Idea in summary
Services that are difficult to access affect customer trust and confidence in the government. The idea of digital government has been primarily focused on technology, but this is also an opportunity to rethink processes and user experiences to bring government services closer to citizens.
There are many lessons for governments in the way the private sector and particularly technology companies operate. Building delightful experiences for customers is the end goal of the most significant and valuable technology companies in the world. Governments can aspire to do the same and place citizens at the heart of their product development journeys while delivering simpler and more convenient services with the tools and technologies available.
It requires a fundamental transformation of their processes to an approach that is focused on customer centricity, design thinking, and finally user experience as a primary consideration for decision making.
Walking in, you are confronted by the emptiness of the place. A simple table with a few products laid out before you is all you can see of any stock. You are then greeted by a ‘Genius’ who answers your queries and gets your product for you from the back while you pay through a mobile-enabled POS machine. Transaction complete.
The Apple store – why is it considered a customer experience benchmark? And why do all firms – whether in the telecoms industry or even beyond – want to emulate its experience?
The answer to that is stark innovation that has yet to become mainstream in government-service thinking – a customer-centric design-led user experience.
Every delightful product you know of, that you might have used – whether it’s a fintech application, or your Apple or Android apps – has been through this process and is the hallmark of the best companies in the world.
Let’s put this into the context of government services. Governments often operate in functional silos. They are established by a law put forward by a specific minister, who needs to address a specific issue for the electorate based on a government policy direction. In doing so, they create or modify the mandate of institutions to solve that problem, often guided by public servants. This could be health, infrastructure, or education. However, the customer doesn’t care for or need to understand how the government has different problems that it is trying to solve. They just want to interact with the relevant party to solve their problem. That is why many of the leading governments in the world are moving towards centralized applications (super apps) and service centers that seek to be the primary interface when dealing with multiple government service providers. But this is just the start. The real magic is when you design all your service provisions with the customer’s user experience as the end goal – when delighting them is the end goal.
Yet, the resistance from government bureaucrats is strong. Our products are too complicated. We serve multiple needs. We cannot just have a store. We have multiple routes, permutations, and combinations. The paperwork is far more complicated than buying an iPhone or an iPad. Sure there are complications, but if Apple had the clarity of thought to design app stores with hundreds of thousands of applications, then why can’t governments take that leap?
Let’s deconstruct the very complicated term I’ve just described into its specific pieces.
The best companies put the customer first and lead all other service development processes from there. This requires a workshop or a series of workshops so that the company can immerse itself in the customer’s shoes, learn about priorities and the customer’s expectations of the company as a product provider (even as a government). That means real empathy. You feel the customer, their pains, and you work backward from that feeling of empathy. You also understand their expectations, given that they live in a digitally immersive and intuitive world – bordering on the metaverse. In doing so, you answer a set of questions that lead you to design the appropriate customer experience.
This includes asking questions like:
Who are our customers? What are the typical personas of customers that use our services? Are they time-starved? Are they digitally savvy? What else do they have competing for their time? What kind of expectations do they have for customer service?
For each of the customer personas (categories) that emerge, we need to ask ourselves, what kind of experiences do they expect from us or any product provider? Do they prefer talking to a human? Would they rather chat on WhatsApp? Would they mind being directed by a screen or a guided journey?
The first step then leads to the second – which is design. Almost every leading company in the world harnesses some form of design thinking, a term that emerged out of Stanford’s Design School (d-school) and gained notoriety from its prevalent use by the design firm IDEO. It is also behind some of the coolest designs in the world – including the Mouse.
What does it mean to be design-led? The main difference is in the mindset. A design-led process starts with the customer and not the product that you wish to provide. Therefore, it sometimes requires product teams to take a step back from their idealized product and go back to step one – understand what it is that the customer wants to solve, and instead of pushing our product to the customer, design the product that the customer desires.
A major feature of being design-led is focusing on the customer as the starting point, not the product. For instance, a major pain point for customers in most countries is what they need to do when someone passes or when they want to change their name. The thought by itself is horrifying enough for individuals to want to avoid doing it.
How would a design-led experience change this process?
The design-led experience would meet customers where they are. To understand the personas of the types of individuals who frequently change their names, they would try to understand what communication tools these people use the most. Then work backward to build the product integrated within these tools. If they are most comfortable with mobile websites, then they would create a mobile feature. If they are most comfortable with an interactive chat function on WhatsApp, then they would build a bot that interacts with the customer and answers all their queries on that feature. That said, it doesn’t mean they only build a solution for one customer channel – they need to build for all customer channels.
Design doesn’t just end there. The next step from the illustration above is figuring out all the user journeys for your customer. For your product now and then, what would be your ideal user experience if you were to build the product from scratch. What is the current number of steps the customer has to confront? How many documents do they have to upload?
Then you review that entire process and re-design the experience to minimize the number of friction points as much as possible.
This starts with questions like:
In all the channels they would use, what would be their ideal flow – user experience?
How can we minimize the number of steps they have to take?
How do you reduce the number of touchpoints?
How can we minimize the number of documents required to be uploaded, or remove the requirement altogether?
How can we keep them engaged through the process?
The end goal of the process is to make customers happy. They should walk away feeling like they have never experienced something like this before, as we have exceeded their expectations. Ideally speaking, this should exceed expectations of the benchmark of the time, be it tech firms or luxury goods providers. It can also be expectations of the specific industry – in our case, the government – but that would be setting the bar too low.
Case Study: NSW Customer Strategy
The New South Wales (NSW) government is a model case study of a customer-centric approach to government services. The government has a Minister for Customer Services and aims to become the world’s most customer-centric government by 2030. Being a customer-centric government means placing citizens – the customers – at the center of decision-making. NSW will use the feedback from customers to better understand and anticipate their needs and deliver better services.
How will NSW achieve this?
The current landscape of service delivery can be difficult for customers to navigate through as government services tend to operate in silos. NSW aims to use the NSW Government website (nsw.gov.au) to consolidate online content from across all the government and make it easy for customers to find what they need through a single platform. The NSW Government program focuses on 4 key customer-centric phases: User Research, Design, Testing, and Reviewing and Iterating.
NSW realizes that there are certain tools required to become a customer-centric government. These include easy-to-access services, act with empathy, respect customer’s time, explain what to expect, resolve the situation, and engage the community. These tools can be summarized in the customer framework introduced by NSW.
Source: NSW Government (nsw.gov.au)
NSW’s customer strategy is underpinned by a customer framework, co-designed with customers and employees. The five key areas as described on NSW’s website are as following:
Understand customer needs based on data and insights.
Prioritize based on what creates the most impact for customers.
Deliver a seamless and high-quality experience to customers.
Engage with customers meaningfully on priorities for the future.
Embed a customer service culture across the public service.
How indicators will be measured?
NSW plans to effectively measure indicators through several methods including customer experience surveys, data and sentiment analytics, wellbeing statistics from official government sources, and community panels.
This opinion piece was written by Dr. Sayd Farook with research support from Iman Ali Liaqat.