Feb 02 2022

How Technology Can Help Improve Customer Service in Government

Agencies will need to focus on creating more seamless digital experiences for citizens.

The federal government has been focused on improving the customer experience — that is to say, the services agencies provide to citizens — for several years. Those efforts got a boost in December when President Joe Biden issued an executive order focused on transforming the federal customer experience through enhanced service delivery to rebuild trust in government.

It’s not difficult to see why that is imperative for the Biden administration. In April 2021, only 24 percent of the American public had trust in the federal government, according to Pew Research Center, up from 21 percent in 2020 but near a historic low.

The order seeks to spur agencies to change that perception by making government services simpler, more seamless and more secure. “By demonstrating that its processes are effective and efficient, in addition to being fair, protective of privacy interests, and transparent, the Federal Government can build public trust,” the order notes.

Technology is expected to play a key role in enabling that. “Technology is not the only component of this effort, but it is a critical aspect of powering an outstanding customer experience, which is why we’re making strategic changes in how we plan our technological investments across Government by deploying teams of designers, product managers, and engineers to deliver digital solutions,” Federal CIO Clare Martorana and  U.S. Digital Service Administrator Mina Hsiang write in a blog post accompanying the order.

The order is designed to spark changes in how the government delivers digital services to citizens on everything from passport renewal to paying taxes; getting permits from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; using the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children to make purchases online and more.

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Why Government Needs to Focus on Rebuilding Trust

As citizens’ interactions with companies have grown more digital and personal over the course of the pandemic, expectations have changed about how they should interact with and receive benefits from the federal government, according to RJ Krawiec, a principal and the chief marketing officer for Deloitte’s Government and Public Services practice. People now expect to be able to interact with companies on whatever channel or mode of communication they want, when they want, he says, making the difference between how they interact with the private sector and government even starker.

“There’s a bigger imperative now more than ever for the government because there has been a measurable erosion of trust, and unless the government can increase the trust in its institutions and in the government itself, then it will lose credibility over time in an alarming way,” Krawiec says.

Deloitte research has found that the more local a government is, the more trusted it is; that a citizen’s “digital experience with a government agency is a strong predictor of their overall level of trust”; and that the “mission of various government agencies can greatly influence citizens’ perception of trust.”

“What we also found is that when you can combine physical interaction with a digital interaction, that trusts skyrockets even more,” Krawiec says, noting that the U.S. Postal Service presents a prime opportunity for this kind of work.

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How Tech Can Improve the Citizen Experience and Trust in Government

In their blog post, Martorana and Hsiang note that technology “is the connective tissue and a key ingredient in making this vision a reality, and we are proud to be supporting and bringing together agencies across Government as a Federal enterprise to develop a digital modernization strategy and align our technology investments to deliver for our customers — the American people.”

They write that they will work to bolster cybersecurity, limit “barriers to underserved communities by identifying pain points when dealing with” the government and improve accessibility to benefits and services.

They also will work to reduce the burden for federal workers and the public by “securely connecting systems across agencies to enable them to work faster and more seamlessly.” Most important, they will aim to “deliver a more modern, secure customer experience for the American public by using up-to-date design and technology, and harmonizing the actual processes behind the technology.”

Agencies need to balance when to use technology, what the technology can do, what the agency needs to achieve its mission and how citizens actually want to use a government service, Krawiec says. That last part is often overlooked, he adds.

“The group that you have the least control over are the users,” he says. “So, if you make it difficult for them, you’re going to have a harder time achieving your mission.”

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To successfully modernize government services in a way that citizens will use and appreciate, Krawiec advises IT leaders and mission leads to understand how citizens will use a given service.

Agencies should break users into different groups to better understand the needs and frustrations of each of those groups, because they will differ at every point of interaction. The groups can be broken down by age, location or the different ways people use a service. A single business traveler, for example, might need a different passport renewal experience than a family of four or a foreign national.  

Agencies will need to focus on being able to “identify a person, track them through your different services, programs and business lines, and have a single record for them, allowing the flexibility for them to go across different areas and access your services,” Krawiec says.

“A big point of frustration in our research that we found the idea of, ‘OK, great. I’m eligible for Department of Veterans Affairs benefits. I’ve signed up, I’ve got healthcare and now I go over to benefits — and they don’t have any idea who I am or I that I’m getting a tuition benefit,’” he notes.

Agencies can also align their services to get the behaviors they want out of users, Krawiec says, so leaders need to focus on that. Ideally, they should co-design their solutions with or partner in some way with actual end users, either with feedback via online survey platforms or through focus groups. Lastly, agencies need to continually measure the performance of their services.

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