From Customer Service to Customer Experience: Advancing CX in the Public Sector - Part One

Amidst the myriad modernization efforts going on in government today, perhaps the most impactful are the Customer Experience (CX) initiatives. Citizens have seen great changes to their experience in other aspects of their lives such as retail, banking, and insurance to name a few. While governments have lagged in Customer Experience, many state and federal agencies are moving into at-scale CX implementations. For example, New York State recently stood up the office for Enterprise Experience Design, a unit dedicated to improving the overall customer experience. But still, the public sector has far to go.

According to the American Customer Satisfaction Index for 2015, “Citizen satisfaction with services of the U.S. federal government declines for the third consecutive year, down 0.8% to an ACSI score of 63.9 on a 0 to 100 scale.” In fact, both local and federal governments ranked last against 11 industries.1  Why do governments so consistently underperform in customer engagement?

Why Governments Are Not Keeping Up

The data is clear - traditional customer service approaches are not keeping up with the myriad ways that customers want to connect. From phone calls to social media, customers increasingly want fast answers and one-stop shopping. As the world has grown more complex, governments have struggled with effective strategies for customer engagement that break through organizational barriers, political agendas and budget-busting program changes. In our research at North Highland, we see under-performance in customer engagement from a confluence of root causes:

  • Channels. Customers want to use chat, social media sites, call in, in-person, email, mobile, and more. Many government organizations have not devised effective CX strategies for handling these various channels.

  • Adoption of mobile. Today, there are more mobile devices than there are humans on Earth. And Google search algorithm favors mobile-friendly websites. Governments have been slower to adopt optimization of websites for the mobile market.

  • Retirements. Today, state governments are facing a huge wave of retirements, representing a massive loss of programmatic expertise. The loss of these resources should be driving governments to consider self-service more closely. Yet, there are few best practices for public sector customer experience operations in government.

  • First-call resolution. Front line employees are not empowered to resolve issues on first contact, and often can only answer level 1 informational questions.

  • Reporting and analytics. Many government organizations track only the most basic data about who is contacting them and why- if that. Meanwhile, analytical approaches such as 360-degree assessments and cross-agency customer feedback- and the insights they provide- are left on the table. Effective CX programs rely on these more sophisticated, data-driven views to inform and change behavior.

  • Siloed programs. Government programs are typically set up to address only a narrow aspect of what is the total citizen experience and the customer journey for a specific goal. For example, the customer journey of setting up a new business includes interacting with regulatory programs that are spread across dozens of federal, state, and local agencies, typically with no consolidated view to help the citizen navigate this experience.  Separate programmatic funding streams and jurisdictional scope further complicates government’s ability to provide citizens a more holistic customer experience.

A Business Case for CX

Many public sector organizations are developing business cases for enabling CX. According to North Highland industry research, a positive customer experience creates more satisfied customers who:

  • Are more engaged

  • Perceive government in a more positive light

  • Advocate for the organization, program, or service

On the flip side, dissatisfied customers can increase the costs of doing business by:

  • Increasing the cost of managing complaints, paper-based and phone communication versus uptake of lower cost self-service channels

  • Increasing costs associated with incomplete information provided, requiring multiple rounds of contact with the customer to complete the transaction

  • Reducing the impact of programs due to citizens not fully engaging and in some cases opting out of program options that would add value and assist in achieving broader program goals

Therefore, investing in customer experience will lead to more satisfied customers and decreased transaction costs.

It’s all about trust. Effective CX implementations build trust and rapport with citizens, which in turn drives greater efforts to improve the experience. A virtuous circle is created.

(January 26, 2016). ACSI Federal Government Report 2015. American Customer Satisfaction Index. Retrieved from