Getting Cozy With The Customer

The government has one of the biggest customer bases – the whole United States. Digital services are being used increasingly to enhance the citizen experience for government functions. GovLoop’s recently released guide, “The Future of Digital Services: Five Trends Transforming Government” gives readers the inside scoop on the customer-facing digital world.


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In this month’s DorobekINSIDER Live, host Chris Dorobek brought together some of the government’s leading experts on digital services. The speakers were Martha Doris, Director of the Office of Innovative Technologies at GSA, and Rick Parrish, Senior Analyst at Forrester, along with Hannah Moss, Research Analyst here at GovLoop. To begin the session, Moss outlined five key currents at work government-citizen services, as delineated in the GovLoop guide. The five trends are: citizen-centric design, mobility, open source, information as a service, and innovative marketing. For more information on each of these areas, download our fantastic new guide.

So, why digital services? Why now?

Digital services is an exciting field because users are expecting more and more out of it. It’s generally thought that the public sector lags far behind the private sector in delivering seamless customer service, which is in most cases true. For instance, Amazon and other big technology companies have the financial and technological means to develop a customer experience that is nearly flawless from start to finish, whereas the government does not yet have those resources or capabilities.

However, Americans are becoming accustomed to these corporate customer experiences, and are beginning to expect them from the government as well. So, it’s critical for the government to work hard to keep up with its public sector counterparts.

Dorris and Parrish added their thoughts and shared their experiences on what’s new and important in digital government for customer services.

Dorris cautioned against bad integration and communication between agencies and internal departments. All too frequently, Dorris hears of citizens who have documented a name change or family death at the correct point, but continue to get outdated communication from other parts of the federal government or the same agency. Failures such as these cause customers to lose faith in the government.

Dorris also pointed out that it’s crucial to have citizen- and user- centric designed digital services. Agencies need to put themselves in the thinking process of the citizen who is trying to carry out a task.

For instance, most citizens don’t know the specific point of government they need to access, even though it may seem obvious to federal employees. They need to design systems that take into account the customer’s unfamiliarity with government bureaucracy. To understand what it’s like for the customer, Dorris emphasizes the need for government agencies to collect data through focus groups, website analytics, and customer satisfaction surveys.

“For us in Washington, D.C., it’s hard to know [the customer experience]. It’s a big country, and unless you go out and talk to people, you can’t know what people think, feel, and expect from you,” she stated.

Also for Parrish, digital services in this age are about the whole customer experience (CX). “Customer experience is all about how customers perceive their interactions with an organization,” he said. This is in contrast to the older model of customer service, which was more from the organization’s perspective rather than the user.

And, it’s important for government to improve customer experience because it’s proven that a poor customer experience works against an organization and its larger mission, according to Parrish. He said, “Poor federal CX actually hurts the foundations of our political system itself. Bad CX hurts people’s pride in the country and optimism about the country’s future.” So, for government agencies, there’s clearly a lot at stake in dealings with customer-facing digital services.

On the bright side, good customer experience fosters customer advocacy, which improves the general public perception of the federal agency, impacting decisions on the Hill and in leadership, according to Parrish. It’s the right move for the organization itself, as well, because it’s cheaper and enhances internal functions, especially those related to employee morale.

So, clearly it’s time for the government to step up and get cozy with the customer and what they want. Lingering questions on digital services? Listen to the whole show here.

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