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INDUSTRY INSIGHT

Digital transformation delivers more than productivity -- it rebuilds public trust, too

COVID-19 has been a catalyst for digital transformation in the public sector, putting governments at the forefront of the public health response.

According to a recent survey from the National Association of State CIOs, 90% of state CIOs said that the pandemic increased demand for digital government services. When asked what the biggest driver was behind expanding digital services, almost 75% of respondents said providing “better online experience for citizens.”

Meanwhile, rapid advancements in customer experience technology in the commercial sector have elevated Americans’ expectations for government's digital services. Individuals are demanding seamless interactions, mirroring that of the private sector.

New data suggests the widening gap between expectation and reality threatens to further undermine trust in government.

The Global Trust Imperative, a recent survey of over 24,500 people across 36 countries, found that excellent digital experiences are a cornerstone of rebuilding trust in government. (The report was commissioned by Salesforce and conducted by Boston Consulting Group.)

In fact, 87% of those surveyed said a great digital government experience would increase their degree of trust they had in their government, while 81% said a negative experience would erode that trust. And of the 25% of customers who said they accessed some form of government digital channels at least once per day during COVID-19, only 12% said that their government’s digital government services were meeting all their needs.

By identifying a clear link between digital service quality and the overall trust and confidence that customers have in governments, this new research gives policymakers a roadmap for rebuilding trust, starting with improved communication with constituents and streamlined digital services. 

Improving communication with constituents 

The importance of communication during the COVID-19 pandemic has been twofold. First, many organizations that transitioned to remote work to protect employees’ health and safety and now rely on online channels of communication to continue to deliver services. Second, governments must quickly communicate the latest information about the virus, available benefits, testing and now vaccines. 

Online information should be easy to locate, benefits should be simple to apply for online and customer services should be responsive. To streamline the delivery of services to 2 million farmers and ranchers served by the Department of Agriculture each year, USDA launched a portal on www.farmers.gov that allows farmers to sign up for benefits, receive program updates and view an interactive map of their farm. The portal also gives USDA customer service agents a platform to record customer interactions, consolidate information and provide a more helpful and seamless experience for customers. Instead of driving for hours to sign up for programs in person, farmers can now easily do so from their homes. USDA customer service now has a comprehensive view of those they serve and can distribute benefits quickly and at scale. As part of agriculture relief in the American Rescue Plan, USDA has distributed up to $10.4 billion without the need for in-person contact. 

Online platforms and services that clearly communicate information to constituents, are easy to navigate and readily accessible enable government agencies to deliver on their missions and provide constituents with essential services and benefits during day-today functions such as renewing a driver’s license or, in times of crisis, applying for housing or financial aid.

Streamline digital services

Technology companies and digital leaders have set the bar high for customer expectations around digital services. Government agencies can take away valuable insight from the private sectors’ years of innovation. Building and improving existing platforms that make it easier for customers to find the information or service they are looking for improves the user experience. 

One impediment to public-sector digital modernization is complicated government legacy systems that make it costly and time consuming to adjust agency online platforms. Transitioning from these legacy systems -- for example by adopting products that use clicks not code -- allows agencies to easily adjust and iterate their platforms to continuously improve their online service. Transitioning out of legacy systems is a complex endeavor, but there are established patterns for moving forward. Success can be greatly increased with an agile approach, by breaking monolithic systems into manageable chunks of related services, starting first with the customer-facing services, and using modern cloud platforms for API-based integration and analytics.  

Prioritizing transparency when it comes to communicating information signals a commitment to constituents, and making it easy for constituents to access services or benefits online makes for a more convenient user experience. Improving communication and streamlining digital services are two ways the public sector can begin to close the divide between the private sector’s excellent customer experience and the overall poor customer experience governments offer.

By following the private sector as a model and establishing a better digital relationship with constituents, governments can more efficiently deliver on their missions and win back constituents’ trust. Establishing a strong relationship with constituents will in turn result in a more personalized approach and better government service delivery. 

About the Author

Casey Coleman is senior vice president, global public sector, with Salesforce and a former CIO of the General Services Administration.

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