First, they don’t have to start from scratch.
Federal government agencies are working to meet citizen service goals set out in the President’s Management Agenda. In doing so, they do not have to start from scratch. There are some best practices already in process in the federal government, such as the work of General Services Administration and Agriculture Department ramping up the IT Modernization Centers of Excellence to build an agencywide portal to handle citizen contacts. But even more mature CX programs can be found within city and county governments. Both Philadelphia and New York City, among many other cities, have successfully implemented 311 contact centers for their citizens.
311 centers provide a single, non-emergency number for citizens to call for city services and information or to report a concern. This empowers citizens to bring awareness of nonemergency issues to local authorities. Based on citizen data, these centers enable city governments to identify patterns and address issues proactively.
The valuable lessons that Philadelphia and New York learned while building their centralized centers can help as federal agencies build their own CoEs for citizen interactions. In centralizing operations to a single touchpoint, there two key best practices to keep in mind.
Stay Focused on the Reasons for Change
In Philadelphia, one key reason for instituting 311 was to divert nonemergency calls from the 911 emergency response center. This goal—freeing up resources to respond to true emergencies—helped to reduce the number of calls to 911 so emergency personnel could concentrate on those calls where either life and /or property were in danger while 311 agents handled nonemergency inquiries such as missed trash, potholes, etc.
The same concept applies to federal government services. Agencies should focus on ways to move common questions and services to digital, self-service channels, and artificial intelligence powered solutions, freeing up customer service representatives to deal with more complex topics.
In changing the way citizens interact with an agency (and how the agency interacts with citizens) it is critical to remember that all employees, from the people who answer phones to the director of the center who drives policy and procedures, are there to serve citizens will help everyone stay focused on ensuring that every touchpoint citizens have with their government delivers a positive experience.
Use Data to Improve Citizen Experience
Intelligent use of data allows agencies to personalize services for citizens. The key is to figure out why citizens are contacting a center in the first place. Agencies have to ensure that their customer relationship management systems are set up to record the “why” every time a citizen gets in touch so they can later act on it.
Philadelphia gathered data to trend the top 10 reasons citizens contacted 311 and updated their interactive voice response systems and website to reflect those queries. For that kind of personalization to be effective, the data and the proactive responses have to be tracked and updated on a near-continual basis. Similarly, New York City collects the data from its 311 touchpoints to feed CompStat, a performance management system used to reduce crime, among other goals.
Data also helps agencies decide what to invest in. For example, like most cities across America, Philadelphia was used to going through the annual budget process to automatically invest in parks and recreation centers for all of its constituents. A group of citizens contacted the city and asked leaders to invest in an urban garden instead of a park. Since the city had been collecting data on its touchpoints with citizens, leaders were able to make an intelligent investment decision in response to their citizens’ needs, rather than simply doing what they had always done. Data drove the decision that ultimately improved CX.
This type of data collection provides an equitable basis for service. Citizens don’t have to know someone who knows someone to have their needs met. If citizens complain that their needs aren’t being met—if their trash collection has been missed four weeks out of nine—leaders can examine data to determine whether providers are meeting their service level agreements.
Data is driving decisions and improvements to CX in the federal government as well. For example, the Education Department’s Federal Student Aid used data from their student customers and identified real problems: default and delinquency in student loans. As a result, they set out to help students avoid this mounting problem. They send targeted messages to raise awareness and educate students about income-based repayment plans as a way to keep them out of default.
Keeping purpose in mind, collecting data and then making intelligent, data-driven decisions are imperative when moving into a digital CX space. Other lessons from the Philadelphia and NYC 311 builds include:
Be realistic. Citizens currently have low expectations of government service. Advocates of new technology and digital services strategies—online portals, mobile apps, or other digital government services—have to reach out to citizens where they are. That may mean sending teams out into communities to educate constituents about the digital options that are available to them and teach them how to use apps and portals.
Share resources and best practices among agencies. While agencies may be solving different problems for citizens, the basic underlying transactions—the reasons citizens contact them—remain the same. If the farmers.gov portal Agriculture built works well, replicate it in other agencies. Don’t reinvent the wheel.
Just do it. Resist the urge to delay starting a project without the perfect team or tools. “Good enough” is enough to start working on improving citizen experience. As projects are successful, they will warrant additional funding, which will lead to better resources for additional projects.
Citizens deserve the best experiences that agencies can give them. Local and state governments have demonstrated that centralized contact centers can deliver excellent service. Federal agencies have nothing to lose by taking note and learning from “the locals.”
This article was originally published in Nextgov by MaryAnn Monroe, Director of Customer Experience at HighPoint, and Rosetta Lue, Senior Contact Center Advisor at the Veterans Experience Office at U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.