Why Is Citizen Experience Missing From The Midterm Elections?

Imagine how different the healthcare debate would have been if trips to the Registry of Motor Vehicles were a breeze.

Here in the US, midterm elections are in full swing. The themes feel familiar: Voters dislike various social and economic situations; candidates promise change. Across parties, many people seem to agree that the current government can't do what's necessary, a belief crystallized in comments about "politics as usual" and "Washington insiders."

The call for an overhaul makes me wonder: Why do we feel so unsatisfied with the government's performance and so unhopeful about its chances for improvement? A number of big reasons come to mind, such as high unemployment, rising public debt, various domestic and foreign policies . . . To me, those issues matter, but they have little impact on my day-to-day relationship with the government.

Most of my interactions with the government happen around taxes and transportation. Most of those interactions stink. At the Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV), the experience is marked by long lines, complex processes, and dismissive employees. On the subway, it's much of the same. I once asked a subway attendant here in Boston if a ticketing kiosk would give me change for a $20. She responded, "Yeah, it'll give you change. It'll give you lots of change." Then the kiosk spit out 18 one-dollar coins.

Are experiences like this a huge problem? Of course not. I have a great life, thanks in part to the functions of government. Nonetheless, I wonder how the political conversation would change if routine interactions with the government were less irritating. What if going to the RMV was like going to Trader Joe's or Best Buy — or even FedEx or Costco? If government agencies focused their processes and people on meeting citizens' needs in small ways, would citizens be more hopeful about the government solving bigger problems? I think so, and I think the benefits would extend further. Focusing on citizens' needs in small ways could start shifting agencies' thinking and activities more fundamentally. If we as citizens then believed that government truly served us, perhaps we'd look for more opportunities to serve it and each other.

Just imagine how different the healthcare debate would have been if trips to the RMV were a breeze.


What if the Citizen Experience were better?

Andrew, you ask an interesting question.

What if the everyday citizen experience were better?
Would we have more faith in the government, and be more likey to look upon their larger intiatives with a trusting, constructive outlook? My experience says "Yes."

The experience I refer to is my experience as a customer in the private sector.
For example, I order about 50 books each year from Amazon. Each time I go to their site, it's a very positive experience: They remember what I looked at last time, they offer very good recommendations and book reviews that make my decisions easy and accurate. As a result, I trust Amazon a lot.

If it were as positve an experience for me when I renewed my drivers license or called the IRS for information, I'd have more faith in the government, and be more trusting in their intitiatives. It would be good for the government, and good for its citizens.

So, why doesn't the government focus more on its citizens, and make it a higher priority to deliver a positive customer experience on the small stuff? Here's my best guess:

1. Goverment is very process-centric. It's hard to focus on the customer, when process is king.

2. In the private sector, if a company doesn't go out of its way to deliver a great customer experience, the customer will go out of its way to find a company who will. Governments don't need to worry about that.