By Aaron Mosby, Vice President of Federal Business Development at Avtex
Anyone who has attempted to apply for a small business loan with the U.S. Small Business Administration or update the name on their social security card online knows the struggle. From unclear directions on a webpage to virtual scavenger hunts to find correct paperwork, the digital experience most citizens have with federal sites is not ideal. That’s a big reason why 80% of federal agencies received a score of “poor” or “very poor” in Forrester’s U.S. Federal Customer Experience Index, compared to just 14% of private sector companies.
Aware of these challenges, the Biden administration has taken steps to begin to remedy these user frustrations. In December 2021, President Biden signed an Executive Order, Transforming Federal Customer Experience and Service Delivery to Rebuild Trust in Government, seeking to improve 36 customer experiences across 17 federal agencies.
As the title of this Executive Order implies, these initiatives are about more than app- or website-specific improvements for citizens. They also carry a much deeper goal: restoring public trust. Amira Boland, the federal customer experience lead at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) reiterated the importance of this goal in a recent Brookings Institution event:
“When we don’t meet expectations, … we create a trust gap. While trust in government is a noisy measure, influenced by everything from your school board to whether or not you voted for the president, we also know that a large component of that is shaped by people’s own experiences with government.”
Studies continue to show that citizens tend to be less trusting of digital federal experiences than federal experiences delivered through any other channel. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, poor digital experiences have the potential to further jeopardize citizen trust in government.
Why are federal digital experiences falling short?
The challenge at the center of digital citizen friction is relatively simple to diagnose. After years spent focusing on a combination of in-person and by-mail channels, the pandemic brought many vital services to a screeching halt. While most government organizations pivoted quickly to bring services online, the resulting solutions focused on deploying a channel-first—not citizen-first experience.
This led to several common issues:
• Incomplete digital journeys— Citizens shouldn’t hit a digital dead end. Some experiences in the public sector fail to understand the questions and resources citizens need online and the timelines in which they’re required.
• A let down in messaging and format optimization— There’s nothing like finally finding the correct PDF online and learning it’s not a fillable form—a common issue across a myriad of industries. Additionally, when users are asked to print a form before filling it out, it creates additional steps that may hinder a citizen’s ability to complete the process.
• A lack of clear guidance, steps, and process— Federal processes online don’t often include confirmations that a citizen’s search is on the right track. Paired with elaborate, text-heavy websites that tend to be more focused on sharing information than completing tasks, it’s easy to see why so many citizens feel overwhelmed.
• Faltering trust in the public sector— In the past, citizens may have been treated like numbers in an always-revolving door at the federal, state, or local government level. Meeting citizens where they are and bringing empathy to their journey with public sector agencies is key to restore trust.
What does humanizing the digital experience mean?
As citizens increasingly move to access products and services online, humanizing the digital customer experience means empathizing with your audience, understanding the unique differences between the in-person and digital user journey, and adopting a customer-centric digital philosophy that puts customer outcomes first. In practice, organizations need to get to know their customers, identify their needs, and design channels to enable each customer’s preferred journey.
Here are a few fundamental ways federal agencies can humanize the citizen experience across their digital ecosystem:
1. Understand your customer: It may sound overly simplistic, but the best way to empower citizens to accomplish their goals is to start by creating citizen personas that account for the different reasons and roadmaps your audience uses to find and engage your services. Adding additional context to the “how” and “why” questions will help align your process with user expectations.
2. Optimize customer journeys: Armed with this contextual information, focus on orchestrating citizen journeys that deliver digital experiences that are simple and straightforward—anticipating user challenges at each pivotal moment in the citizen journey.
3. Augment digital effort with the right human support: No customer journey is one size fits all. Part of humanizing the digital experience requires understanding where 1-to-1 human interactions can still bring value to the digital journey and making those resources easy to access. Building a framework for how and when citizens will be escalated to human support introduces valuable efficiency to your digital services and maximizes the productivity of your support staff.
As seamless digital access to public sector resources becomes the expectation, many federal agencies are approaching a pivotal point in their relationships with citizens. Standing up the right processes and people now can help set up federal agencies for long-term success and enable them to rebuild vital trust in government services along the way.
Aaron Mosby is Vice President, Public Sector Accounts at Avtex, a TTEC Digital company, where he helps Federal agencies discover innovative ways to leverage technology to provide constituents and stakeholders with improved experiences designed to accelerate mission-driven outcomes. Avtex is a full-service CX consulting and solutions provider.