It only takes one bad interaction to sink an agency's brand and one good experience to establish a supporter.
For decades, citizens received government information directly via telephone, the mail, in person, or indirectly through the media. The government controlled the process and could set the timing and information flow. With the advances in web technology and increased citizen demand for immediate and customized information, federal agencies are adjusting how their operations interact with citizens.
The government's focus on customer experience (CX) got a major boost when President Joe Biden issued an executive order to transform federal customer experience. Government recognizes that everyone has a preferred way to receive information, so agencies are empowered to create and implement strategies that put users first.
Accomplishing this will take an improved technology infrastructure, and in some cases a complete digital transformation, to ensure a federal agency can manage all the newer channels. These include intelligent virtual assistants, chat bots, smartphone apps, and social media, all channels that have become routine for users and need to become woven into the fabric of primary tools within federal agencies.
In 2022, there has never been a greater need for government services, particularly in the wake of COVID-19, nor has there ever been greater need for consistency.
Why consistency matters
Consistency has become the biggest challenge in today's omnichannel world for customer experience because there are now so many pieces involved. The number of pathways that people can take to reach government agencies has exploded in recent years. This adds more emphasis on the importance of consistency because a positive customer experience determines whether people trust the response from an agency.
Earlier this year, Edelman released its annual Trust Barometer report and found that while the public's trust in private companies has increased, the public's trust in government agencies has decreased.
"Trust is the foundation that allows an organization to take responsible risk, and, if it makes mistakes, to rebound from them," read the report. "Without trust, credibility is lost, and reputation can be threatened."
Trust is built when an agency can consistently deliver information to those who need it in a timely and effective manner, regardless of channel or technology.
Consistency of information across channels
Consistency is achieved when an agency delivers the proper, current information in a seamless and equitable manner to everyone. Before an agency evaluates its external processes, it must first examine how information is shared internally. The quickest way for an agency to see its CX goals fall apart is to provide incorrect or outdated information.
As agencies continue expansion of channels through which they provide information, they must understand and develop a proper way to share information internally. This is critical because those seeking help, information, or services must receive current, consistent information regardless of channel. It is imperative for agencies to recognize that the number of channels will continue to increase – and may include modes of communication they haven't pondered yet.
While this sounds intuitive, we have experienced issues where agencies develop channels too quickly without coordination at the back end to ensure the best information is being shared through every available channel. This has become a herculean task in recent years, as agencies disseminate information through new channels like a chatbot or expanding through existing channels, such as increased use of social media to share information.
The number of channels does not matter if the channels are not providing the right information. Ensuring consistency of information forms the first foundational block of a successful CX posture.
Consistency of experience across channels
Ask five people how they get information from a government agency, and you could get five different answers. As an agency seeks to reimagine and improve its CX posture, a key priority must be on the consistency of experience. Regardless of how someone reaches out, the response quality should be the same.
Delivering good CX requires ongoing improvement, which means accountability is critical to ensure the process is constantly examined for areas to enhance.
Over years of helping agencies develop CX strategies, there are few pieces of advice that every agency leader must consider when thinking about consistency.
First, do not assume what is working today will continue to work tomorrow. Evaluate the cumulative effect of how people are seeking information, and which paths they take. This is an opportunity to utilize journey mapping – a visualization of the process that a person goes through to accomplish a goal – to identify potential gaps in your CX approach.
Second, data is an agency's best friend. The increasing number of channels also means an increase in valuable data that an agency can comb through to adjust its CX posture.
For example, what does your site search data show about requests? Is one channel seeing volume and CX increases while others decline? This data is invaluable in teaching an agency about what works best for the constituencies they serve.
High expectations for government
Agencies are held to the same standards for customer experience as private sector behemoths like Amazon or Netflix. Those brands have achieved great success because customers expect a high level of service during every interaction and that's what they get.
The same concept applies to federal agencies. The public expects a federal agency will quickly deliver the information they need in the channel they prefer. The public's views of a federal agency are developed from these interactions. It only takes one bad interaction to sink an agency's brand and one good experience to establish a supporter.
The foundation of the government's brand is dependability. The public must believe that it can depend on federal agencies. To deliver this high standard when a citizen desires that service, agencies must improve their customer experience.
And when it comes to improving customer experience, consistency is king.
Andy Beamon is senior vice president, Strategic Innovation for Citizen Services at Maximus.
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