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How to modernize citizen engagement to create an excellent experience for all


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Lessons learned from the City of Buffalo, GSA Centers of Excellence, and ServiceNow

The concept of citizen engagement has been around for centuries, but the ways in which citizens want to engage are new for our modern times. Today’s citizens have high expectations. When interacting with government agencies, they want service that is similar to what they get from the companies they do business with. 

This means they want real-time access to information and immediate responses to their questions and concerns, as well as proactive, personalized interactions across a number of different communication channels. While a tall order, this kind of engagement is certainly achievable when you can bring together the right combination of people, technologies, and processes. 

A recent GovLoop webinar explored what this combination looks like in the real world. Oswaldo Mestre, director of citizen services, City of Buffalo; Brian Whittaker, acting deputy executive director, Centers of Excellence, GSA; and Chris Dilley, CTO for State and Local Government and Education, ServiceNow, all shared insights into the struggles and successes they have experienced as they worked to transform citizen engagement. Following are a few of the lessons they learned:  

 

Know your citizen 

It is important to know who you are serving. Who are they? What are their needs? How would they like to be served? You can find out by identifying the channels you have to engage customers – for example, surveys, in-person interviews, and phone calls – and then start asking questions to uncover the biggest pain points and needs. You may already have some assumptions around what needs to be addressed, but it is important to be humble and validate that those assumptions are actually true. 

For example, when the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) talked to customers about the housing process, they were able to pinpoint an opportunity to help seniors get affordable housing. They were able to prioritize this process over other things thanks to firsthand feedback. 

 

Remember one size doesn’t fit all

It is important to understand there can be experience, language, and cultural differences within your citizen-base that can influence when, where, and how they want to engage. This means there isn’t going to be one, monolithic way to do something. You have to be prepared to offer a number of options. The key is to ensure everything is tied together on the backend, so the experience can be consistently satisfying. 

This means work needs to be orchestrated across applications and departments (such as IT, HR, finance, revenue, natural resources, and human services) and consolidated into a single case that can be checked, managed and updated by anyone. That way, it doesn’t matter how the interactions are done – in person, online, via a call, … – it’s easy to pull in (via APIs) and aggregate data from all these different systems and applications. 

For example, when the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) surveyed their farmers, ranchers, and producers, they uncovered a chance to streamline the farm loan process, which farmers use to make improvements to their farm operations. The farmers and ranchers actually wanted a blended experience. Many had longstanding relationships with USDA loan officers that went back generations, so it was important to maintain that personal connection. Yet they wanted to digitize some of the steps to reduce trips to the loan office and improve the overall speed and efficiency of the experience.  

 

Pay attention to employees

Trying to meet the needs of citizens is important, but so is listening and delivering on what employees want. When it is difficult for employees to do their job or deliver great service, no one is happy - poor experiences lead to low satisfaction all around. It’s not about working harder or faster, it’s about being more productive.  

Don’t be afraid to replace legacy tools and fragmented processes that are perpetuating complexity, limiting visibility, and stifling collaboration. If you pay attention to your employees and make changes that promote their job satisfaction and productivity, they will be able to focus on the citizens they serve. That will lead to better experiences for mission-driven employees as well as citizens.

 

Get a champion

A lot of the changes we are discussing are cultural and operational, as much as they are technological, so it is important to have buy in from the top. For the City of Buffalo that meant getting the mayor on board, as well as key champions in each department. They kept everyone part of the process, with regular meetings, updates, and reports, so everyone knew about and was supportive of the changes they were implementing. 

 

Recognize every touchpoint is an engagement opportunity

Every interaction, every transaction, is a chance to deepen the relationships you have with your customers, strengthen their opinion, and increase their satisfaction. It doesn’t matter if someone is looking for answers or trying to get a hunting, fishing, business, or driver’s license, it all counts.  

For example, the City of Buffalo wanted to be more thoughtful around all the interactions they have with their citizens. There are many ways citizens can engage, in person or digitally, via self-service web, mobile applications, and social media channels. The City of Buffalo also has a call center that is staffed by nine contact center reps and one supervisor, almost on a 24x7 basis. 

They started operationalizing all the opportunities they had to listen and respond to citizens, whether they were contacting the city about a business license, garbage pick-up, or major snowstorm. They started linking information, involving other departments, and holding everyone accountable for citizen engagement, with service level agreements, to drive greater collaboration and faster resolution times.  

Today, the average call time for the 300,000 calls they get a year is under two minutes, with an average hold time of 35 seconds. They have started proactively using social media to provide updates around progress on events and issues that are resonating with citizens. They also look at all the data they collect from the call center each month to categorize the issues and identify hotspots (locations that have a lot of issues) that need some attention, as well as simple things they can address quickly. One day a month, they schedule a clean sweep to address the little things that have come up. They knock on doors of concerned constituents, fix potholes, and cut down trees out in the community. Since initiating this cohesive effort, which uses all the different mechanisms they have to interact with citizens, the City has seen a dramatic decrease in crime and uptick in engagement.   

 

For more insights on transforming citizen experiences, you can listen to the webinar now: “Creating excellent CX - the need for updated customer service management.”

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