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Eliminate the scavenger hunt to improve citizen experience

According to a recent report from Forrester, U.S. citizens continue to be frustrated with the customer experience delivered by the federal government.

Think about the last time you needed to interact with government. First you had to figure out which level of government you need to contact for the service – local, county, state or federal government. Then you had to find the right agency and navigate its unique processes and protocols. In some cases,  the information or form is online, but it may take a customer service rep to talk you through next steps -- during agency office hours, of course.

The whole process can feel like a scavenger hunt, leaving citizens frustrated and negatively impacting their perceptions of both individual agencies and the government as a whole.

The challenge to government is being exacerbated because customer experiences offered by the private sector have become more seamless and efficient. Citizens expect the same level of convenience and personalization in their digital interactions with government as they receive from online retailers and payment apps. Citizens are looking for government to offer simpler, easier, more intuitive ways to access the services they need, and they want these interactions to be fast.

The agencies that are closing the digital services gap are taking advantage of emerging online and mobile channels to ease the burden on citizens holistically, rather than create one-off novelties that serve as another hoop for citizens to jump through. In other words, they are beginning to think like citizens.

Here are few ways government can extend this citizen-centric way of thinking and ultimately put an end to the government scavenger hunt.  

Adopt one-stop access to government services

When planning a trip, most people don’t start by visiting individual sites to book airfare, hotel rooms and rental cars. Instead, they start with aggregator sites where they can search among multiple vendors and compare options and prices. Citizens expect this same one-stop service from government as well.

By aggregating service information in the same way -- through a centralized website or app – officials  can create experiences that mirror how citizens already see government: as a single entity. By delivering a digital starting point for citizen searches, government can streamline the scavenger hunt and deliver a more positive citizen engagement experience.

Build a personalized experience

Digital solutions that can learn and evolve according to individual citizen's needs have become a major component of citizen-centric government. Much like online product recommendations or a flight change alert from an airline, citizen-centric platforms can now be customized based on variables like location, demographics and past interactions.

When government is able to offer the same customized digital service that online retailers can, citizens will have an easier time finding and using the tools they need most. Consider a citizen who wants to apply for an outdoor recreation permit, file taxes and at the same time submit an application to receive a federal benefit. With a citizen-centric platform, that citizen can establish a personalized account that will ultimately deliver timely reminders. These types of personalized experiences can increase how often a citizen interacts with government.

Be proactive, not reactive 

Citizens lead busy lives, and sometimes, between work and family obligations, government deadlines can slip by unnoticed. With push notifications and reminders, citizens can more easily access necessary services and, in doing so, make government more responsive to their needs.

In 2014, approximately 10 percent of eligible citizens didn’t vote because they either forgot or had registration problems. An app that proactively pushes easy-to-consume voting reminders or registration instructions could have a large impact on voting turnout, ensuring the voices of citizens are heard and ultimately increasing positive perceptions of government.

As all levels of government look for ways to improve the citizen experience, officials should begin by first thinking like a citizen. Adoption of digital services platforms will help end citizens' scavenger hunt by having the information they need from their government in one place.

We all love a good scavenger hunt -- just not when  hunting for critical government services. 

About the Author

Angela Fultz Nordstrom is vice president at NIC.

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