Agencies can’t get enough data as they try to improve customer experience

The Biden administration's push for improved customer experience couldn't come at a better time. More people than ever are trying to access federal agencies. Ye...

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The Biden administration’s push for improved customer experience couldn’t come at a better time. More people than ever are trying to access federal agencies. Yet satisfaction with the experience is at an all time low. Data provider TransUnion has some statistics that can help agencies craft better customer experiences. To find out more, the Federal Drive with Tom Temin spoke with TransUnion’s director of research and consulting, Greg Schlichter.

Interview transcript:

Tom Temin: Let’s talk about some of the statistics you have found about the usage of programs and just what’s going on statistically in terms of Americans interacting with federal agency websites.

Greg Schlichter: Earlier in the pandemic, we did a survey of visitors to government websites, and we found that only 35% of them reported having an easy experience. During the pandemic, the need for an accessible online experience has become more of a necessity than a nice to have. Agencies need to identify opportunities to improve cumbersome processes like eligibility determination, or identity verification. There were 5 billion visits to U.S. government websites in the 90 days before we released this study. So the demand for online engagement with government agencies is there. It’s just not being met.

Tom Temin: And as a financial services related company, you also have some interesting stats that I saw about people, the unbanked, or the people that have no credit history, and so forth. And since everybody is entitled to what’s happening on federal websites, unlike Amazon, if you can’t pay for it, you can’t have it. But that’s different for the government. So give us some of those American statistics.

Greg Schlichter: There are about 60 million U.S. adults with little to no credit history. And this underscores the difficulty faced in truly assessing somebody’s complete financial situation. And that needs to be incorporated into the design of government programs that rely on financial information to determine somebody’s benefit eligibility. If you look at alternative data, or even trended credit data that can be used to improve that eligibility decisioning and expand access to these kinds of programs, especially where a a non-traditional credit background is both an indicator of somebody’s need for a benefit and a barrier to accessing it.

Tom Temin: Sure. And so what can federal agencies do in the design of applications that have to get this information and make decisions either sometimes aided by artificial decision making or artificial intelligence, but backed by a human to be able to make fair determinations, they don’t want to give money to fraud claims. But they don’t want to be so selective that people deserving can’t get access either.

Greg Schlichter: Security, I think is obviously a concern here. And a lot of people’s initial reaction is just to throw more data at the problem. And that’s a good impulse. But it’s definitely not going to get you all the way there. As a push to improve this service delivery agencies need to balance accessibility with appropriate levels of identity protection and fraud prevention. And there’s some pretty cool solutions out there for building fraud models that can link multiple data sources, identity data, device intelligence, things like that, in order to detect and block suspicious behavior, without adding any visible friction to online processes.

Tom Temin: And what in the world do people named Jim Smith or Mary Smith do? I’ve always wondered, how they do anything online?

Greg Schlichter: Yeah, I mean, that’s why a name is not, it’s never enough. Once you get down to name, date of birth, social security number and address, then you can start separating the Jim Smith’s from each other. But in order to collect that information from the public, especially if they’re putting it into a website, and maybe not speaking directly with the person, there needs to be that level of trust. And I think you can only have that level of trust, if you know that your information is being cared for, that your identity is being protected, and that only the bare minimum is being asked of you to determine who you are.

Tom Temin: We’re speaking with Greg Schlichter. He’s director of research and consulting at TransUnion. Not every American can access online necessarily, and a lot of federal programs need to use telephone access, some in person, although in the pandemic, that’s not happening a lot. What are some of the opportunities for improving customer experience say, for not in the traditional online model, and say, with telephone and call centers?

Greg Schlichter: I’ll take a step back. I think it’s important to remember government agencies do have easier access to citizens than they’ve ever had. 98% of U.S. adults can be reached online. Now, whether that’s through an email address, streaming platform that they use, a smart device of some kind, and that is a vector, at the very least for improving education, opportunities to get people up to speed about what services their government offers. When it comes to onboarding those folks there are strategies and TransUnion provides this service where we can use device intelligence to help you connect with your constituents in a way that your phone doesn’t get flagged as spam if you’re calling somebody. Who knows how many COVID contact tracing calls were missed, because you’re calling somebody from an unknown number or because it you know, instead of saying Maryland Department of Health, it just said a phone number. Many people don’t pick up on no numbers anymore. And it’s high time that many government agencies begin to improve the phone aspect of their experience. And I believe anything, any steps that they can take towards building that level of trust is a step in the right direction.

Tom Temin: And even for those that still use landlines because there are still a few million of those around.

Greg Schlichter: There are. And, you know, I can’t tell you how many times I get a call from somebody talking about surprise back taxes that I owe, and I can pay them off in gift cards. There are scams that are happening, and they’re typically targeting people on landlines who don’t have that, that notification that pops up on a cell phone. The government needs to begin reestablishing trust in those kinds of interactions with constituents.

Tom Temin: In fact, one of our best lines of defense is the clerk staff at supermarkets near retirement establishments.

Greg Schlichter: Yeah, absolutely.

Tom Temin: Because they see this coming in all the time, nearby residents coming in trying to buy bundles of gift cards. And they say, don’t do this.

Greg Schlichter: It targets a shocking amount of people. We did a survey last quarter, and found that 12% of our respondents reported being targeted by unemployment insurance scams. And that’s just the people who knew that they were targeted. The number of people actually targeted is a lot higher. And the introduction of expanded UI benefits was followed by a gold rush, and government benefits fraud. And it’s going to take workforce agencies a while to untangle that mess, begin recouping some of their losses, let alone deter future fraudsters.

Tom Temin: And also TransUnion found that 35% of Americans who report an easy experience with a government website, which sounds like a low percentage, and it jives with what other surveys, particularly the American Customer Satisfaction Index recently came out with. How can that get improved with data?

Greg Schlichter: I think it comes down to identifying opportunities to streamline those interactions and reducing the time tax that come with learning about enrolling in and accessing government benefits programs. So using multiple data sources to verify you are who you say you are, that you’re using a device that is known to be associated with you, and that you’re in a location that you typically access online services from. And we want to do that in a way that is as invisible as possible, using background data so that you don’t have to answer a battery of questions time and time again, to re-establish your identity.

Tom Temin: And in your experience, from the standpoint of being a provider of some of these data and data services. Is there any particular industry or maybe you can even name a particular company that is recognized as the gold standard and all this, that the government might be able to gather some wisdom from?

Greg Schlichter: E-commerce leaders, if you look at Amazon or Walmart, they make it as easy as possible to buy something. There’s a lot of fraud detection going on in the background that you don’t notice. And nor should you notice. Or if you look at a lot of services offered by any of the big, the big FAANG stocks, they make it as easy as possible to access their services to set up some kind of subscription and to meet the needs of the people coming to their website as quickly as possible. And it all comes down to user experience and user design, basically.

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