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Thinking of automating? Start with self-service

Do it yourself is not just the motto of fixer-uppers and backyard mechanics. Citizens empowered with smartphones expecting quick, efficient customer experiences are pushing public and private sector organizations into offering DIY options.

Already, research has shown that 81 percent of customers across all industries try to take care of matters on their own before contacting a human helper, according to a recent Gartner report. In 2022, self-service will account for 64 percent of customer engagement, compared to 48 percent in 2017, it adds.

Because self-service commonly tackles repetitive, mundane tasks, its benefits to government agencies include cutting costs and saving employees' time so they can focus on more mission-critical work. Additionally, it can increase civic engagement — a core goal in the President’s Management Agenda. By providing quick, easy access to information and services, the government can improve its image as a slow-moving entity, said Brian Manusama, a senior director analyst at Gartner Research and co-author of the report.

GCN spoke with Manusama to learn more about self-service in the public sector. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

GCN: By 2022, 85 percent of customer service interactions will start with self-service, according to your report. What is driving that growth?

Manusama: There’s a big paradigm shift going on, where customers want to have self-service and where companies are providing it -- but not fast enough. Why? Because we have more tools in terms of smartphones, devices and multiple channels where we can engage with organizations. I think that our expectations for engagement have changed -- we want it however and whenever we want it.

GCN: What steps lead to self-service?

Manusama: It’s really about two things. It’s an outside-in thinking: What do citizens want in terms of self-service? Look at it from the outside in because that will contribute to a better experience and that will contribute to a better brand awareness. Then, if you would turn it around, there are a couple of services where you may want to think, “Wouldn’t this be great if the citizens would fill things out themselves or provide this information themselves instead of them mailing something or we have to reach out to them proactively?” So, you also need to look to the inside out.

GCN: What role does emerging technology play?

Manusama: It will give you more insight into your citizens, which basically means you can personalize the engagement. Also, you can be more predictive toward your citizens and understand most probably what they want to do next when they are calling or engaging because of the insights that you already have. The second element is using conversational agents. You do not need to talk to a human being anymore; you can talk to the different chatbots and virtual agents that are out there. Third, there is a lot of processing still involved -- human or manual processing -- in the back office of a government agency. Introducing things like robotic process automation and intelligent robotic process automation allows you to do more of the repetitive tasks by bots instead of human beings.

GCN: How can IT managers determine what to make self-service?

Manusama: Things to think about: volume of the process, complexity of the task that needs to be performed and the level of dialogue needed to automate in order to engage with the citizen. A low-complexity task where there is not much interaction is the "frequently asked questions" within government agencies. You need to see this like an express lane in the supermarket. That lane where you can have a maximum of 10 items, those would be where all the simple questions are, the relatively low-touch questions that can be answered in a very speedy way. That would be the first component to go to and then look into the more complex situations and see if it makes sense to automate or not.

GCN: What are five things government IT managers should know before pushing self-service?

Manusama: Don’t step into the trap by just looking at self-service from the inside out, from a government perspective where it’s beneficial. It needs to be beneficial for your customer, for the citizen. That’s one.

The second thing is that you constantly need to measure the success of your self-service process in order to be accurate and understand the satisfaction with the product you have designed.

Thirdly, you need to constantly market or remind people of the self-service capabilities that are out there because people will forget and will start using all the channels again, or more traditional channels, and that’s not what you want.

The fourth element is making sure that you have you have your knowledge management in place. Knowledge basically fuels all your engagements, so be aware where your knowledge repositories [are] and what knowledge you actually need to answer the questions of your citizens.

Last but not least, plan for maintenance before deployment. If you do self-service, you will regularly need to maintain your knowledge base, maintain the design of your process, maybe open up other engagement channels where you are providing self-service, so make sure that you have plans for maintenance before you actually deploy all of this so you can get to the constant accuracy that you would like to have.

About the Author

Stephanie Kanowitz is a freelance writer based in northern Virginia.

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