people in line


Use it or lose it: Leveraging data for better citizen satisfaction

At first glance, these are bleak times for government institutions. A regulation- and funding-slashing ideology reigns in all three branches, shutdowns have become a regular tool of political warfare and, according to numerous recent polls, the government is the least-trusted sector in America.

And yet, federal, state, county and municipal governments have access to a huge built-in asset that they can use to improve customer service: the billions of points of customer data they collect.

Companies like Facebook, Twitter and Google are essentially running their businesses on the acquisition and deployment of data -- and people are more blasé than ever about handing over their private information. This is even more true when accessing government services, where seemingly every form begins by asking for well-guarded information  like driver’s license and Social Security numbers.

But in a government context, those valuable pieces of information can be used to improve public services to better meet individual, regional and constituency needs. They can provide critical feedback to improve functioning and eliminate recurrent errors. And over time, they can transform the public’s perception of government offices from “necessary evils” to “customer satisfaction centers.”

We the customers

Robust data gathering is but one piece of a larger cultural change that government has yet to fully embrace. Businesses have long recognized what they call the customer interaction cycle: Greeting, Understanding, Agreeing, Solving and Closing. In recent years, they have automated many of these steps or otherwise integrated them into their data infrastructure. This has given them a treasure trove of information on how to better serve, retain and acquire customers from competitors.

Government, of course, does not have the same need to compete, but it does need to step up its game in an increasingly complex world. The motivation is not merely to improve its public perception -- which can have real-life consequences such as legislative budget-cutting to unpopular departments -- but to better fulfill its core mission: serving the people.

Equally important, a sharper focus on customer interaction management (CIM) can also solve government’s other existential problem: shrinking budgets. At a time when federal grants to state and local governments -- up to one-third of their annual budgets -- are decreasing and localities are also cutting back, government offices must learn to do more with less.

Fortunately, the solution to both challenges is at hand, and it comes from new service-sector technology.

From servers to service

Anecdotally speaking, people regularly associate going to a government office or obtaining a public service with “filling out paperwork” and “waiting in line.” CIM software can not only make both processes more efficient and less painful -- it can turn them into rich veins of useful information for both the agency and the citizen customer.

New app- and cloud-based programs can streamline the user experience from start to finish. Appointments can be scheduled and changed remotely, 24/7, using a smartphone app. Likewise, such an app can answer routine questions outside of business hours, freeing up the agency’s often-squeezed phone lines during the day. This removes a considerable source of stress on government workers, described in the U.K. as “avoidable contact” – essentially, unnecessary in-person or telephone communications to answer routine questions.  Eventually, these frequently answered questions can be added to the website, printed materials and the app itself.

In terms of gathering personal data, new technologies offer a variety of input options that may seem less onerous to people seeking government services than filling out forms. Kiosks placed in the office or waiting room of a state motor vehicle department or county assessor’s office can collect some of the personal data required  earlier in the process, streamlining intake. And capturing that information digitally fast-tracks it into the overall customer’s profile, freeing up staffers from tedious data entry. More critically, it reduces the office’s overall man-hour needs, which can ease the strain on the budget.

Mobile customer relationship management and mobile queueing platforms give agencies a way to personalize service because they recall each customer’s preferred language, mode of communication and notes from previous visits. The more-advanced platforms can even personalize notices that alert customers when to leave for their appointment to arrive at the government office just in time for service, taking real-time traffic data into account.

At the other end of the process, surveys sent over the app after the transaction can provide a fresh set of data on what went well and didn’t. A survey sent electronically to users’ devices (instead of handing them yet one more piece of paper) will increase the likelihood and number of responses and -- as with the kiosk  -- marries this information seamlessly with the agency’s data architecture.

Between robust communications technology and the data economy, government workers are on the cusp of an exciting transformation. Technology will enable public servants to serve better -- by knowing their public better.

About the Author

Alex Bäcker is founder and CEO of QLess.

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