Gov Services 2.0: How to Think Like Your Customer
Customers want a simplified experience that is tailored to their needs. Thinking like your customer is essential for a successful Government 2.0 transformation.
Government 2.0 uses technology—especially the collaborative technologies at the heart of Web 2.0—to better solve collective problems at a city, national, and international level.
A critical aspect of Government 2.0 is the push to think both like a creator and a consumer. This is necessary to establish a system where both government officials and citizens can both consume and create shareable information.
When a user opens a thrifting app, they are often asked whether they want to buy or sell clothes. That is, whether they want to create the content on the app by posting their own products or to be a consumer. This model appeals to both online creators and online consumers. It’s a model that can be adopted by governments – and this article will explain how!
A government could work with NGOs and other social-service providers in the area to recreate a similar model. Users would be able to decide if they would like to offer their own social services or accept services. If they would like to accept services, they can do so from either the government or another entity.
The platform could have affordable housing units that are government-provided, or government-funded, such as homeless shelters. The online space could also host available housing units from private landlords that are offering affordable prices. It would tie all stakeholders together in a coordinated way.
“The usage of information technologies in government has spurred the promise of a less centralized and more collaborative approach.” The platform recommended here as an example of a user-centric approach to Government 2.0 would be a collaborative effort across government, non-profit, and private sectors. It speaks to the central goal of a technology-infused government by reducing silos and integrating services to make support more accessible to constituents.
In this case, as in other examples of customer-centric Gov 2.0 initiatives, what would a user be looking for?
- Easily searchable options: In the example of a housing search, prospective renters would want to know how to filter for their income. If the platform is being housed locally, an income range search could be provided. If this is a national platform and median incomes vary across local jurisdictions, the host may want to include an option to search based on Average Median Income (AMI). Creators would need to take a deep dive into eligibility for all services. This would dramatically transform the status quo that puts the onus on clients to filter through which services are available to them.
- A customized experience: When a user signs up for Pinterest, for example, they are asked what content areas interest them. On a clothing app, they are asked what sizes they are. Then their feeds are tailored to only include the information that would be relevant to them. In the context of government services, this would look like asking users what their gender, age, income, veteran status, disability status, and familiar status is. These characteristics would narrow down what services they are eligible for. Then ask what areas they need support in. They would input housing, food, rent, etc. The platform would only show the services that are accessible to that individual or family. From a user perspective, this is more efficient and personalized.
- A service-first model: As government employees, our mental framework of services starts with the agency that administers that service, the overarching funding source, the eligibility for that service, and the political implications of that service. We then organize programs on agency websites. Only a fraction of this matters to customers. Users want to see the end product and how they can access it. They may not be concerned with figuring out that they need to, in the case of the U.S., visit the Department of Agriculture’s website for food support services, but the Department of Health and Human Services for other aspects of their health. This platform would boil down only to what is important to clients.
This is an example of how to use a client-centered lens to create an online tool. However, these tips can be applied to any government initiative.
Trust from a Client Perspective
More generally, trust is also an important aspect for citizens. When operating through a client-centric lens, it matters who is asking the question. In political climates where citizens trust their governments more than private companies, government officials can get away with asking for this information through online platforms. However, countries with prevalent government corruption may want to market the platform as a cross-sector partnership.
Another possibility is that citizens see consulting companies as more motivated by profits than the public good. If that’s true, clients will opt out of participating or will give more veiled answers.
A study of UAE technological government efforts warns that although technology has increased collaboration, government officials became more competitive without the confines of the traditional, hierarchical silos. Despite the benefits of competition, “it has increased institutional and policy complexity reduced levels of trust and decreased knowledge sharing in government.” The study concludes that prior to digitizing government services, trust between the government and the public, as well as between government officials, is crucial to success.
To get user buy-in, customers must understand the purpose of the app and trust that the data they share will be confidential and used efficiently. When Hurricane Sandy hit New York City in 2012, Mayor Bloomberg paid $8.3 million to one of the nation’s most expensive business consulting firms. “Nearly $300 million had been awarded to the mayor’s coveted long-term disaster planning effort. But the rebuilding of people’s homes was completely stalled.”
While it’s tempting to create a fancy user interface and technological features, customers will only trust government efforts that are efficient and cost-effective.
Trauma-Informed Customer Experience
Thinking like your customer not only includes the aforementioned needs that they may have in the moment but also the past experience that they carry. Adverse childhood experiences are stored in the body and even after standardizing across income, race, location, and other factors, childhood trauma is proven to put individuals more at risk of poor social and health outcomes, including heart disease, obesity, and stroke. The CDC reports that one in four children experiences some sort of maltreatment (physical, sexual, or emotional abuse).
Thinking like your customer includes understanding the past traumas they likely have experienced. Interactions with government officials in a vulnerable time—when clients are in need of services—have the potential to retraumatize citizens.
To avoid this when building digitized government services, only ask individuals to tell their story one time so they don’t have to relive it. A centralized and technologically integrated approach helps with this because it allows different programs to share information about clients’ backgrounds.
Thinking from the perspective of a client who has experienced trauma also includes simplifying the process. When someone is experiencing trauma, they are operating from a fight-or-flight response, rather than from their logical prefrontal cortex. So understanding that not all information, and especially not complex information, may stick the first time. Try incorporating multiple notifications or simplified language to any platform.
Overall, thinking like your customer is essential for a successful Government 2.0 transformation. Customers want a simplified experience that is tailored to their needs. A customized experience is more efficient and easier to navigate. This is helpful for a client who is in need of support.
A platform that centralizes all services, whether they are being offered by the public, private, or non-profit sectors is client-forward. However, the aspects described here can be applied to any technologically driven government service delivery.
Salem, F. & Jarrar, Y. (2010). Government 2.0? Technology, Trust and
Collaboration in the UAE Public Sector. Policy & Internet, 2(Issue 1, Article 4), 63-97. DOI: 10.2202/1944-2866.1016
Buettner, R. & Chen, D.W. (2014). Hurricane Sandy Recovery Program in New York City Was Mired by Its Design. New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/05/nyregion/after-hurricane-sandy-a-rebuilding-program-is-hindered-by-its-own-construction.html?smid=url-share
Tello, M. (2018). Trauma-informed care: What it is, and why it’s important. Harvard Health Publishing. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/trauma-informed-care-what-it-is-and-why-its-important-2018101613562
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