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2 Steps for Improving the Citizen Experience

Jan 19 2016

It's no secret that citizen satisfaction about services delivered by the public sector is low. A recent spate of highly-publicized examples of governmental failures in the realm of citizen experience include the delayed implementation of and the scandal concerning excessive wait times for veterans seeking care from VA hospitals.

According to the latest annual indicator of customer satisfaction, the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), citizen satisfaction with federal government services was 64.4%, a seven-year low. Among the 43 industries covered by the ACSI, federal services were rated second from the bottom, behind only Internet service providers (63%). In a survey of citizen satisfaction with state government services, conducted by consultancy McKinsey & Company, the score for private-sector services was 2.5 times higher than that of state government services. 

What's the solution for improving the citizen experience? It's a two-step process that combines changes in technology with changes in mindset:

1. Digital transformation

The Obama administration has pushed to improve the citizen experience by supporting digital transformation within federal agencies and calling for a change in governmental culture to a more customer-centric one. In 2014, they created The U.S. Digital Service, a team of IT experts led by former Google executive Mikey Dickerson. The USDS was tasked with "tak[ing] private- and public-sector best practices and help[ing] scale them across agencies with a focus on the customer experience in mind," explains a Federal Times whitepaper called Transforming the Citizen Experience.

This same Federal Times whitepaper cites the U.S. Postal Service as a good example of an agency partnering successfully with the private sector to improve its digital service delivery and enhance the overall citizen experience. "Customized, personalized.products are on the website," the whitepaper explains, as are self-service tools that allow citizens to calculate postage costs and conveniently perform other transactions.

Another positive example cited is E-Verify, the Homeland Security Department's web-based system to help employers verify the eligibility of its workers. An impressive 98.3% of queries to E-Verify receive a response within seconds, and some 600,000 employers are enrolled in E-Verify, according to the whitepaper.

Technology adoption and system integration will be important components for improving the citizen experience, just as they support better customer service in the private sector. The McKinsey & Company survey on state government services (mentioned above) found that expectations for service are similar in both the public and private sectors: "speed, simplicity, and efficiency make citizens happier," it found. And accordingly "most citizens prefer to interact with government online," although old-fashioned, face-to-face service remains important for some people.

2. Adopting a customer-centrism is crucial

Perhaps the largest improvements in the citizen experience will come from the public sector's change in focus.That means looking at service through the eyes of the customer first, then looking inward to make improvements.

"It is a big task that involves reinventing people, processes, policies, and data within your organization from the customer's perspective inward instead of from the top down," notes Transforming the Citizen Experience.

Understanding the citizenr's needs and crafting solutions leverages both digital tools and customer-centricity , is the way forward in both the public and private sectors. It's a  challenge that represents a huge opportunity in changing how people think about their government.


Boston-based Chuck Leddy has been producing engaging content since 1995. He's been a business writer and digital content provider for big-name clients like General Electric, ADP, the National Center for the Middle Market, smartShift, and many more. He's also been published in the Boston Globe, Washington Post, and San Francisco Chronicle.


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