INDUSTRY INSIGHT

3 tips for better citizen service

Anyone who has worked in municipal government has likely heard from constituents about their problems getting answers.

One typical example is the person who spoke with four different municipal employees in three departments, attempting to identify at least one official to answer their question. Another is of a resident who waited on hold for several hours only for the request to be solved in five minutes. The anecdotes are countless and vary from department to department, but the themes are common.

Why is it so hard for government to get this right? Supporting citizens should not be this difficult, especially when municipal leaders have smooth, frictionless solutions for customer service problems. Taking action shows agencies in their best, not worst, light.

Citizen support is solvable

The concept of citizen support is not new; in fact, it is the basis of municipal government. The goal is to help residents with their requests, complaints, comments and questions, making it as easy as possible for them to sign their child up for summer camp, pay their tax bill, find out when a road is going to be repaired -- any number of conversations that can be started, shared and concluded.

It can be difficult to determine how to make that experience effortless for members of the public. I am always surprised how many municipalities and their IT departments have it backward – trying to make processes easier for their employees, rather than the residents. 

The process often starts with good intentions. A municipal employee recognizes a problem and works up the organizational ladder to find a solution. This often leads to a discussion with the head of the IT department where a new software program, tool or service is proposed and obtained.

Often, the installation and management of the new program are left to an already stretched IT department, whose staff is not trained in citizen support, so many don’t understand how to best utilize new solutions in the way they’re intended.

To better serve citizens, then, better collaboration is needed across an entire municipal organization. This is known as enterprise service management and citizen support. Here are three tips for making it work:

1. IT should facilitate but not own the process. All too often municipal employees leave the implementation and success of a new software or mobile app to the IT department. For better results, front-line municipal employees should take ownership of choosing and implementing a tool. Why? Because they are the ones who will be using it or answering questions about it from citizens. This in no way minimizes the importance of IT in the process. Choosing a new program or tool that isn’t compatible with current systems or busts the budget is not a helpful solution.

2. All stakeholders should be involved in the new system's decision and implementation. The process should take advantage of each department's strengths. IT has experience in selecting and implementing tools and designing work processes. The citizen support team knows exactly what services members of the public need. By working together, a common solution can be found. Before any project gets to this stage, having management and budget support is crucial. The best intentions won’t matter if the resources aren’t available. Management support can also help smooth over the inevitable bumps and disagreements that occur. 

3. Every department with a stake in the process should work together to launch the project. Pick a service, like reporting the need for road repairs, and set up a pilot project to test how the new system will work. While it is better to start small, agencies can learn much about what to do, and what not to do, that will guide them going forward.

Digital communication for citizen support

A Deloitte report suggests that as many as 80% of public sector leads said that a digital communication strategy is essential for their organization’s success. However, more than 40% of survey respondents said their organization lacked a clear and coherent digital communication strategy. Sixty percent of these experts said their municipalities are slow adopters or even non-participants in the use of technology to allow members of the public to speak directly with an appropriate contact within the organization.

Excellent communication, says Deloitte, requires that the websites of municipalities must be accessible anytime and from any device and that data exchanged upon them should be shared across multiple departments. Without these capabilities, there's no way to easily interact with those being served. However, there is much more that can be done to serve and communicate with the public.

Citizen support communication technology provides individuals with better user experience. It establishes robust channels for residents to engage directly with municipal service departments, eliminating the need to provide manual and cumbersome customer service.

Individuals become their own customer service

Seamless (and quality) citizen support starts by finding out what the public thinks of the municipal website. Is it being used to its fullest potential, or is it just a place where visitors can read what the organization or department does?  Do residents want to access government support online? If they're going to engage, how do they do so?  What are the friction points an individual must endure to contact the appropriate department to report an issue – a streetlight out or a pothole in need of repair?

Each of these conversations can be much more efficient.

The first step is engaging the internal IT service desk to help employees address common, such as unlocking a user account, logging a computer repair, reserving a meeting room, or a vehicle from fleet services or processing a newly hired employee. In such environments, the service desk team processes employee's requests and addresses all concerns, requests, questions and challenges and builds a searchable knowledge base.

Organizations that install such internal communication channels for their teams can easily extend that capability to their external audiences. Doing so reduces the friction points discussed earlier and eliminates countless manual processes -- like four separate team members taking a call from the same person that’s hoping to solve a problem that could have been automated through citizen support communication technology or addressed in as little as five minutes through a routed and connected call.

With citizen support communication platforms, when the public communicates with their local government, the request is automated, tracked throughout the organization and routed to the most appropriate department without manual intervention. This cuts down unnecessary calls and random emails requesting help and assistance. Instead, an individual keys in a question, comment or concern, and the process is seamless from there.

Citizen support helpdesk solutions reduce inbound phone calls and free up resources from staff who otherwise must respond to every query. Instead, internal teams can complete the most critical projects and answer queries in allotted slots during the day, offering a more efficient workday for staff and  saving the municipality time, money and effort -- all leading to better service for citizens.

About the Author

Ruben Franzen is the president of TOPdesk US, a global provider of enterprise service management solutions.

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