It seems that every election cycle — and this one is no exception — brings speechifying, commenting, editorializing and, nowadays, tweeting and posting about what’s wrong with government. Is government too big? Or not doing enough? Are the policies wrong? Or the politicians? Is the government gridlocked? Out of touch?
The answer — at least, one answer — is actually very simple. Many people don’t like government because it doesn’t work well for them. Or, to put the point more concretely, many people feel that their interactions with government are hurting them more than helping them.
For ordinary people, poor government service has real-life consequences. Licensing delays can derail financing for a start-up. Misunderstanding a regulation can lead to a restaurant owner closing down and laying off staff. Permitting problems can cost a contractor his customers and investors.
What is the Customer Experience revolution?
Of course, disappointing government service isn’t intentional. Government employees want to help their fellow citizens and business owners just as much as the next guy does. But the problem is that the government has largely missed the customer experience (CX) revolution that has transformed the private sector and irrevocably altered people’s expectations of the organizations they deal with.
The core insight of CX is that it can be smarter, cheaper and more effective for organizations to accommodate their users than to expect users to adapt to organizational structures. By designing their business strategies around input from customers, businesses like Amazon and Apple have come to dominate the corporate landscape. And, fortunately for the public sector, they have developed a rich array of tools that can help government agencies to also work better for ordinary Americans.
Here, we will provide just a small sampling of these tools.
The CX Toolkit: A Sampling
Journey Mapping — Journey mapping uses data gathered from surveys, customer interviews and focus groups to understand exactly how users engage with an organization. A well-researched journey map can answer the questions: Who are my customers? How do they behave? What do they want?
An entrepreneur’s journey, for example, might start when she first looks at a Small Business Administration (SBA) website or picks up a brochure at her local library. It continues as she sets up her business, obtaining the necessary registrations, licenses and permits. Once her business is up and running, the journey goes on as the entrepreneur pays taxes, submits disclosures, attends government-sponsored classes and maybe seeks SBA financing to expand.
A journey map highlights where regulators and government service providers are doing well, and where people are encountering “pain points” such as unclear instructions, unfriendly websites or processing delays. In the course of a CX-driven analysis of construction permitting, for example, the City of Boston found that contractors had trouble finding addresses of record — so a link to those files was added to the application interface.
Segmentation — Segmentation recognizes that people have different needs, not just in terms of the services they receive but also in how services are delivered.
An especially creative approach to segmentation was developed by the Department of Veteran Affairs in the wake of a 2014 scandal over service failures in its Phoenix office. Detailed CX research revealed that veterans had very diverse needs and preferences. Many older veterans, for example, cherished their relationships with individual VA staffers. But younger veterans were less interested in the human touch: their priority was accessing services quickly and conveniently from their laptops or mobile devices.
Instead of sticking to an old-fashioned “one size fits all” approach, the VA divided its clients into segments based on these and other characteristics, and then designed interfaces tailored to each group. The result: communication was improved, veterans gained more control over their services, and wait times declined.
Budget Optimization — A well-designed CX reform can advance mission goals and cut costs. The key is allocating the right resources to the right people.
An example is the Transportation Security Administration’s Pre-Check program. Frequent travelers are able to obtain background checks before they fly and then move quickly through airport security. Pre-Check has reduced wait times and freed up airport security staff to spend more time on high-risk passengers.
Some CX reforms detect false economies. In an extensive survey of incoming calls, the Arizona Department of Economic Services found that Integrated Voice Response systems (the dreaded “press 1 for x, press 2 for y” auto-responses) were generating multiple repeat calls as users struggled to get the information they needed. It turned out to be cheaper to have knowledgeable humans answer the calls in the first place.
The Goal: Cultural Change
Journey mapping, segmentation and budget optimization are just a few of the many tools that are available to government agencies aspiring to CX reforms. Others include human-centered design, personas, web analytics, social media scans and nudges. These tools have transformed the private sector in ways that were unimaginable just a decade ago.
The CX revolution is now being taken up by government agencies, including the Department of Commerce, the IRS, SBA and the Export/Import Bank. This is not a one-time event. What is required is long-term cultural change, with adjustments and iterations along the way. But we can all agree on the goal: To make this government of and by the people also emphatically for the people.
Greg Pellegrino is a recognized leader in customer experience strategy at Monitor Deloitte. William D. Eggers is the executive director of the Deloitte Center for Government Insights and the author of nine books, including his latest, Delivering on Digital: The Innovators and Technologies that are Transforming Government.