- Government agencies need good customer experience strategies that are equally well executed.
- For successful transformation, teams should forget ‘the way things have always been done’, and instead put people at the centre of discussions, planning and delivery.
- A customer experience culture will be the key to hitting agency goals, saving money and providing citizens with the best possible outcomes.
Traditionally, government agencies haven’t needed to prioritise the customer experience in the same way as businesses, as there is no real competition driving a need to capture market share. Not to mention, there are no startups to disrupt them or poach their customers.
But providing good customer experience (CX) shouldn’t be limited to the private sector. More often than not, CX is referred to only in terms of business: through the return on investment, loyalty, competition and ultimately the bottom line. It is increasingly being recognised as critical to justify the premiums charged for products, and indeed, to keeping customers loyal — it has been proven that just one bad experience can be enough to lose them.
Governments too can benefit from successfully executing a good customer strategy, and it has become especially important at a time when public trust in Australian institutions is both low and declining.1 In doing so, government departments and agencies will be able to provide better outcomes for people, deliver on stated missions, outperform budgetary goals and engage employees — public servants — in customer experience culture.
Of course, these bodies face different pressures to commercial businesses. So how can you keep citizens as the central focus of large-scale transformation projects in the face of budgetary and schedule pressures driven by the limitations of IT and bureaucracy?
It’s about putting the citizen front and centre. It sounds simple, but government agencies often lose this focus in the heat of project execution. Here are six things not to do when aiming to put the customer in the middle:
1. Risky business
Be citizen-led in execution, not risk-led
Don’t be limited by the scope of a business case, which is often based on two- to three-year-old requirements. As the project evolves, it’s critical that the requirements evolve at pace with the discovery of its complexities. Instead, start with a clear formulation of your citizen’s needs. Listen to them. Understand what matters to them. This should be your guiding star and inform decision-making and prioritisation when it comes to thinking about trade-offs.
This will mean rethinking the traditional approach to delivery. Documentation is important, but it can’t be the be all and end all — it’s more important to focus on delivering improvements to peoples’ lives. Keeping sight of this aim is part of the approach to managing risk. Agencies need to understand and mitigate risk rather than avoid it altogether.
2. Talk ain’t cheap
Argue benefit, not funding
Everyone is mindful of budgetary pressures and making careful use of public funds, but value for money most often doesn’t lie in the quickest output for minimum spend. Be bold and engage in an open dialogue with the CFO and treasury focusing on the benefits to be delivered to citizens. This can be harder than concentrating on the savings and efficiency gains, but when decision-makers truly understand the citizen experience and its outcomes, they will be more willing to invest.
3. All for one and one for all
Procure as a government, not a department
A big issue facing governments is that agencies are often solving (or trying to solve) the same issues but not leveraging other agencies’ solutions. Business units within the same company don’t buy electricity or IT equipment separately — there is always a better deal to be had through negotiating and buying in bulk. Why should it be any different for government agencies? Before embarking on a big project, liaise with other agencies where possible to co-design and scope the problem, then engage with vendors as a unified government rather than just one part of it.
4. Play well with others
Use collaborative suppliers, not selfish ones
Complex projects typically require involvement from a range of specialist suppliers or delivery partners. The success of your project depends on how they work together, not just their capacity to deliver what they signed up for. In the heat of delivery, with unanticipated discoveries and challenges, your suppliers need to be able to work together to quickly pivot and adapt to these changes. Regular interaction, face-to-face work (perhaps using Agile methods) are good signs that point to collaborative partnership success.
5. Too many cooks
Make decisions with facts, not committees
The best way to ensure your project gets stuck in bureaucracy and loses focus on citizen outcomes is infrequent or irregular decision making forums. This is best solved by having fewer decision-makers and ensuring those you do have are closer to the details and empowered to make decisions. In the fast pace of complex project delivery, new details, complications and challenges are regularly uncovered and are best addressed quickly. Integrate decision-makers into delivery processes so that access is not a barrier. This ensures decisions are fact based, informed by detail, and reduces the burden on the delivery team to prepare and present detailed reports.
6. Culture is crucial
Invest in a customer experience culture, not a reporting one
Government employees often choose to work where they do because they want to help people. These superstars are committed to an agency’s mission and will go above and beyond to ensure that projects successfully deliver citizen benefits.
The problem is that culturally, these people are often not supported or rewarded for their citizen-first focus. Instead, they are measured and rewarded for meeting scheduled dates and the timely provision of reports. While deadlines and reports can be important, they will never be as critical as the outcomes they exist to support. Investing in a culture that rewards citizen advocates will enable people and projects to focus limited resources on the things that really matter.
Ignoring some of the ingrained ways that governments work and not doing things the way they’ve always been done can be incredibly difficult. But bucking the status quo will help government agencies reach new heights, achieve their stated missions and provide the best outcomes for their customers.