• Governments need to rethink their approach to the delivery of services to their most vulnerable clients, as the wealth divide continues to widen.
  • Advanced analytics, combined with user-focused design, can help predict needs and deliver more tailored, effective and inclusive services.
  • A gradual transition is required, with a human-focused approach to the introduction of digital programs.

Advances in analytics, human design and technology are giving governments an unprecedented opportunity to reimagine their service ecosystems.  

As social security and welfare supports continue to lag behind cost-of-living pressures, governments must put human needs first in service delivery by bringing together data analytics and technology to deliver on these needs in new ways.  This new approach can put the human back into technology and rebuild public trust – while delivering a more personalised, cost-effective experience for vulnerable customers.

The benefits are clear:  Organisations that are actively rebuilding ethical and transparent services and putting customers first – such as Qantas, Bunnings, American Express, Apple and Australia Post – have shown that they are not only able to build trust and promote their customers’ wellbeing, but gain tangible benefits. According to the 2018 PwC Consumer Intelligence Series report: Experience is everything, customers will pay up to 16 percent more for a positive experience.

Government agencies need to rethink service delivery for customers experiencing vulnerable circumstances, in a way that emphasises safety and positive service experiences. This requires an approach that goes beyond the numbers to better identify and understand customers and their needs, with a view to improving support for customers who are at greater risk of social, physical or emotional harm. 

In recent research we conducted with Australian government agencies, we identified five key lessons that policy and service designers can use as a source of inspiration to pave the way for more enriched and ‘human’ digital experiences.

1. Put your data
to work

By applying advanced analytics, organisations can optimise their data to target services to the individuals who need them most. The challenge of having imperfect customer information is universal and limits effective service delivery. However, smarter use of data and analytics, combined with predictive modelling methods, can provide a more comprehensive and accurate picture of customer needs, vulnerabilities and expectations. 

By better understanding and addressing customers’ circumstances and their underlying causes, governments can plan, design and target services more effectively on the ground, and contribute to the development of proactive social service policies.

2. Humanise the
digital experience

Intelligent, simple, thoughtful digital experiences will persuade more customers in vulnerable or complex circumstances to embrace digital transactions. These customers can benefit from a hybrid mix of digital and human-to-human communication services across more tailored channels. By focusing more on the individual, the use of technology can thus be humanised.

Our research reveals widespread concern that digital experiences risk making communications between customers and service providers more sterile. This might prevent customers from understanding and adopting the digital resources available. To avoid such interactions, organisations should focus on what their digital services look and feel like, based on data analysis and customer interaction, which will ensure their experiences are tailored, suitable and appealing. Government organisations could, for example, deliver specialist case management through a video chat, which would maintain many of the personal elements that customers are accustomed to.

3. Create a bridge to
digital channels

Some customers can be daunted by digital service delivery. When public service providers go digital, they should consider including traditional human-to-human communication channels in the mix as part of a humanised technology platform. The human touch is a key ingredient in creating connections by making technology feel more real – giving employees what they need to create better customer experiences. Technology should always enhance the customer relationship with digital services, rather than define it.

Most customers’ levels of vulnerability or complexity are determined not just by their situation but by their ability to cope. To ensure a seamless transition, it is important that traditional channels run parallel with digital ones when designing a humanised technology platform. As staff members transition customers in vulnerable circumstances to digital solutions, they will need to carefully support them so they can self-manage more of their services. If done successfully, this will benefit customers and ultimately save staff time.

4. Adopt an ethics-by-design

Customers love the speed and capability that data-driven technologies give them, but they are also naturally cautious and protective of their personal data. The ethical use of customers’ details must therefore be a strong pillar of any service delivery model.

For governments that want to demonstrate that they place human concerns and moral standards front and centre in their services, they need to use a framework that sets out the principles and foundations to ethically design, secure and protect the data they hold about customers. This framework, detailed below, ensures those customers will be able to understand – and see – how their information is used, secured and protected.

5. Constantly evaluate and
improve the service

Better data and data analysis can help identify, predict and pre-empt customer vulnerability and complexity. This can help generate a continuous improvement model that will make service delivery more effective and efficient in targeting the right service to the right person at the right time.

Our research revealed that customers in vulnerable or complex circumstances often seek help only after they experience hardship. Early intervention is therefore critical to establish resilience while avoiding long-term hardship and dependence on staff assistance. A robust data and analysis capability can help governments intervene early and, in some cases, prevent a deterioration in circumstances, such as predicting increased financial hardship in a person experiencing complex family or domestic circumstances.

Comprehensive and usable insights from data can also drive improvements in service delivery. By aligning service delivery and long-term policy more closely – and embedding continuous feedback loops – governments can ensure ongoing improvements for individual customers.

The human/digital

People don’t want their interactions with technology to fully replace those precious human connections that provide a sense of belonging and comfort. In fact, according to the Customer Intelligence Series report, 59 percent of people believe that companies have lost touch with the human element by focusing too much on technology.

With thoughtful data analytics and ethical design, however, digital service providers can offer customers something they feel technology often lacks – the human touch. Human-centred digital programs, in which social inclusion is consciously designed into the experience, can give service providers a profound tool of empowerment – elevating the unique and varied needs of individuals while collectively expanding the digital capability of all customers, including those experiencing vulnerability.

This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared in PwC’s Government Matters publication. 



Diane Rutter

Diane is a partner and the Consulting Diversity & Inclusion Lead and Customer Experience Lead at PwC Australia

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Digital Pulse contributor Victoria Yates


Victoria Yates

Victoria is a customer experience consultant in PwC’s Customer Team. 

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Digital Pulse contributor Natasha Ballantyne


Natasha Ballantyne

Natasha is an experience strategy lead for PwC Digital in Australia.

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