How The Public Sector Should Be Improving Customer Experience

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It’s sad but true, that the public sector is often left lagging behind when it comes to business transformation. The nature of public sector bodies, in all their complexity, means that change is often the hardest to exact in such a huge and often dispersed environment.

But if we’re talking about customer experience, the public sector is perhaps best qualified to talk about how a service can impact the quality of this than anyone else. As anyone in the UX world can tell you, being proactive is the key to tackling customer experience head-on. Perhaps that’s why people within the sector are developing best practice guides to challenge the notion that poor customer experience and public sector organisations go hand-in-hand.

What happens in Vegas…

Across in the pond, in sweltering Vegas, US publication Nextgov held a series of events to discover what America’s public sector organisations have done to improve engagement scores. Three clear threads emerged from those discussions, and they ran a bit like this:

  1. Treat your customers how you’d like to be treated
  2. Engage with customers in real-time
  3. Remember that people matter most

All standard thinking in UX circles to be sure. But that’s not to belittle the thought process as old hat. The compounding issue, which any company or organisation can learn from here, is that although we know the theory and even have the results to back it up, rolling out a way of working effectively to improve customer experience can be a huge task.

What do UK customers want?

And that’s just it. UK customers want the same as US customers, and probably almost any customer across the globe. Our very own publication, GovTech Leaders talked about customer expectations in their article on customer service and the public sector.

Yes, we live in an age where convenience reins. We want things with a tap, click or gesture. It’s commonplace, it’s expected, and it’s raised the bar no end when talking about creating flawless customer experiences across the board. But as the same article points out, over 5 million people were employed by the public sector in 2018, and just one facet of the sector, the HMRC, handled 65 million calls in the same year. We’re back in the huge and unwieldy territory that the sector presents us with.

So, why change?

That all takes us to a very valid point. If the UK’s public sector is so big and difficult to change, why bother? Where do you start? Because, of course, changing the focus to the customer can help public sector organisations to broaden their solutions, work more effectively, and deliver a superior customer experience.

All this, in turn, could be a rather powerful tonic to reducing wastage and costs within the public sector. By tightening up on processes from paperwork trails to employing and retaining the best talent, organisations could work smarter too.

The three steps to improving customer experience

Let’s go back to Vegas, so to speak. The findings shared by customer engagement experts there shed light on how these ideas could be put into practice in a public sector environment. But there are other great ways to improve the customer experience across the UK’s public sector.

In the end, it all comes down to putting people first, as Nextgov discovered. That is a central idea in UX, but how does that look in a public sector context? How do you achieve this and give customers a voice and control?

Here are our thoughts from all we’ve learned in the UX world:

Give customers the control

Self-service is something that can help people to access council and government amenities without the need to be passed from department to department on the phone for instance, which leads to frustration on the customer’s side, and a loss of time on the organisation’s.

Pendle Council is one well-documented instance of a council rolling out self-serve facilities.

We’ve got to say, we already love the “Save Time, Do It Online” slogan on their online portal. But the big news is that their integrated online services have reduced contact centre drop ins by 95 %, while post for revenues and benefits has been reduced by 50%. Good news for the council, but it also shows that residents have jumped at the chance to interact with council services online.

Get social

Nextgov talked about this in their events, as have GovTech Leaders in their article, referenced above. Social media is a key tool in enabling real-time contact with service users. It’s especially effective in communicating public sector news to a broad audience, but it also allows people to interact with the organisation in return. Social media builds on that notion of putting the control back with the customer.

Then there’s the engagement metrics social media offers public sector bodies. Used in combination with other research techniques, followers on social media platforms can help organisations to see what’s working, and what needs to be improved.

Integrated digital platforms

We would just need to say the words Pendle Council to get this point across. We already know that slick online services are extremely attractive to service users, but what does this look like in reality?

Making sure that navigation is simplistic and intuitive across all devices is an important part. As GovTech Leaders put it, multi-channel digital delivery of services locally and nationally is what the people want. Social media is part of this, but so are notifications with important things, like MOT renewals, and relevant information being prioritised across digital channels.

In summary…

Naysayers may state that the revolution of public sector services as an impossible feat. It’s a mighty task, no doubt, but some trailblazers both here and across the water in the US are showing us in little gleaming local pockets, what new age public sector services can look like.

It may be a slow, gradual process, and that is perhaps the best way. Rather than powering ahead, gentle steps towards rolling out tried and tested self-service facilities, digital touchpoints and engaging social media platforms are the way forward. In essence, as with all things UX, people want to be in control, be listened to, and they want convenience. With that knowledge, implementation is just a few steps behind.

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