Improving Public Sector Customer Experience (CX)

Updated: Oct 29, 2020

In the private sector, businesses have been becoming more and more focused on and prioritising their customer’s experience (CX) for several years. Perhaps the driving force wasn’t because they wanted to but rather they had to – CX can determine which businesses profit or fail in a competitive market. For public sector organisations with a lack of competition they have focused on more pressing challenges like regulatory compliance and budget limitations. However now more than ever CX is vital for the public sector. Government organisations that are unclear on what matters most to their customers risk wasting time, resources and valuable money on the things that don’t.

Prioritising CX can make a major difference to public sector organisations and the people they serve. Not only do these organisations achieve greater efficiency by streamlining their resources and communication but also a better understanding of their customer’s needs, resulting in a higher customer satisfaction and more effective investment of funding.

The challenge

Public sector organisations are now facing multiple challenges at once: Provide community-based care, deliver ongoing essential services, and implement practices to minimise the spread and exposure to COVID-19, all while under enormous budgetary pressure. Meanwhile, customers are demanding immediate, virtual services for their most pressing health and economic needs, as well as everyday services over the long term.

CX modernisation is no longer a desire, but an operational necessity of nearly every public sector organisation.

Understanding what drives the customer experience is particularly challenging in public sector organisations. Resources are one reason. Access to insights is another. It's true public sector don’t have the same level of insight, research, or analytics that you’ll find within most private sector businesses. However you do need to do what you can with the information you have available to you.

To build momentum and justification for CX improvements, leaders need a roadmap that shows how the improvements will lead to key benefits. That requires more than making journey maps or surveying customers to identify pain points. It requires converting those findings into a solid customer understanding that generates actionable recommendations – and a cycle of continuous improvements and benefits for the organisation.

Getting started

Creating excellent CX in public sector organisations is achievable using many of the lessons learned in private sector CX. By first prioritising CX, and then understanding customers, managing expectations, embracing technology, and supporting staff.

“How do you start?”

A holistic CX strategy combined with the right technology can increase customer and employee satisfaction and provide much-appreciated efficiency in the process.

Every organisation looking to improve its customers’ experience does so with finite resources and limited time. Understanding what matters most to people is crucial for setting priorities and making effective decisions about the steps to take to truly capture the benefits from listening to your customers and better engaging your frontline employees.

Below are some CX activities that can build your customer understanding and ultimately help achieve your mission, achieve quick wins, and improve customer experience.

Gaining customer insights

One of the challenges for public sector organisations is to understand the vast array of customers they deal with. A customer's customer journey spans many years and will involve changes in work and family situations. With a large and diverse customer population to service, organisations must begin by clearly identifying different customer /citizen segments, mapping their journeys, and then coming up with a way to help them.  

Gain a deep customer understanding through surveys, Job-to-be-done, interviews, and reviewing complaints. Such as using well-designed surveys to get accurate feedback from service users can give organisations instant insight into the public, helping to inform future policy.

With these insights you can quickly identify critical issues for customers and organise small squads of specialists to address those issues immediately through direct contact with the customer. Very often customer insights can unearth simple and straight forward solutions.

Utilise Data Analytics

Understanding the data your organisation is producing is fundamental if a change is to become achievable. Thankfully, modern data analytics is capable of providing incredible insight into almost any data set. Software built around advanced A.I and machine learning can help organisations understand the root-cause for service issues as well as pinpointing solutions to drive greater efficiencies . This helps organisations of all sizes to implement corrective measures/changes at the operations level. It can even help to accurately predict future trends, allowing organisations to adapt and provide the best customer experience possible.

Visualising the Customer Journey

Through journey mapping we are attempting to understand where the organisation is delivering an exceptional experience, building loyalty and advocacy. And where they are delivering a poor experience, creating inefficiencies and wasting resources. By leveraging customer insights and agile methodologies, you can prioritise the most important moments in a journey, bridging gaps between expectations and experience to smooth the journey and maximise the value exchange.

You can achieve quick wins by leveraging findings and understanding of the customer within the process and ecosystem. Prioritise low-effort, high-impact changes that improve the customer experience, generating momentum and credibility to catapult the expansion of similar changes in the future. Work to implement small changes to increase accessibility. Quick wins can improve customer trust and, in turn, leadership trust, leading to the expansion of CX projects and investments to continue generating benefits.

To start your mapping you could use call center data to map a typical caller’s journey, identifying the areas of their journey that required them to call in the first place. Through mapping out the caller’s journey, several pain points with different ranges of impact can be unearthed. Instead of implementing sweeping changes to existing processes, prioritise the issues and take an iterative approach to addressing low-effort, high-impact issues first.

Managing expectations

Just like in the private sector, public agencies need to align customer expectations with the ability to keep promises. McKinsey presents an interesting USA case study from the public sector provided by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). 

The IRS was experiencing many complaints regarding perceived delays in processing tax refunds. To deal with this, the IRS changed its communications from promising refunds in the mean processing time, to a more realistic 21 days. In addition, it created an online tool for customers to track the progress of their refunds, in the same way we might track a package from UPS.

As noted by McKinsey, the number of complaints and inquiries fell almost immediately, without the need to make major structural changes to businesses processes.

Embracing Technology

Technology has become such an important component of CX but providing great CX isn't just about using established technologies. It is also important to stay up to date with the latest developments. 

Improving CX in a public sector organisation can be as simple as implementing a 24/7 online virtual help desk and online chat bots, which are able to predict customers’ questions to provide quick answers. Not only does this increase customer’s accessibility to important information, such as the hours for a certain department or the office locations of local officials. It also limits the vast amount of phone calls employees receive and, therefore, the “on hold” waiting times that customers have to endure.

Digitising paperwork also provides easy accessibility and convenience. Many times, customers find themselves waiting in line at facilities to file important paperwork only to realise that they are missing key documentations needed to fill out the requested information. Providing digital access to paperwork from home ensures that important documents are readily available to customers when they need it, improving efficiency for them and your employees, alike.

Transforming the service

Whether a public sector organisation is providing proprietary or competitive services, a customer focus can help them understand their customers, visualise solutions and transform the organisation to better achieve its mission.

You can improve your customer experiences by using customer feedback as the guide to transform. After analysing your customer feedback, insights and journey map, you can create ideas for a new service model that included changes to people, process and technology that led to a better overall customer experience. Don't think revolution, think evolution, small, straightforward simple step changes and actions that can make a big improvement.

Pool resources

Due to their size, set up and complexity, public sector organisations are susceptible to silo's, inherent inefficient practices and a lack of communication across different governing bodies. By pooling resources, sharing data, and adopting the policies that work on a wide scale, the public sector can greatly improve the way its services are experienced by customers.

Training and rewarding CX

Just as in the private sector, public sector organisations must hire the right people and provide adequate training in order to foster a customer-centric environment. This is a top down approach that begin with organisations clearly establishing an customer vision or "mission statement", and then creating the appropriate human resources processes to achieve it.

With this established, you then need to also provides CX training to your staff in which they can learn how to apply the core values, CX frameworks, and how to use variety of CX tools. Having a purpose and the training to achieve this is important but should also be followed up with a program in which employees are recognised for their achievements. According to McKinsey, this can reinforce the behaviours required to deliver excellent CX and results in greater collective improvements than focusing on outcomes alone.

In summary

Organisations need to build a holistic view of the customer experience so they can put themselves in their clients’ shoes, understand their journeys as they access services, and figure out what really causes pain points and friction for their employees and customers. The challenges can be daunting, but understanding that small changes can lead to big transformations should motivate and inspire.

When going forward, ask yourself:

  • Are you starting with the most pressing needs? Identify your highest-volume topics. Prioritise staff and other resources (like website FAQs or messaging channels) to quickly address customer concerns and resolve questions.

  • Am I where I want to be digitally? Don’t think of your customer transformation as a one-off transition. Think of it as a mindset for continually evolving the organisation as needs change.

  • Does my transformation have a purpose? Technology should not be introduced for technology’s sake; it needs to have purpose. Analyse the pain points and behaviour of the public and where the experience could be improved before investing in new technologies.

To value a "customers first" approach, means you need to know your customers, deliver what matters and make decisions with empathy.

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