Guest Blogger

The latest Customer Experience Index research from industry analyst firm Forrester shows that the American citizen who needs to engage with their government is likely to have a very poor experience indeed. In fact, 73% of federal agencies were ranked poor or very poor based on the service level they provide.

To most people this will not be a surprise. If you have had to interact with a government department in any country then it’s likely that the experience was slow and frustrating. There is no competition forcing government agencies to offer an excellent level of service so why would they invest in improvement?

The Forrester research shows that in the US agencies there are three main issues. The customer service teams ignore emotion, obsess over technologies instead of empowering employees, and concentrate on what customers claim to want rather than what the data shows can improve the customer experience (CX).

Rick Parrish, principal analyst and government CX expert at Forrester, said:

“Though technology plays an important role in CX, creating a mobile app or another digital offering does not necessarily give customers the emotional solution or support that they are looking for. Customers want the advances that digital brings, but only when it’s done right — and right now, agencies are failing at that mission.”

Agencies are failing in the USA, but what about the UK? I don’t personally interact much with the UK authorities now as I live outside the country. When I needed a new passport recently I did find that the online application was easy and allowed me to pick up my documents efficiently at the promised time when I was on a visit to London.

The UK Digital Service Standard insists that all agencies must not only measure customer satisfaction, but must also have a published plan detailing how it will improve in future. I can’t judge if this approach is working, but it does remind me of the direction of travel started by Prime Minister John Major back in 1991.

Often painted by political commentators as a rather grey figure, Sir John Major is enjoying something of a renaissance this year thanks to his support for the National Lottery launched in 1994 – directly leading to well-funded athletes and a record medal-haul at the Rio Olympic games. His 1991 “Citizen’s Charter” outlined the transparency and quality of government services to citizens. It was explicitly stated that citizens should expect good service from their government and the government would do all they possibly can to deliver services respecting the time of the citizen.

The British government has been following this approach for a quarter of a century now so it should be no surprise if their services surpass what Washington is offering to US citizens, but there is no secret formula for success. Even though competition for government services rarely exists, citizens have a right to be served efficiently and without complexity. The principles of creating a great customer experience apply to public services in the same way that retailers or airlines need to ensure they offer a great experience to their customers.

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