Why the public sector is prioritizing the customer experience amid new economic challenges

In this new motion of navigating increased budget constraints and reduced resources, digital transformation initiatives that improve the customer experience are...

Digital transformation has been a top priority for the public sector since the uproar of the COVID-19 pandemic, as governments around the world were forced to rapidly adapt their operations to meet the needs of citizens during a time of crisis. While recent research found 74% of the public sector is ahead of their anticipated digital transformation progress, today’s unprecedented economic challenges continue to put increased pressure on these organizations to expedite and improve these efforts.   

In this new motion of navigating increased budget constraints and reduced resources, digital transformation initiatives that improve the customer experience are emerging from a nice-to-have to a must-do in today’s landscape. Now more than ever, the public sector is in need of more efficient solutions that ultimately help them do more with less and drive success now.  

Though automation has always been a vital component of digital transformation, it’s often not implemented in ways that allow it to be applied at its maximum potential. New innovations across automated systems are continually opening opportunities for the public sector to transform how they deliver services and interact with consumers. Chatbots and virtual assistants, for example, can provide citizens with immediate, accurate responses to inquiries, without wasting minutes on hold for a human operator to book an appointment or assist with other requests. This is just one example of the ways automation can be used to improve consumer experiences; here are a few more:   

Introduce more self-service tools to uplevel customer convenience

Automation can enable public sector organizations to offer new self-service options to consumers, allowing them to access services and information on their own terms and schedule. Using self-service portals, chatbots and interactive voice response systems can help consumers quickly and easily access the needed information, reducing wait times and improving overall satisfaction. This is particularly essential for those who can’t take time off work to travel to a government office.   

To put this into context, if a citizen needs to make an appointment with their local municipality, they no longer have to wait for the office to be open to schedule over the phone. Instead, they can do this online at a time that is most convenient for them. This empowers citizens to find resolutions to their issues or inquiries independently, reducing the need for transferring to a live representative – and sometimes, multiple departments – for routine matters.  

This type of transformation is exactly what the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) prioritized with their recent rollout of its customer assistance system (Cassie), which uses automation to power smarter, stronger and more reliable experiences. Being the largest transportation network in North America, serving over 15.3 million people across a 5,000-square-mile travel area, the MTA recognized the need to improve customer communications and responded with innovation that better suited riders’ digitized lifestyles. What’s more, its team of 800 staff managed over 700,000 cases this year alone, so a one-stop-shop was needed to support the more than 6 million people daily that are engaging across the MTA routes. Now Cassie allows the team to proactively approach and adjust service provision, assessing complications, pain points and roadblocks for customers before they present themselves. It’s a total game changer for riders and MTA employees.  

Applying automation to make services more convenient will increase customer satisfaction tenfold. These systems will be available to customers 24/7, they’ll see immediate results, and it will undoubtedly reduce the pressure on employees who are knowingly overburdened with the constant influx of customer inquiries.   

Apply real-time data to automated systems to deliver personalized engagements

Nothing is more frustrating than identifying yourself and explaining an issue with a customer service representative only to be transferred and have to re-identify and explain all over again. Not only does this frustrate and waste the time of the customer, but it also wastes the time of customer support agents and lengthens their call queue.  

In fact, recent research found that 60% of customers expect companies to react instantly with up-to-date information when transferred between departments. When powered by real-time data, automated systems will personalize interactions with customers based on real-time signals such as changes in customer behavior as well as market conditions.   

Case in point – let’s consider a scenario where a citizen needs assistance with their unemployment benefits. With real-time data analysis, the automated system can intelligently route their inquiry to the appropriate department to address their specific issue, thus helping to eliminate the frustration of being transferred multiple times. This automated system can also integrate and consolidate real-time data from various departments involved in managing unemployment benefits, such as the Department of Labor, Taxation Department, and Social Services, to enable a centralized, comprehensive view of the citizen’s information. This eliminates the need for repetitive data collection during each interaction and ensures more efficient and effective resolution of their inquiries.  

Eliminate human error to reduce customer frustration

Automation can help public sector organizations improve the accuracy of their services by removing the risk of human error. One of the biggest causes of human error is the byproduct of swivel chair integration, where inputs get transcribed improperly as they move from one interface to another. Another contributing factor we often discuss is the public sector’s continued reliance on paperwork, including digital paperwork like PDFs.  

To put this into perspective, a recent report from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce found that there are 9,858 unique government forms used to access various services, leading to a total of 106 billion such forms being processed annually. Digitizing and automating paperwork-heavy processes will allow organizations to ensure that tasks are performed consistently and accurately every time, thus alleviating customer frustrations caused by human error.  

As the public sector grapples with the pressures of today’s macroeconomic climate, automation is emerging as a critical tool for driving more timely, personalized and satisfying customer engagements. With the adopt ion of more self-service tools, the introduction of real-time data to automated systems and the reliance on more digitized processes to reduce human error, organizations will be better-positioned to navigate budget constraints and meet the growing demands among citizens for public services.   

David Egts is field chief technology officer for the public sector for MuleSoft at Salesforce. 

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