Citizen Service: Why it’s critical to achieving your agency’s mission
(I thought I’d share this photo I took last week when I visited Meals on Wheels in San Francisco with Executive Director Ashley McCumber. This is a community-based organization that has the mission to provide care to the elderly in San Francisco, including 16,000 meals a week. I thought it was fitting as we think about how we can better achieve agency missions with the use of technology to always keep the mission in mind.)
A while back, longer than I really want to admit (for those of you responsible for your government websites and blogs, I hope you can sympathize), I posted an entry on a survey I did with a couple of hundred government folks that attended a web seminar I presented at. The topic was Customer Service in Government.
I noted I would delve deeper into the analysis behind the survey results. Better late than never, right?
Based on my experience with government agencies, customer service and experience is critical to ensuring that agencies’ achieve their mission, yet it is something often not considered at an technology procurement, design and implementation level.
The survey results were encouraging that more and more agencies are thinking about technology as an enabler of better citizen experiences. Yet what is also true is that it is rarely called out as a criteria in the design of the systems that support front-line staff and citizens need to exchange information or ideas.
The evidence of this is in many government agencies.
How do you know, short of a complaint or waking up to a news story about your agency having poor customer service? What are ideas to help move your organization in the right direction.
Here are some things to look for: low adoption rates, high call-center volumes, backlogs in service requests, little transparency into the status of cases or requests.
High call-center volumes is a typical one I see right now, especially in employment development agencies as people seek help after a job loss. In one agency I visited, the call center volumes were so high that several hundred thousand calls were diverted to a busy signal each week.
Each busy signal is a move in the wrong direction of any agency’s mission. It is a citizen request with no response. What is the overall experience for the citizen in this case?
One solution is to add more call center capacity to the agency. In good economic times when budgets are not so tight, this is a viable solution. However, in these tight economic realities, this is simply not an option.
Necessity is the mother of innovation.
Adding more capacity really only puts a very expensive band-aid on the problem. Let’s ask “why”. Why are there so many calls coming in?
If you break down the calls into categories, you often find that a certain percentage are people calling in for status updates on their request, another portion are asking about something that can be performed online and finally, a much smaller percentage with complex issues they need to solve in real-time with an agency expert.
A good portion of the call volumes can be eliminated by a self-serve model, if it is designed well and intuitive to use. For those that have calculated the cost of a call to your agency, it is important to note that the equivalent cost is borne by the citizen that must take time out of their day to wait in a queue and then speak with a call-center staff. If there are ways in which services can be accessed online easily, it helps reduce your call center volumes significantly.
If you don’t think about making your self-service portal easy to use from the on-set, you will have invested in an initiative that does little to divert volumes of simple requests from in-person and call-centers so that you have the capacity to deal with complex issues.
The other part of customer service is enabling your staff to be more customer-centric and productive. Not adding more capacity, but transforming the tools that your front-line staff rely on to serve citizens.
All to often I see service staff struggle logging into many siloed systems while on the phone with a citizen, trying to piece together the citizen’s life story to help make proper recommendations and advice. If at the onset, you look at a system that uses technology to bridge between all the siloed systems to provide a context-aware composite view into the maze of backend systems, it enables your front-line staff to deliver the quality of service that any agency and citizen of a region would be proud of. A good example to look at is the Southwark Council call center initiative. This article was published a while back, however, just talked to folks there recently and they are still reaping the rewards of their investment.
This is just an example of a symptom I often see from poor citizen interactions. I hope it gets you thinking about how customer service can be articulated as a critical component of your technology projects. However, like all projects, technology is only a piece of it, the other is the leadership and foresight that the folks in your agency can provide.
I should know, even with all this blogging technology, it still required me to take the initiative right now from my other responsibilities to connect with you. I’m glad I did.