Have you ever taken a moment to really think about who your customers are? Who you are trying to reach? Who may need your services? All too often, those of us in government tend to lump our customers into one category: “the general public.” Certainly every person in the United States has some stake in each one of our organizations. But if we try to reach everyone at once, we’re probably not reaching anyone at all.
As government communicators, we’re best serving the public when we’re thinking about our customers as smaller groups — defined, just for example, by geographic location, specific needs or languages spoken — and communicating directly with those groups. Simply put, our services are more impactful when our audiences are understood.
To tailor and target our communications at the Census Bureau, we employ a strategy often used in software development called the “use case.” Creating a use case involves researching and understanding the perspective of the user or customer, and it prevents you from making assumptions about what they want or need. As you’re creating a use case ask yourself a few questions. Of course, at the Census Bureau, our focus is data, but you can tailor these questions specifically to your agency’s mission.
- Who needs this information?
- How will they use it?
- What’s the best way to get the information into their hands?
- Who will help me translate the information into language this particular group of users will be comfortable with?
Here are two examples of use cases that have helped me and my colleagues at the Census Bureau think about particular customers and how to get information to them:
Business Reporter on Deadline
Looking to better understand the state of the economy? Or interested in the latest business headlines? Then you’re probably turning to one of the many economic reporters who use our data every day to shape the stories they cover. How do we know what information they need? By creating a use case for the business reporter. We organize content and make data readily available to help them quickly track down the information they need, including economic indicators and job numbers.
Developers of Online Customer Tools
At the Census Bureau, we pride ourselves on the fact that some people just want our data, period. One of those groups of users is developers. They’ve used our data to create, for example, real estate apps that help people decide where to buy a house. These folks don’t just want our tables — they want to mash up our data with other data. For the developer use case, we created our API, which they can plug into their software and applications.
Thinking about your audience is one of the first steps of any communications effort. At that stage, you have to narrow your focus rather than casting a wide net. At the Census Bureau, our use cases have been a great way for us to reach specific customer groups because they help us tailor data tools and services that our customers find most useful.
As customers’ needs change, the use cases change, but our ability to deliver stays the same as long as we recognize emerging cases. And that’s important because what use cases really do is describe the needs of people, and responding to customer needs is what matters.
Jeannie Shiffer is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.