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Does customer experience really matter in the Public Sector OR What if Amazon ran the government?

In a recent conversation with a local government representative, I was asked my thoughts on why customer experience should matter to local governments. After all, unlike the private sector where customers can easily defect, when it comes to public services, citizens have no choice – they have to use what is available, like it or not. So why bother to innovate? Furthermore, unlike their private sector counterparts who target specific persona types, government must service a much broader audience, different needs, languages, services, incomes, geographies, etc. This complicates matters significantly. So again, other than a nice to have, why does it matter?

There are a number of reasons why it should matter, starting with the mission of government itself. If the mission of government is to offer services that make life safer and easier and enforce regulations, digital innovation and citizen experience falls squarely into those categories. It even offers political benefits to elected officials who are seen as drivers for a more caring government. Other reasons can be deemed emotional and economic. Emotional reasons may be centered around annoyance and trust. The digital world outside of government is rapidly changing to accommodate a new set of expectations, from millennials to boomers. When the government can’t keep up, they are viewed as old and stodgy, annoying and an experience to avoid if at all possible. What if, instead, your government worked like Amazon? When you logged on you had access to the entire universe of services. The system knew your information, what you had transacted and what you might want to do in the future and made suggestions based on your own data, and new relevant programs were introduced – all without the need for human interaction. What if you signed on one time and had access to tax, DMV, utility, unemployment and all other government services? Would a citizen be more likely to use such a platform? A number of recent studies have concluded yes. Furthermore, they verified that where there is a poor experience, there was a lack of trust with government agencies. One study indicated that when the citizen had a positive experience, trust went up dramatically, thus an increased willingness to utilize these systems and more trust.

So, what about economic reasons? It is not difficult to see that if citizens are using well designed digital platforms they are able to self-serve their needs. Their data is integrated and available and they can look up what they need, 24x7. They don’t have to wait on hold or for a callback. This reduces the need for call center staffing, regional offices, it shortens the time to resolution which impacts citizen and employee satisfaction, it promotes new services and programs applicable to the individual’s specific needs, all resulting in dramatic cost savings for taxpayers and agencies. There is also the effect of leveraging different departmental data into a single view of the citizen, thus further improving the experience and reducing the possibility of error and fraud.

One final consideration. Citizen experience crosses agencies and functions. Citizens view their government as an entity and are less familiar, and frankly don’t care, about which specific agency they need to go to. Whether their experience relates to the DMV, DOR, DOT, SBI, DPS or ABC, it all represents their state or local government, so their experience is viewed as one entity despite crossing the plethora of 3 letter acronyms.

So, to answer the question posed in the title I think the answer is a resounding yes. It is inherent in the mission of government, it is a fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers and an obligation to the citizens of the jurisdiction. To sum it up, let me close by asking another question…

Which do you prefer - the Amazon experience or going to the DMV?

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