By Brett Swartz, Director of Public Sector, Liferay
Generally speaking, government agencies are bound by more rules and regulations than their private sector brethren. Unfortunately, this can make them slower to adopt and implement modern methods of engaging users. Yet the problem with inaction is that citizens are well aware of the alternatives. They see the results of consumer brands’ efforts to simplify interfaces and offer more personalized, consistent experiences and are disappointed when government agencies don’t do the same.
Disappointment on the part of the public leads to mischaracterizations of government agencies as overly bureaucratic and not particularly interested in providing prompt, efficient service. Jokes about anything DMV-related come to mind, perhaps best characterized by the portrayal of the agency’s employees as sloths in the film Zootopia.
Fortunately, public sector organizations today have the opportunity to smash those perceptions and increase engagement. The technology is there but it requires getting serious about an omnichannel strategy. Omnichannel means having the ability to meet users’ needs on whatever device and through whichever channel they prefer. Just as they do with private sector services, members of the public find it limiting when they cannot access government services and complete transactions via their smartphones, tablets, etc.
An omnichannel strategy calls for agencies to remember their users and all of their past interactions with them, effectively gaining a long-term memory and a quick, actionable command of that user’s information. Nothing is more frustrating than being transferred to another service agent or needing to make a follow up call and having to re-explain, from square one, everything about who we are and what we require.
In other words, a member of the public should be able to make contact with an agency on any channel and complete that interaction via any other channel. This omnichannel service requires the enablement of cross-agency technology that offers contact logging and fast access to user information and a history of their past interactions. In this way, a service representative can treat every user as a familiar individual, picking up where a previous agent may have left off concerning an ongoing issue. And this is true whether the user makes contact in-person, on the phone, via a chat on an agency website or through social channels.
Some public sector organizations are already taking a proactive role in embracing an omnichannel future. For example, Jim Cochrane, Chief Customer and Marketing Officer at The United States Postal Service has publicly committed his organization to reaching customers wherever they are. In fact, whether it’s through snowmobiles in Alaska, boats in the Midwest or a mule train in the Grand Canyon, few organizations, public or private, go to the lengths the USPS does to reach their customers. Why would customers using different devices be any different?
On a local level, the City of Denver, Colorado has said that in 2018 the city plans “to support a true omnichannel experience for users. This means that regardless of how residents reach us (text, chat, phone, pocketgov.com, email), they can move fluidly from one medium to the next with (or without) an agent to find the information they need or get help.”
The dividends of a successful omnichannel strategy include not only increased citizen satisfaction but also increased employee efficiency, as service representatives are empowered to more quickly and effectively resolve requests from the public. This happens naturally when omnichannel-accustomed citizens are able to communicate via the method that best suits them and don’t need to repeat themselves. For government agencies looking to improve the level of service they provide and keep pace with advances in the private sector, omnichannel practices offer the public a glimpse into what those agencies are truly capable of.