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Simple Design Strategies for Improving Constituent Experiences With State and Local Agencies

Improving citizen experience isn’t just for designers and application developers – it’s something every agency decision-maker and frontline worker should be thinking about. In this article, I explore the 5Es of experience and why two of the most often overlooked, Entice and Extend, are key to improving the overall citizen experience.

Imagine you’re applying online for Medicaid. You’re stressed and frustrated.

Did I fill out the webform correctly? Who will tell me the status? The website says I need to turn off my pop-up blocker. What is that, and how do I turn it off? The link sends me to a Google page with no information about pop-ups.

That’s not an uncommon scenario for nontechnical citizens trying to consume digitized government services. And it’s why state and local agencies need to invest time and effort in designing experiences for citizens.

Optimization of such interactions is the goal of human experience (HX) design. But HX isn’t just for designers and application developers. Every agency decision-maker and frontline worker should be thinking about HX. And a few simple HX principles can help agencies ace citizen experiences.

Narrowing the 5Es of Experience

HX designers use the 5Es of human experience to design robust and complete experiences: Entice, Enter, Engage, Exit, Extend. But anyone who helps an agency interact with the public can use the 5Es to improve citizen services.

The three middle Es – Enter, Engage, Exit – occur by default in any user interaction. But many organizations completely overlook the “outer” Es – Entice and Extend.

If you don’t first entice the user, you might fail to deliver the service altogether. If you don’t extend the experience, users might not continue to benefit from the service. Or, they might develop negative emotions toward your organization, eroding trust.

So whether you’re designing workflows, developing applications, directly serving constituents or managing agency teams, you can improve citizen experiences by strengthening the Entice and Extend phases.

Entice: Creating a Digital Welcome Mat

The Entice phase covers the communications and tools that draw citizens to a service, overcome their objections and bring them to engagement. In many agency-citizen interactions, that engagement involves applying for benefits. Typically that requires citizens to use a form to provide personal data.

Digitizing that process can save time, reduce errors and accelerate processes. But not all citizens are accustomed to online interfaces. They all don’t have easy access to digital devices. And the citizens who lack these resources are often the very people you need to serve.

That’s why the Entice phase is so important. Start by designing for the least-technical citizens. If the process is simple enough for them, it will serve all citizens well.

Next, provide a user-friendly website. Run “banner-ad” campaigns on your website to drive uptake. Explain that personal data won’t be shared without consent. Cite the positive experiences of other citizens. Share data about how many citizens have benefited. Consider incentives for consumption of services such as vaccinations.

Then, make the process accessible. Step-by-step tutorials and how-to videos can help. So can a “wizard” approach that walks them through the process. Make clear that these tools are available. Provide support, and give users alternatives – for example, access through phone, email, chat or self-service.

Extend: Going Above and Beyond

The Extend phase covers what occurs after citizens have exited an experience. That includes maintaining citizen awareness, leading them to related services, and leaving them with positive emotions that drive continued usage and trust.

For online applications, set expectations about how long the process will take, what step they are on, how many are left and when users can expect a response. If the process gets delayed, notify users, through their choice of channel, why it was delayed and when it will move forward.

Be precise. Lack of specifics is a common cause of poor HX. If an online process doesn’t complete, an error message of “application failed” isn’t very helpful. Was the form not completed? Did the system go down? Was the application automatically rejected?

If citizens become frustrated with the digital process, they’ll contact your support center. They’ll enter the interaction angry, making it difficult for agents to support them effectively. And the process you hoped to digitize will lead to a longer, more costly manual experience.

Finally, to continue the relationship, connect citizens with related services. Enable them to change their personal information. Make clear what will happen if their status changes.

Entice and Engage don’t just involve citizen-facing tools. Behind the scenes, the right technologies can help. Open-source, cloud-native application development can cost-effectively bring new services to the public. Open hybrid clouds can make your infrastructure more flexible. All these strategies can drive a measurable increase in consumption of services – and a tangible improvement in public trust.

Jim Tyrrell, a senior principal solutions architect for Red Hat, has more than two decades of experience in software development and delivery. He has spent more than a decade exploring the intersection of design and software development.

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