We often think of Customer Experience (CX) as being limited to private companies, and much time is spent examining how the Apples, Amazons and Googles of this world have built CX-focused empires.
But the private sector isn’t the only area that can benefit from a customer-centric strategy. With advances in technology putting customer expectations at all-time highs, public sector organisations such as local governments must also raise the bar on their services. To do this they can apply some of the CX lessons learned from private companies.
#1 Prioritising CX
CX is no longer an afterthought or "window dressing" added to an organisation's core offering. Over the past few decades, CX has risen to become a key differentiator in the marketplace.
Former Apple CEO Steve Jobs was famously one of the first mega-company leaders to really get this. He was absolutely obsessed with every detail of CX across the whole customer journey. For Jobs, walking into the Apple store, talking to a staff member and then buying, unboxing and finally using an Apple product had to be a consistently excellent experience.
In a case study by Deloitte, the New Zealand Government provides a good example of how prioritising CX can have positive effects in the public sector too.
In 2012, New Zealand's Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment began a program with the goal of reducing the cost of dealing with government by 25 per cent, matching the performance of the private sector.
The program has gained the support of 10 other federal agencies and led to more than 80 initiatives which have simplified government transactions.
For example, surveys had shown that 41 per cent of New Zealand's applicants were making errors when applying for building permits, so the program came up with Vizbot, an app that can be integrated into government websites to assist applicants.
As at December 2016, the effort of dealing with governments index – the metric used by the New Zealand Government to measure progress - has dropped from 100 to 93 index points. Meanwhile, the private sector has stayed relatively static at 84 index points.
Source: New Zealand State Services Commission
#2 Understanding the customer
One of the challenges for government agencies is to understand the vast array of customers they deal with.
A citizen's customer journey spans many years and will involve changes in work and family situations. With a large and diverse customer population to service, government agencies must begin by clearly identifying different citizen segments, mapping their journeys, and then coming up with a way to help them.
Deloitte also found a case to illustrate this point. In order to help entrepreneurs start a business in New York City, the city government did ethnographic research to better understand what was more relevant for business users. By conducting interviews with people looking to start a business, the city found that entrepreneurs were interested in accessing some of the big data held by the City such as demographics of certain areas including population and household income.
The City created a free, online "Business Atlas", which shows a map with interactive data on demographics, density of existing businesses and even foot traffic. Previously, all this data was available to citizens via the City's various data portals, but it needed to be syntheised in a way that people could understand it.
#3 Managing expectations
What do pizza and tax refunds have in common?
Just like in the private sector, public agencies need to align customer expectations with the ability to keep promises. For example, in the private sector, pizza chain Domino's offers a 20-minute delivery guarantee. Domino's clearly states on its site that this guarantee only applies to deliveries that meet "the algorithm's criteria" and will be offered accordingly during the online ordering process. This is a great example of how managing expectations is best done through clear communication and a process which will exclude those who don't apply to a particular use case.
Make promises you can keep. Source: Domino's
McKinsey presents a case study from the public sector provided by the US Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
The IRS was experiencing many complaints regarding perceived delays in processing tax refunds. To deal with this, the IRS changed its communications from promising refunds in the mean processing time, to a more realistic 21 days. In addition, it created an online tool for customers to track the progress of their refunds, in the same way we might track a package from Fed Ex.
As noted by McKinsey, the number of complaints and inquiries fell almost immediately, without the need to make major structural changes to businesses processes.
#4 Embracing the latest technology
Technology has become such an important component of CX that it is threaded throughout all of these examples. But providing great CX isn't just about using established technologies, it is also important to stay up to date with the latest developments.
Although chatbots are already reasonably commonplace in the private sector, government agencies have been slower to adopt this emerging technology.
One agency that has adopted chatbots is the City of Los Angeles. Last May, the City unveiled the City Hall Internet Personality (CHIP), a Microsoft Azure chatbot that resides on Los Angeles' Business Assistance Virtual Network (BAVN).
“CHIP is an anytime, anywhere resource to understand how to do business with the city,” said Los Angeles Chief Information Officer Ted Ross.
Thanks, CHIP! Source: LA BAVN
According to CHIP's developers, CHIP helps around 180 people per day and has slashed emails to BAVN by 50 per cent from 80 to 40 a week. CHIP is multilingual, can be trained to learn and can also connect to many different communication platforms such as Facebook, Skype, and external websites.
“When you have a city of over 4 million people it’s impossible to bring everyone into a football stadium all at once to talk to them. Technology is the platform in which we engage people," Ross added.
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#5 Training and rewarding for CX
Just as in the private sector, government agencies must hire the right people and provide adequate training in order to foster a customer-centric environment.
This is a top down approach that has to begin with agencies clearly establishing an organisational purpose or "mission statement", and then creating the appropriate human resources processes to achieve it.
The Queensland Government says its ambition is to be a high-performing, impartial and productive workforce that puts the people of Queensland first. In order to achieve this, it has devised five core values that guide its behaviour and the way it does business. Its first value is "customers first", which states that the Government "should know its customers, deliver what matters and make decisions with empathy."
With this established, the Government also provides CX training via a web portal. Staff are encouraged to take online courses such as "customer 1st training" in which they learn how to apply the core values, CX frameworks, and how to use variety of CX tools.
Having a purpose and the training to achieve is important but should also be followed up with a program in which employees are recognised for their achievements. According to McKinsey, this can reinforce the behaviors required to deliver excellent CX and results in greater collective improvements than focusing on outcomes alone.
Creating excellent CX in government agencies is achievable using many of the lessons learned in private sector CX. By first prioritising CX, and then understanding customers, managing expectations, embracing technology, and supporting staff, it is clear that governments both in Oceania and abroad are already starting to take a more CX-focused approach.
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