Citizen Experience Can Help Agencies And Unions Address Budget Woes

Like it or not, government services face many of the same pressures that companies face. Companies like, USAA, Disney, and raise customer expectations when they deliver stellar service. As they raise the bar, other companies and government agencies risk getting fired when they fail to deliver the value that customers expect, make customers jump through hoops to access it, or begrudgingly deliver it through unengaged employees. Customers and citizens simply choose to take their money elsewhere.

It’s through this lens that I’ve watched the recent battles over state budgets and public employees along with their unions. When citizens don’t perceive they're getting a good value for the buck, they take their money elsewhere, even if that is through the ballot box — no wonder, when the citizen experience is so often sub-par.

Here are a few examples I’ve witnessed just in the past couple weeks: A group of on-duty cops spend an hour drinking coffee in Starbucks when people don’t feel comfortable walking around the streets a few blocks away; DMV workers look bored and move at the pace of sloths while I spend an hour waiting in line, even though they’re likely making way more money than the waitress at a local restaurant who’s super-friendly and efficient; a public transportation worker holds a sign at a street car stop urging people to smile, even when the lines often experience large delays; a gruff postal worker begrudgingly gets off his stool to get my package and then throws it on the counter.

Government agencies and unions trying to protect their embattled budgets need to pay attention and get serious about the citizen experience. Equally as important, a growing body of research including ours shows that customers who perceive their experiences as good drive revenues and loyalty, both of which are good for agencies struggling with budgets. These organizations can borrow from the examples and tools increasingly used by companies and nonprofits, which include:

  • Appointing a chief citizen experience officer. A growing number of companies are turning to a chief customer officer to act as the chief advocate for customers within the company. Take a page from entities like Canada Post, which appointed a chief customer officer in 2009, Louis O’Brien, who is ultimately responsible for the countless customer interactions with the organization. The organization made him one of only three chief corporate officers to report directly to the president and chief executive officer. He oversees efforts like capturing and analyzing feedback on products and services, reputation, perceived value, and overall experience, which the organization uses to generate a customer value index (CVI).
  • Collecting and using voice of the citizen (VoC) feedback to drive improvements. Establish mechanisms to gather citizen perceptions of and feedback on their interactions. Organizations doing this use Net Promoter Scores (NPS), Customer Experience Index (CxPi) scores, or some variation of them as high-level feedback benchmarks to align management and employees, while actively soliciting free-form feedback through websites, call centers, and in-person survey mechanisms to understand where they’re doing well and poorly. As organizations understand interactions that drive great experiences, many move to tie variable compensation like bonuses or informal recognition to employees and teams that do well.  
  • Building a citizen-centric culture. Instilling a shared system of beliefs and behavioral norms that guide employees to consider the citizen experience in their day-to-day actions is the ultimate aim for any organization hoping to improve. Organizations can build a citizen-centric culture by pulling on a number of levers, which include infusing citizen experience elements into hiring and recruiting, socialization programs (training, storytelling and internal communications, rituals, and routines), and rewards programs (compensation, career advancement, awards, and recognition).


Don't forget social media

Nice post, Paul!

I just wanted to highlight social media monitoring as a space offering great opportunities for government agencies to surprise their "customers" with great service and thereby enhance their public image.

I recently had such an experience with the California DMV of all places. I shared my frustration with the DMV mis-recording my VIN number and the amount of work it was going to take to fix with my followers on Twitter. Within minutes, someone from the DMV had messaged me back out of the blue offering to help, within an hour I had a live and helpful person on the phone, and within the week I had received a follow-up phone call letting me know everything had been cleared up--all without a single visit to the DMV from me. I was blown away.

Even though my newfound loyalty can't have any impact on whether I choose the DMV in the future, it has a huge impact on my overall view of that agency. The public's perception of government employees often sets a low bar--which means there's huge potential to impress people by borrowing from the private sector's standard VoC toolkit.

Social media as an escalation strategy? Bad idea!

Thanks for sharing the story Elena! Glad that you avoided what sounds like it might have been a gauntlet!

Your story sparked a realization for me. For a while I have found it find funny that organizations have these great, unexpected Twitter responses. It's a window of opportunity, because few people expect an organization to be listening in, particularly if they have bad service to begin with, and the volume compared to other channels is managable.

But, the Tweets often happen in response to something broken in a traditional channel. If you look at the "United Breaks Guitars" and the Maytag stories, both customers had several unsuccessful and frustrating encounters with staff through existing channels before they turned to social media. Then the problem was fixed (kinda).

Really, the way companies are treating social media is often a bit like an escalation strategy. We'll make you jump through hoops to fix your problem (in your case, the fact that it would take a lot of work to fix the mis-recorded VIN), unless you escalate the problm by broadcasting it to the world. Forget escalating to tier 2 or 3 support...let's wait until it goes viral!

Seems like a super bad and expensive way of operating. And, once people recognize it's the best way to get a problem solved, those organizations will get hit with a scale issue along with the really bad word-of-mouth. It seems to me that if companies have a good VOC program (an intellectually honest one) in the channels that people use most and that closes the loop on problems, they could avoid the social media blast that really spells trouble for a brand.

That all said, there are plenty of reasons for organizations to be active in social media, and kudos for someone at the DMV listening and solving problems. I'd just say to them, be careful or they'll create a bigger more public mess.