Improving customer experience in government

Revolutionize the customer experience in government with digital transformation

Organizations worldwide rely on technology to make their operations as efficient as possible. From schools to financial institutions, the speed at which digital data travels is almost unthinkable compared to the pace of communication even just a few decades ago — and it’s led many organizations to enjoy explosive growth while optimizing their operations.

This pursuit of speed and efficiency has had a huge impact on customer expectations and demands. The more efficiently businesses operate, the more quickly and effectively customers expect them to respond to their needs. That’s why today’s most successful decision-makers consider the customer experience (CX) a centerpiece of their processes — with 82 percent of top-performing companies reporting they pay close attention to the user experience around digital processes.

82 percent of top-performing companies reporting they pay close attention to the user experience around digital processes.

However, one sector in particular often struggles to keep pace with changes in both technology and customer expectations: government administration. The complex bureaucracies of many government institutions can make it difficult to change the status quo.

For as long as government services have existed, there’s been a gap between what constituents expect of those services and the reality of their experience with them, leading to issues with trust, lack of cooperation, and, ultimately, dysfunction. This experience isn’t helped by the backlogs of physical paperwork that stuffs the halls of local, state, and federal buildings across the country.

You can see this dysfunction in the visible mismanagement of major launches of what were supposed to be revolutionary services (the Affordable Care Act rollout being a historic standout). You can also see it in data breaches in agencies that store citizens’ data, which decrease an already low level of trust.

The goal is clear: Government agencies need to step up their digital transformation efforts to improve experiences and change public perception or risk further alienating their constituents. The hurdles are difficult but can be overcome through a concerted effort and an investment of resources that prioritizes a superior experience. In particular, public employees need (and deserve) tools and platforms that eliminate stagnation, embrace automation, and provide digital solutions that foster trust and collaboration between agencies.

Recently, the U.S. federal government made an effort exactly in that spirit: The Biden administration released an executive order titled Transforming Federal Customer Experience and Service Delivery to Rebuild Trust in Government, complete with a detailed fact sheet that contained goals including “36 customer experience (CX) improvement commitments across 17 federal agencies, all of which aim to improve people’s lives and the delivery of government services.”

Though this tactic focuses on repairing the relationship between agencies and constituents, it also presents enormous opportunities for agencies themselves. In fact, transforming end-to-end processes could generate between $1.4 to $3 billion worth of savings across the government.

So, what next?

Digital transformation can be applied to many areas of government, and the issues it solves could be pivotal for rebuilding customer experiences and overall confidence. Over the next few chapters, we’ll take a deep dive into the most pressing areas, current examples of opportunities at all levels, and the ways digitization can provide substantial improvement to government services.

Making secure data collection easier than ever

At the heart of the larger digital transformation issue within government is a hesitation to update data-collection processes. Local, state, and federal agencies all have potential to improve their methods by shifting away from cumbersome analog systems toward modern ones.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS), for example, still deals with an enormous number of paper forms that create bottlenecks in getting tax returns to people. Every year, some citizens provide their tax data in good faith, only to be left frustrated by the outcome.

That said, digitization for its own sake isn’t necessarily the answer. Some agencies have been able to incorporate more modern data-collection practices, but those processes are moot if the agency can’t easily store and use that data. In many cases, the information collected by governments is described as “scattered, siloed, and inaccessible,” with agencies failing to aggregate information or turn it into anything actionable, defeating the purpose of digitization altogether.

For constituents to trust government agencies with their data, digital transformation needs to happen ethically and transparently — and with flexible solutions that are easy to implement, adopt, and scale. Good things happen when agencies provide their constituents with clearly stated information. As Edelman noted when referring to government responses to COVID-19, “People don’t just need to know what has changed; in order to trust and adopt health policies, they need to know why and how decisions were made.”

Local governments and their agencies may have an advantage in these digital transformation processes. Thanks to their more direct relationships with their communities, and their ability to more easily aggregate feedback, they have the most power to quickly make data collection secure and effective.

Some local agencies that have had early success implementing these tactics offer valuable lessons for future use cases, as well as insights into how this effort can trickle up to be effective at higher levels of government. We’ll explore some examples of this below.

The need for accurate data collection in a pandemic

As everyone who lived through it saw clearly, the COVID-19 pandemic was an enormous stressor on almost everything — from the government to the economy to our daily lives. People expected the government to deliver a coherent, consolidated response. But that couldn’t happen without a data-collection methodology that allowed the proper agencies to make informed and timely decisions.

When dealing with a new, rapidly spreading disease, decisions have to be made across multiple organizations, whether they’re about medical staffing at hospitals or larger federal issues like the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Inspector General’s (OIG) COVID-19 Response and Recovery efforts, which includes protecting public health, allocating funding, building infrastructure, and communicating policies and guidance. Historic data and preplanned responses informed a lot of the early decision-making but failed to push the necessary action the moment demanded. Most notably, a widespread national effort to address the crisis never took hold.

In addition to a lack of collaboration, the federal government and larger agencies involved in the early days of the pandemic had glaring flaws in their methods for collecting data about infection rates. Officials underused digital tools, and as a result, data wasn’t always gathered under a singular process, which led to challenges when trying to clarify and analyze the information received. Overall, the response reflected a failure to address the urgency of many communities’ needs and reinforced a negative and harmful stereotype about the government’s ability to deliver good outcomes.

The response highlighted the dire consequences of using siloed systems to coordinate a national emergency response. Furthermore, it underscored that larger bureaucratic bodies have much more work to do to earn back their constituents’ trust.

Though it may seem odd to refer to this as a “customer experience” failure, it’s a fairly apt description. In fact, the code of ethics developed for U.S. public health institutions and referenced in the Centers for Disease Control’s Pledge to the American People specifically calls out the need for robust, collaborative systems to serve the public.

Collaboration is a key element to public health. The public health infrastructure of a society is composed of a wide variety of agencies and professional disciplines. To be effective, they must work together well. Moreover, new collaborations will be needed to rise to new public health challenges.

Principles of the Ethical Practice of Public Health

Local governments get it right

While national efforts struggled, some local governments found success through a digital-first approach that succeeded in both rural and metropolitan areas. Whereas larger federal bodies had to wade through seas of red tape and attempt to manage massive interdepartmental communications, these smaller organizations benefited from mobile-friendly data collection methods, enabling real-time feedback from their communities to inform their response.

In the rural area of Park County, Montana, for example, local officials had largely relied on paper and analog methods to interact with their constituents and implement policy. But when COVID-19 demanded a more agile and immediate government response, the county acted quickly t