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Have citizen expectations REALLY changed? Maybe…

For years now, governments around the globe have been working to bring services online. And this trend has generally resulted in easier access to services for most constituents, which is a good thing. However, when asked, government officials will, more often than not, cite the driving factor to be that of economics, it’s simply cheaper to deliver services online than using the phone or in-person channels. If mentioned at all, ease of access seems to be more an afterthought or an unintended consequence.

Now consider this, often the online channels have been treated as ancillary to the more traditional channels, thus should the online channel go down or the user have some form of difficulty, the response is usually something like, “We’re sorry the site is down. In the meantime, give us a call or visit us in person.” So, the user, perhaps with a little bit of grumbling, moves back to using a traditional mode of engagement and goes on with their day.

What this behavior tells me is the users of online government services are quite happy when they work and surprisingly accepting when they don’t, being generally OK with falling back on the phone call or personal visit. Would most prefer the online version to work properly, of course, but having to pick up the phone to renew a vehicle registration is hardly news-worthy!

But, is this changing? Have a majority of citizens finally reached a point where they are no longer OK with the online version of ANY service failing? Has being coddled online by commercial entities trying to get them to part with their hard-earned cash finally driven citizens to being more vocal and demanding? Does government have to re-work all its online services to meet the demands? Reading the healthcare.gov headlines here in the US might drive you to think, “Yes” is the answer.

However, I believe the REAL answer is, “It depends”. As many commercials companies have learned the hard way, it does not pay to make decisions based on intuition or assumption. After factoring in the relative impact of a service, the sense of urgency, the need for expediency, etc. you also need to get feedback from those who use it. A good way to accomplish this is to “listen” to them. “Listen” to them on social channels when they are publically interacting. “Listen” to them as they interact with you across EVERY channel of engagement. “Listen” not only to what they say, but, more importantly, “listen” to what they DO. Also, “listen” for what they do NOT say or do. Actions (and non-actions) can be far more insightful than words.

Next, take a page from the commercial companies who have had staying power in the digital realm. They work really hard to make decisions based on insights gleaned from such “listening” data rather than relying on intuition. They regularly optimize and change offerings based on how people react and engage. They are constantly trying new things and measuring the results. In this way, they are able to innovate and give people what they REALLY want and need.

Here’s an example of questions you could ask of the data you collect. When encountering an issue with the online channel for a given service, what does the user do? Come back again tomorrow? How many times will the person try online before switching to a new channel? What channel do they switch to? How much did this channel switch cost you? Do they immediately move to another channel? What is the time gap between attempts? What is the demeanor of the person once engaged? Has their attitude changed? How does the user respond if we send an email with personalized instructions should a failure happen rather than flashing an error message on the screen? All these questions can lead you to making better decisions and as you can imagine, there’s no end to the digging you could do!

So, in answer to my title question, yes, of course, the expectations of citizens have changed. In fact, the better question is “HOW are they changing?” This is a much more useful question because expectations are ever changing and not necessarily in any uniform manner that can simply be explained and applied across all of government. It is through insights extracted from data, collected in the context of your offered service(s), that you will discover the expectations and determine their impact.

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Profile Photo Dale M. Posthumus

An important difference between the private and public sector is that if a private company fails to deliver in an acceptable way, the customer may take his/her business to a competitor. The customer, for the most part, has no choice, no alternative, with Govt services, whether Federal, state or local. It is imporatnt for govt employees to understand this and bring quality service to their work. Each interaction between a citizen and a govt employee tends to weigh on the reputation of all of govt. The problems with healthcare.gov are an example. “Delay is not an option” is all about the govt side (mostly politics), not about the customer. On the other hand, I heard an FAA offical state today just the opposite today, they must get it right and worry less about deadlines. He said, after all is said and done, they will be remembered for how well something works, not it came out on time. That is customer-focused. I agree that people’s expectations are changing. This is partly as my generation moves on, who is far more used to using the “traditional” means and is being replaced by generations who are tech savvy and expect quick, effective, efficient results the first time.

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