Consumers, customers, users, these terms have all been receiving a significant amount of focus in recent times as private sector companies look to provide us with the best experience possible, hoping to engage us and ultimately create loyal customers. But what about your experience as a citizen? How does your experience applying for a new passport, submitting a planning application or even voting compare with how you feel when you book a holiday on MrandMrsSmith.com, get your latest Birchbox delivered to your office, or buy the latest cycling gear from Wiggle?
In this article we look at why the principles of customer and user experience are just as relevant for public sector organizations and how you can take advantage of them. We believe creating intuitive customer journeys are not just a nice to have, they are central to driving efficiency savings and improving your relationship with your citizens.
WHAT ARE CUSTOMER AND USER EXPERIENCE?
Customer experience (CX) and user experience (UX) are two subtly different practices underpinned by the same drivers: people’s wants, needs, preferences and motivations. In a nutshell, customer experience is concerned with the overall journey a customer may make across all channels, while user experience is focussed on interactions with a specific digital product such as a website or mobile app.
The challenge organizations face is that people’s expectations around these experiences are getting set ever higher. As we are exposed to more unified services across different channels, the old, confusing processes requiring the filling out of multiple paper forms, writing cheques and calling contact centres inevitably begin to jar.
In the private sector customers unsurprisingly choose the services they find most satisfying and this competition for customer retention drives companies to innovate and improve the experience for their highly selective customers. But what happens when this competition doesn’t exist and customers are stuck with one process and one organization they simply have to use, as is often the case with public services? What is the incentive for local councils and central government to provide seamless experiences to their citizens when they can’t go anywhere else?
Another point of difference between private and public is the ability to choose their customers. While private sectors companies will typically design around a target customer the public sector has a statutory obligation to provide services to citizens of all backgrounds, working with families with chaotic lifestyles, diverse languages and other special requirements. This is patently more complex and an incredibly diverse range of services and strict legislative landscape only adds to the challenge public services have to deliver a good citizen experience.
WHY CITIZEN EXPERIENCE IS IMPORTANT
A fundamental role of government is to provide citizens with essential services that make it easier to live our lives and get things done. When we engage with public services it is normally down to a highly motivated need, such as a significant life event, access to state support or to meet legislative requirements. We would hope this is no more of a chore than engaging with an online retailer or renewing car insurance but too often these services are designed around departmental silos and internal needs and processes rather than the actual users. In these circumstances it is immensely frustrating when it is not easy to access these services and as the private sector continues to innovate, this frustration with old school public services will only get bigger.
Indeed, a recent Forrester report (Federal Agencies Must Improve Their Customer Experience, March 2015) suggested that poor CX “harm’s people’s attitudes about their country, the effectiveness of agency operations, and the efficacy of legislations”. The report even goes as far as to suggest that poor public sector CX leads to citizens feeling less optimistic about the future of their country and sends a message that people are unimportant to the government. As such, making this experience seamless has the potential to generate a high level of satisfaction, and coupled with often low expectations can provide prime opportunities to surprise and delight.
We only need look to Estonia to see what putting CX at the heart of public sector organisations can do for citizen engagement. In his article Estonia: The Little Country that Cloud Ben Horowitz outlines how Estonia has become the most digitally mature nation in the world. They have achieved an almost 100% penetration of ID cards enabling use of digital signatures and providing the consistent personal identification that allows a citizen’s experience to be joined up across all services. They have even gone as far as to make it illegal for a person to be asked to enter their data more than once. It simply must be drawn from the relevant government database!
The UK government have also made significant strides. Anyone who has recently applied for a new driving license will probably tell you how “awesome” they found the experience. Not only was the online application simple to complete but it automatically pulled their photograph from their passport details with the process taking 20 minutes instead of the expected 2 hours (not to mention the time spent posing for a decent passport photo!). What do you think that experience did to that person’s perception of the government?
Improved citizen experience can also lead to direct cost benefits to public sector organizations through efficiencies and staff engagement. With another round of cuts scheduled after the 2015 election, local councils and central government departments have the opportunity to use customer and user experience design to engage with citizens at less cost.
Firstly, by understanding users we can design simple, intuitive processes and tools that allow the majority of them to quickly access the services they need with minimal contact from internal employees. An effective self-service website can do the job of a large call centre while a poorly designed, confusing, one can lead to increased demand on call centres. The focus on user experience for public services website design is a clear example that can lead to cost savings.
80/20 (pareto principle) thinking also tells us that this well designed self-service approach is likely to work for the vast majority of people, allowing the organization to focus on the more complex cases which require more tailored person to person engagement. Again, a focus on who these complex user are and their needs and motivations will allow us to design our processes with the end user in mind. For example we may design a process whereby an expert can pool a particular range of services commonly used by a particular user type, say an elderly pensioner living alone, and have 3 North Highland Citizen Experience - Why CX and UX are vital to the public sector 4 North Highland Citizen Experience - Why CX and UX are vital to the public sector a single discussion around the services that are of use to them. This not only reduces the number of conversations the user will need to have but also the number of internal hand-offs and chance of processing errors while delivering a more joined up overall service.
DRIVING THE RIGHT BEHAVIOURS
So how can a CX/UX focus be instilled in public sector organizations when the competitive driver we see in the private sector is not there? In the absence of obvious metrics such as market share, sales growth, customer retention, it can be difficult for public services to know whether a process is delivering a good experience or not. Complaints data will tell you about dissatisfaction but how do you then create an experience that will delight citizens?
Public services can consciously invoke this focus through deep analysis of their end user needs and establishing metrics around the delivery of them. This will provide a framework to understand what good looks like and whether you are delivering it. It will also provide context on which channels, content and features can be prioritized according to the respective need they are responding to.
Tools such as Customer Journey Mapping, driven by detailed user research, help us understand how our services are perceived with focus on whether needs were met, and how easy and enjoyable the interaction was. This is then used to identify current pain points for citizens and enables us to make tactical design changes and resolve areas where the pain is greatest. At a more strategic level, Journey Mapping can also reveal the more intrinsic elements that drive behavior, such as their goals, motivation, and beliefs, all of which can help provide a firm evidence base on which to define appropriate solutions. This approach can be used to not just optimize existing processes but develop whole new ways of providing services. For example Westminster City Council developed digital services for reporting potholes utilising the power of smartphones to provide accurate geolocation.
Fig 1 - The North Highland Galileo Customer Journey mapping tool: maps each customer interaction identifying the channel and media used and satisfaction. This can be used to identify patterns across a number of customer journeys.
Equally Persona Analysis facilitates a deeper understanding of how users differ, based on the variety in their behavior, needs and motivations. Services can then be tailored to provide the right types of interaction specific to individual contexts e.g. digital, phone, post, face-to-face as well as the right content or information, appropriate to the needs of the various user types identified. Clearly, a one size fits all approach is no longer appropriate to respond to the disparate needs of the citizen.
The final piece is to actually measure the services you have designed. The Government Digital Service provide an effective measurement of their services including metrics on User Satisfaction. These metrics should then be used to continuously adjust and improve the processes.
While public sector organizations do not have the same competitive pressures as those in the private sector there are still clear reasons for them to put the experiences of their citizens at the heart of their organizations. The approach should focus on:
- Using customer journey mapping to understand perceptions of the user experience and their needs, motivations and goals
- Using persona analysis to identify variation in behavior and goals
- Establishing metrics to outline what good would look like
- Designing simple and efficient services that reduce costs while effectively serving the needs of the majority of citizens
- Focusing on the most complex users and providing services tailored to those with a wider range of needs
- Measuring how effectively the services are delivered and continually improving
From simple cost savings and efficiencies, to building greater optimism and pride in public services, organizations can use CX and UX principles to reignite engagement with their citizens and provide a stronger link between the people and their government.
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