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Why State and Local Agencies Must Focus on Delivering Exceptional Human Experience

When job losses mounted in the wake of COVID-19, news sites filled with stories of citizens unable to get unemployment benefits. By early May 2020, reports published that more than half of those applying for compensation were unsuccessful  failing to access websites, complete online forms, or get help through phone or chat.

With limited staff and budgets, agencies can quickly become overwhelmed when demand for services unexpectedly surges. One solution?

Replace a narrow focus on customer experience (CX) with a broader emphasis on human experience (HX). CX has to do with what customers encounter when they interact with a product or service. HX is more expansive, involving everything people bring to and take from a particular event or activity.

Think of when citizens visit a government office. They expect one-to-one, personalized attention. They should get the same when interacting through electronic channels. That’s what it means to deliver HX.

CX can deliver attractive websites with high-tech functionality, which is still important because no one wants to suffer through a hard-to-use site. But HX goes further, ensuring that your applications truly meet the needs of the public.

Providing Citizen Services That Work

So how can agencies elevate HX to deliver services efficiently and effectively? Follow these four guidelines:

1. Understand what users want – and feel. Many agencies approach service delivery by thinking about how users will receive the service. Instead, start with what users hope to get from their interaction with you – and everything they might bring to the interaction.

For instance, someone who has recently lost a job probably feels worried about lack of income, shame over loss of social standing, and annoyance with having to complete forms. Most importantly, they want prompt financial relief. By building empathy with your users, you will recognize those concerns and expand your perspective beyond design and development to include all the ways you can optimize the experience.

2. Meet users where they are. Agency services are designed and delivered by people who are technology experts. But your users aren’t experts, and they don’t want to become experts.

So, you need to make accessing your services as simple as possible. For example, enable users to select the channel they prefer – email, chat, phone, and so on. Design sites to be as easy to use on a small smartphone screen as they are on a large PC screen. Assume users don’t regularly complete online forms and guide them every step of the way. Think through every step of service consumption, identify possible points of friction, and work to eliminate unnecessary friction, toil and invisible work.

3. Motivate users to the right actions. Effective service delivery requires more than just making a service available. You need to promote usage to achieve the highest rates of consumption. Often that requires understanding what motivates users – from emphasizing the benefits of participating to describing the downsides of missing out.

This goes beyond software development to include how you present information and services on government portals. Delivering online services in ways that emphasize each citizen’s importance and create personal connections can improve user responsiveness.

4. Embrace continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD). CI/CD is a set of principles and practices to help development teams deliver applications quickly and make improvements frequently.

The CI portion automates the way teams build and test applications. Teams are able to submit code changes frequently, which can quickly uncover problems, promote better collaboration and lead to higher-quality software.

The CD part automatically keeps code in a deployable state, even when developers are making frequent changes. CD tools store environment-specific parameters so that code changes work in development, testing, and production environments. As a result, new features and fixes can get to users quickly and accurately.

Many additional factors contribute to service delivery: server capacity to support automated processes, staffing to enable personal attention, alignment of services with broader initiatives. But by augmenting CX with HX – by accommodating the human fears, needs, and aspirations that go along with the consumption of services – state and local agencies can better fulfill their missions.

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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