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Websites struggle with customer experience

Although the federal government has put more money and effort into its digital presence over the past few years, these investments are not making for a better citizen experience, a new report from Forrester claims.

The market research firm looked at overall customer satisfaction with the multiple digital channels -- websites, social media, apps -- the federal government uses to communicate with citizens. Websites proved to be especially problematic.

Compared to last year, the Forrester survey found that fewer users think agency websites contain relevant information, a 7 percent drop from the previous year. And fewer people reported that federal websites were easy to use. Rick Parrish, one of the report’s authors, told GCN these results indicate bad design and poor customer service.

Digital experiences at private-sector websites have increased people’s expectations of what they expect to get from a site, Parrish said. People don’t compare federal websites to other government websites, he said, they compare them to the best digital experiences they’ve had.

“Even if you’re improving, if you’re improving more slowly than customer expectations are increasing, then you’re falling further and further behind,” he said.

Some of the issues with federal digital experiences come from the costs associated with digital he said. Because websites and social media cost less than printing and mailing information or paying employees to answer phone queries, they’re viewed as a cost cutting measure rather than an opportunity to engage.

“When federal agencies speak simply in budget terms, all they think about is doing more digital -- which is not by any means the same as using digital to create a better customer experience,” he said.

If a federal agency wants to cut costs by making an app or a website to do a job that is currently done by a call center or another legacy process, then the agency must encourage people to use the digital service. And a digital offering must be good in order for people to use it, he said.

There are examples of digital-done-right in federal agencies, Parrish said. He pointed to the IRS To Go app, which is frequently used and well liked. The Twitter feed to the Transportation Security Administration that answers customer questions 24 hours a day is also effective.

Yet "for every one of those, there is any number of ones that are just clunkers,” he said.

When an agency is looking to improve its customers’ digital experience it should plan with the citizen in mind, Parrish said. And after it develops an improved service model, it must explain the benefits though some kind of marketing or outreach. Digital tools won’t be used if people don’t know about them or understand the benefits, he said.

Social media was better liked than apps or websites in the Forrester survey, but Parrish warned that just because it is ranked highly doesn’t mean agencies should shift all of their focus to Snapchat or Twitter. “Does anyone really want to apply for Social Security benefits via Snapchat?” he asked.  “Probably not.”

About the Author

Matt Leonard is a reporter/producer at GCN.

Before joining GCN, Leonard worked as a local reporter for The Smithfield Times in southeastern Virginia. In his time there he wrote about town council meetings, local crime and what to do if a beaver dam floods your back yard. Over the last few years, he has spent time at The Commonwealth Times, The Denver Post and WTVR-CBS 6. He is a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University, where he received the faculty award for print and online journalism.

Leonard can be contacted at mleonard@gcn.com or follow him on Twitter @Matt_Lnrd.

Click here for previous articles by Leonard.


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