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Service Where You Serve: Connecting with Citizens Where They Connect with You

The Customer Service series is supported by RightNow Technologies. To learn more on how to use cloud technology to improve customer service, visit the RightNow resource center today. Check out the GovLoop/RightNow Customer Service Hub to get smart on how to be awesome at customer service


Advances in technology, and the ready adoption of these advancements by the private sector, have generated “awareness” of what outstanding customer service is and an “expectation” of customer service that government is expected to meet.

Traditional interaction channels such as phone and in person still exist, yet citizens need to communicate with government agencies in multiple ways. They want to call. They want to send email. They want to visit a website. Fortunately, many agencies are accommodating the public’s desire.

But, what happens when citizens send an email to an agency, but don’t hear back immediately? Then they call the contact center to speak with someone to address their inquiry. They interface with an agent, but unfortunately, the agent has no knowledge of the initial email the citizen sent articulating the issue. Alternatively, what happens when a citizen goes to a website receives inconsistent information and then calls the contact center to clarify the answer and gets an altogether different response?

This example illustrates that proving multiple interaction channels is just an initial step towards addressing citizens’ expectations for anywhere, anytime communication. Agencies must manage these channels in a more integrated way. That’s because people now use the phone, email, and the internet interchangeably. To meet the needs of these channel-hopping constituencies, agencies must manage communication across all channels in a common manner.

The impact of the integrated, cross channel approach is substantial. A cross-channel strategy enables agencies to provide more responsive service, support more programs, and deliver consistently accurate information—within existing resource constraints.

Take for example the alternative: communications channels that exist as separate stovepipes. Phone calls are handled one way. Emails are handled another. Management of the website is handled separately from either of those channels. And chat may not be provided at all.

So why should every government agency embrace a cross-channel contact center strategy?

Here are 5 good reasons.

Reason #1: Significantly reduced communication workload

Cross channel contact centers resolve problems more quickly and are better able to provide the right information the first time. It promotes self-service by ensuring that the information available is the same as what an agency subject-matter expert would provide over the phone.

Reason #2: Consistent, accurate and up-to-date answers

We’ve all had an experience where we have received bad information. However, in many cases, when a government agency provides a wrong answer it significantly impacts the ability to get quality healthcare, or the consequence could negatively impact the environment or national security. As a result, it is critical for agencies to manage and deliver knowledge effectively across all channels.

Reason #3: Rising constituent expectations

As consumers of private sector products and services, citizens are accustomed to real time responses. As a result, citizens struggle to understand why these experiences can’t be replicated by a government agency. To keep pace with the private sector, government agencies must raise service levels across all channels. The impact of not doing so is poor performance, low staff morale and frustrated citizens.

Reason #4: Better insight into emerging issues

Agencies that implement multi-channel contact centers know more about the people they serve than those that don’t. They can consistently track what people are asking by phone, email, the web, and chat. They can respond to that information with better policies and processes. They can also use that information to improve website content, and thereby deliver better service at less cost.

Reason #5: It’s very do-able

Multi-channel communication management requires new thinking about how inquiries are managed and how knowledge can be effectively leveraged. However, it does not require major investments in technology infrastructure and may not even require the involvement of IT at all. That’s because todays on demand citizen experience solutions are available via the internet. Instead of deploying a complex CRM application in your own data center, you can get multi-channel case management and knowledge base management capabilities delivered to your PCs using nothing more than your web browser. Under this hosted delivery model, the service provider manages all the software and underlying server infrastructure.

Technology is available and citizens expect to leverage new and improved channels to communicate with government. Government is adept to these changes and continuously looking to accommodate new communication channels. Now it is time to advance from offering a multi channel strategy to an integrated cross channel strategy.

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Dennis Rodrigues

I agree with the concept of integrating customer contact centers but I must say your view customer service in the private sector does not match my experience at all. Whether it’s dealing with an ISPs, cell providers, HMOs, or credit card companies I find customer service is often abysmal.

Will Saunders

I am in agreement with Dennis’ comments. I think all across the board, from public to private – non-profit as well as for-profit organizations, and regardless of the size of the organizations – it has been my experience that customer service is generally less than acceptable. I don’t know that I’d go as far as Dennis and say that it is often abysmal; however, there is enormous room for improvement from all organizations. Stellar customer service is an anomaly. I am always excited to see a push to improve this level of service.

Gerry La Londe-Berg

Ditto to Will and Dennis. As with everything the communications process and system starts and stops with people. I’d love to learn some examples of local/county governments that are doing it right. I know you are out there – who are you? I need some examples for my own organization.