GovCX is the first-of-its-kind global initiative designed to acknowledge and celebrate governments that offer their citizens the best possible digital experience. We want to showcase the great work in digital CX from governments around the world, celebrate the achievement of the people behind it, and inspire others to follow suit.
Here, we sit down with members of the judging panel, Gerd Schenkel, David Heacock and Marla Mitelman to discuss the state of digital government today – and where it can be improved.
How much does delivering a great digital customer experience matter and why?
The experience in the digital world matters a lot more than elsewhere for a couple of reasons. It’s far more measurable and the experience is really what drives adoption and repeat use in particular.
This is very important for any commercial service but for government in particular because governments tend to be monopoly providers. And it’s particularly important to have a good experience because of the importance of those services and the adoption. So one of the opportunities for government is to be more accessible 24/7 in the digital world with no wait time. If the experience is rubbish on the first attempt, people go back to clogging the waiting lines. So for governments it’s even more important than for commercial services to have a really good experience online.
Great experiences can dramatically reduce workload, and therefore the overall taxpayer expense of that government service delivery. Sometimes we need to change business processes to make them smooth, but in terms of just delivering great experiences, a great experience should reduce the impact on government, and therefore we get better bang for our buck as taxpayers.
I also believe great experiences are representative of a well-considered business process. They demonstrate how much a government organisation has thought through their processes, how much they’re listening and responding to their citizens, and they can really confirm government’s role and relevance.
It’s of paramount importance. For some (not all) it’s the primary, if not the sole channel someone will be interacting on. Expectations are high so quality of service needs to match those expectations.
Based on your experience and the work that you’ve done, what do you think a great digital customer experience looks and feels like?
I think of a digital experience in at least two parts. The first part is the utility, so does it work? Is the function that you’re looking for actually available and is it functioning right? Then there is the emotional effect that an experience actually creates. And in some ways that’s more important because the emotional effect determines the satisfaction of the user, it determines whether they come back and also determines whether they become an advocate and therefore drive further adoption in their circle.
For me, a truly great customer experience isn’t even experienced. I like to use that as an aspiration.
I think one of the things that we need to have for great digital customer experiences is that the touchpoint of the service doesn’t require me to know anything. I need to know my data, I need to be able to communicate that and my intent, but I shouldn’t need to know the rules. I shouldn’t need to know how the system works. I shouldn’t need to know which door to enter if they’re not labelled. A great experience should have stripped away all the unnecessary processes.
For me, it’s all about the details. Great digital experiences are made up of the sum of all of their parts. But there’s some elements I consider fundamental. Firstly, the information you need should be easy to find and the system doesn’t make you jump through hoops to access it.
In addition, the process uses language that’s appropriate, and is easy to understand and the citizen can
perform the task he or she came for in the simplest way possible. They should then not left with any ambiguity about their task being completed as their expectations have been clearly managed. People will remember the bad experiences more than they remember the good ones. As someone smarter than me once said “Good design is invisible”.
Which companies do you think set the benchmark for best practice in citizen experience?
Expectation tends to be set by global platforms. So it’s just a fact that consumers learned what is available on the internet and otherwise from Facebook, Google. eBay, PayPal, all those kind of players. I don’t think is one player who is good at everything. There are sort of peak performances that you can find in different places.
I think Apple has always been held up as a benchmark of customer experience – they’ve lost their edge recently but I still think they’re ahead of the game. I think Google has really done a great job of pushing a whole lot of things into the background and Airbnb has been amazing: it’s democratised an otherwise very closed industry of holiday rentals. And I think as a sector, online fashion has done an amazing job over the last few years.
I’ve frequently cited Xero as a great example of a complicated practice – Accounting – made simple for the average person. They’ve made something really complicated easy to use and elegantly designed.
They’ve really thought about their users, obviously. But more than that, it’s all the minutiae they’ve really paid attention to. For example, designing and building forgiving date inputs that allow you to enter dates in any format. They’ve designed for how the user will use it, not for how they want the user to use it. That to me is where the difference lies.
What would it take to shift governments from the mindset of being so time and budget conscious more than anything else?
I think it’s a measurement problem where people measure the cost of the project and they say the project needs to be within that budget. But you need to look at the entire cost of the experience. So if an experience means people call a lot and every call costs $10 or $15 then that needs to be taken into account. And therefore I think, on balance, just a history of these kind of projects, we tend to undervalue a good experience financially.
What traps have you seen organisations fall into when it comes to CX? And how can they avoid them?
A big one is confusing the traditional hierarchy with decision-making around experience. Sometimes it’s a mistake for project teams to escalate design decisions to more senior people to make decisions. Simply because they’re not as qualified and they’re not as close to this project and the customer. The other thing is there is the project and then there is the time afterwards. I’ve seen a lot, especially with high pressure projects, there is so much focus on the launch that there is no time given to what happens afterwards.
Complicatedness and massive risk aversion is probably my number one. I think governments in general have a very high level of risk aversion, and it’s not necessarily shared by the private sector. Quite often, it forces every citizen or every consumer of that service to equally bear the burden of compliance: “because one person has tried to defraud the state through this service, I’m going to make all of you jump through as many hoops as I can.”
As much as we love to think digital is the only answer, for some it’s not always accessible. For those with no access to the internet or limited access to a computer, forcing them to interact online is a challenge and may prevent them getting access to essential government services. Providing ubiquitous and multi-channel access to government services is essential and should not be overlooked as part of any customer experience.
What is one piece of advice that you’d give to governments that really want to lift their game in good CX?
I would say stop thinking about yourself as government. Stop thinking of yourself as a monopoly provider.
Why not aim for something amazing? And I think the CX awards could potentially help produce this by encouraging governments to be aiming very, very high. Why wouldn’t governments be the best experiences in the country, for example? I think that’s the mindset that we need.
The first thing is think big. That doesn’t mean you have to change everything, but consider the macroscale when designing a small part of it. I think digital transformation is a bit of a misnomer. I think what we’re really transforming is business, and we’re considering digital channels.
Start by investing in experienced User Researchers and Experience Designers who really know their craft – harder than it sounds. Governments should also look outside the sector for inspiration and innovations in service delivery.
It’s also ok to steal great ideas, but it’s important to improve on them too. They should also not try to do too much – instead, focus on what their users need, and do that really, really well. And finally, they should listen to and regularly watch their users to understand where improvements can be made. At the same time, they need to be trialling new ideas, measure the results, iterate – rinse and repeat ad infinitum.
Do you any predictions about where digital government services are going to go?
Firstly, the scale is so huge, the benefits are so vast, that I have no doubt that the majority of government services will be delivered in a digital world. There’s no doubt about it. Overall, the cost of providing services should be dramatically lower in the next five years or so because of just the vast benefits provided. Who wants to go into a store during the hours of nine and five? It’ll be so much better if you can do everything 24/7 online with some support. So I think it’ll be this polarisation but vast drop off budgets. But on a per transaction basis, you’ll have some transactions that are very, very costly. And that’s just what it is.
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