX improvement. Once you’ve articulated the ‘art of the possible’, work with your team (or trusted consultants at Phase2) to help prioritize your big ideas by impact and feasibility. The most important thing to keep in mind while you’re doing this is to keep moving forward—don’t let a minor, or even a major, setback discourage you. (And if you’ve done something like this before and not succeeded, try again!)

As an example, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has been using Design Thinking to develop an innovative mobile application called, GRIT that features the real-time collection of data—helping servicemembers understand and strengthen their emotional well-being and resiliency.

But developing the concept for GRIT was not something that happened overnight.

The team conducted a significant amount of research to understand the veteran population, technology preferences, potential use-cases, and more. During the process, many ideas were put forth—some of which were far from being possible—but without pushing the limits, the VA team would not have come to develop the GRIT concept that lives today. The team faced a number of technical and business challenges along the way, but remained focused and committed to creating the best possible digital experience for veterans.

3. Start (and start again)!

This is perhaps the most simple, yet most important, insight related to improving citizen experience—just get started. Form a group within your organization of people who are interested in experience design or conduct a usability audit of some of the most visited pages on your website. The important thing is that by starting, you’re taking the first step to improving citizen experience at your agency. (Or if you’ve already started, but gotten sidetracked, start again.) Your users will thank you.

As with the VA example above, the notion of “just getting started” was a tremendously effective approach. Following Design Thinking sessions, rather than jumping into executing the totality of the vision for GRIT, the team began a series of rapid prototyping exercises where different concepts were created to test with users. The team was able to see the value in different features like having a chatbot for certain functions, but how that could also potentially limit certain interactions.

Furthermore, “just getting started” not only helped break down the overwhelming feeling you often have when looking at a big project—like modernizing your agency’s citizen experience—it also allowed the team to move quickly, gather a ton of valuable feedback, and ultimately helped create a better product.

One of the most rewarding parts of working with government agencies to improve citizen experiences is knowing that successful outcomes impact everyone. It’s OUR government and it’s amazing to work with clients and the Phase2 teams who are committed to such an important mission.

Connect with me to talk more about how Phase2 can help make your next citizen experience one that sets the standard for the absolute best—which is what we all expect!

Digital Strategy
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