Best practices in communicating with citizens these days rely on omnichannel strategies. This involves understanding customer behaviors and anticipating needs (e.g., what problems they’re trying to solve, what their primary issues and questions are) to determine the most appropriate channel in which to engage. The goal of an omnichannel communication strategy is to ensure that the most appropriate channels are available and address citizen needs, at the times and via the methods easiest for them.
While government agencies have historically relied on traditional channels to engage with the public (e.g., telephone and email), many are using digital channels to strengthen their connections with those they serve. And contact centers—the heart of citizen touchpoints and the center of the citizen journey—have the perfect vantage point from which to oversee digital integration. They should be a key part of developing and delivering any organization’s omnichannel communication strategy.
The Importance of Integrated (Omnichannel) Customer Experiences
It’s a pivotal time for contact centers in federal government. The White House Office of American Innovation recently released the IT modernization plan (December 2017), which called for the creation of five Centers of Excellence (CoE) to accelerate IT modernization across the government. The CoEs are focused on cloud adoption, IT infrastructure optimization, customer experience, contact centers, and service delivery analytics.
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is the first agency to pilot this approach. At its heart, the plan will radically improve the way the agency designs services and interacts with customers they serve.
The federal government is asking for improved, integrated digital communication. It is focusing on ideal customer journeys and experiences, using process automation and intelligent systems, and improving knowledge management, among many other initiatives. At the highest level, contact centers are being “called up” to deliver on these initiatives.
The Role of Contact Centers in Delivering Digital Services to Citizens
As consumers increasingly use digital channels to connect with government and agencies evolve their digital omnichannel strategies, contact centers will play an increased role in delivering digital experiences. Contact centers are already at the center of citizen-agency interactions, including traditional channels, social media, and others through assisted channels including video chat, web chat, virtual assistants, and online co-browsing.
For some agencies, social media and other digital channels are run by marketing departments whose communications strategies may be developed independently from those in the contact center. Consider how much more powerful digital outreach efforts would be if they fell under a contact center—or a joint contact center/marketing—purview.
Agencies have made great strides forward to adopt digital channels of communication with citizens.
- The Transportation Security Administration (TSA)’s Instagram account has 836,000 followers. TSA posts pictures of items they have confiscated from flyers, educating and amusing the masses at the same time. The agency uses Twitter and Facebook Messenger to field questions about items from citizens and curates the most interesting items.
- The National Institutes of Health runs Smokefree.gov, which uses proactive SMS messages to assist people who want to quit smoking to improve their health.
- The U.S. Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid (FSA) disseminates information about financial aid, such as how to create IDs and fill out forms, on popular social channels, then links to these posts on its website. Information is provided in different forms—infographics, fact sheets, and blog posts—so that citizens can choose the type of communication that works best for them. The agency also maintains “office hours” on Twitter, where it hosts a live Q&A each month.
When coupling the digital outreach efforts with the deep-dive intelligence and analytics from the contact center, agencies can gain a much larger perspective into their omnichannel communication strategies. Acting as the customer’s voice for the agency, they might ask why so many customers are still asking for clarification about quantities of liquids allowed in carry-ons, for example. They may proactively decide that special messaging about food and baked goods is appropriate during the holiday season, based on the previous year’s type and volume of messages.
Customer Service Still Requires a Human Touch
Despite the omnipresence of digital communication channels, certain citizen touchpoints are best handled with a human touch. No amount of tweeting or texting can replace the ability to call a contact center and speak with a live human to answer complicated questions and solve multifaceted issues. Citizens may be able to search a website for a form, or read a brief “frequently asked question” blurb, but if they need help filling out that form, contact center agents provide guidance and advice that goes beyond straight-forward information.
Contact centers still are valuable in this traditional role. However, they play a much larger role with an omnichannel digital communication strategy:
- Contact center agents provide valuable services to customers. With the rise of online, self-service channels, agents can concentrate on complex questions and solve problems that need human interaction.
- Contact center agents can make citizen experiences on digital channels better. Agents can jump on web sessions, co-browse pages with customers, help fill out forms, and navigate citizens to resources that answer questions. This aids in digital adoption. Agents are a “click away” to talk to when a conversation is needed while perusing information on an agency website.
- Contact center agents fill the gap when digital fails. Websites are still difficult to navigate, interactive voice response (IVR) systems are frustrating, and voice recognition stills needs improvement.
Ultimately, the contact center is a rich source of knowledge that belongs at the center of any digital omnichannel communication strategy. It provides insights to web teams, content managers, telecommunication teams, and communications and marketing departments. It also represents the voice of the customer to the agency.
When the contact center’s knowledge of customer questions and needs is combined with data from other channels, agencies gain valuable insights into customer journeys, behavior, and pain points.
Contact centers are at the heart of multiple touchpoints. They hear and see, firsthand, customers’ needs, issues, challenges, tasks they’re trying to accomplish, and problems they’re trying to solve. They should be a key part of developing and delivering the omnichannel strategy within any organization.