Psych 101 Helps Xerox Re-Engineer Documents

Intimidation, worry and fear are among the negative emotions that state and local tax documents tend to instill in citizens. To get beyond these basic human barriers to compliance, the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance hired Xerox Professional Services (XPS), a consulting arm of copier giant Xerox Corp., to redesign its interface with the public. "We have this new behavioral science approach," said Kirk Puterbaugh, Xerox's program manager for document engineering. "If a government puts in the best technology, and all it does is produce output better, faster, cheaper-but the documents they are generating are driving incorrect behavior-what they are doing is making mistakes better, faster and cheaper."

Xerox is targeting state and local agencies where direct interface with the client starts with a document. "Citizens are often intimidated by documents because they are not sure they will be able to successfully complete them," said Mike Spinelli, a Xerox executive consultant. "They fear and worry they will not be able to understand the document. When people start to get into these negative behavioral factors, they have to call for help or they make mistakes, and that costs agencies money in customer service."

Negative reactions to tax documents often kick in before citizens even think about writing checks. New York revamped its tax forms by adding graphical elements and rewording confusing instructions. Both factors played into a 21 percent reduction in the error rate, officials claim.

XPS' human behavior approach led to the agency's use of shading and bolding to better cue recipients. Because people perceive information through three senses-sight, hearing and touch-the group tries to incorporate document changes that convey information accordingly. Auditory instruction might appear as bolding or another font selection, while tactile commands may be conveyed by an illustration of a calendar with a pullout box to show the date a document is due.

XPS stressed that its services go beyond reconstructing outdated documents. "The beauty of our approach is that it is not necessarily document engineering," Spinelli said. "Before we focus on the documents, Xerox tries to address the problems agencies are having operationally."

- Jennifer Jones


GTE's inResponse Rescues the Deluged Webmaster

GTE has unveiled a product that is designed to help government Webmasters manage the burgeoning number of e-mails now jamming agencies' World Wide Web sites. The program, called inResponse, is an e-mail management tool that helps Webmasters respond to e-mail while also routing and tracking electronic inquiries from Web site visitors.

"The problem is universal, whether you are a local, state or federal agency," said Janine Carey, director of Web Solutions at GTE. "You have a large number of people requesting responses via e-mail. The challenge is how you respond to the escalating number of inquiries and retain them so that in the future you can leverage that information."

InResponse is Java-based and runs on Sun Microsystems Inc.'s Solaris (Version 2.5 or greater) and Microsoft Corp.'s Windows NT (Version 3.5 or greater). It requires an Oracle Corp. database (Version 7.3 or higher) for data storage, search and analysis capabilities and a servlet-aware Web server running Java Development Kit (Version 1.1.4 or higher). The product costs about $59,950 per server.

GTE developed inResponse initially for internal corporate use but decided to market it commercially when other organizations-including government agencies-expressed interest in the capability. "InResponse is meant to be a flexible, response management system that can route to dozens of folders in an organization," said James Kane, vice president of business solutions at GTE's Information Systems Division.

The National Partnership for Reinventing Government and the federal General Services Administration are incorporating inResponse in the WebGov project, a single gateway that allows the public to search for federal information across all agency Web sites. Running inResponse, a site will allow users to post questions that will be routed to the most appropriate agency for a response.

InResponse sends inquiries to a pre-established electronic folder, such as a sales folder, rather than a personal e-mail address. The product is particularly suited to tackle complicated requests that impact several units within an agency, Kane added.

InResponse generates a customized form when a user clicks on a Contact Us or For More Information button on a Web page.

The form requests information about the subject of the inquiry and also collects return contact information from the user. After submitting the form, the user receives confirmation that it was received and gets a tracking number for future reference.

"Agencies are trying to gain intimacy with their citizens online. GTE allows you to keep track of various responses from citizens and give a very informed, empathetic answer to citizens. I think that's where state and local agencies are headed," said Carey, adding that GTE will target the state and local market for future sales.

Kana Communications and Mustang Software offer competing products. But GTE has an advantage over the other companies, said Mark Levitt, research director at International Data Corp. "GTE brings its brand name and an expertise outside of this market."

- Colleen O'Hara, reporter for Federal Computer Week

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