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Better citizen service, more effective citizen engagement centers require a holistic and intentional employee engagement strategy

This article originally appeared in GOVERNING.

For many citizens, their first — and sometimes only — interaction with their government is a call to a citizen engagement center. Think about that: A citizen needs help and is asking, by virtue of picking up the phone, for their government to assist them. From that single interaction, a government agency can signal to its citizens how it values their time, how empathetic it is to their needs, and how prepared it is to help.

The key to sending the right message? The citizen engagement center employee.

The key to making sure that employee is able to do that? An effective employee engagement strategy.

Government agencies and their private sector partners that operate citizen engagement centers must ensure that they are building a workforce and an infrastructure that empowers agents to deliver the help citizens need.

This is not your run-of-the-mill retail engagement center set up. It requires an overall employee engagement strategy that is more holistic and intentional than most. And, it must enable the people on the citizen engagement center frontlines to be more empowered and effective than ever.

At Maximus, there are three very important ways we make that happen.

Equip your teams to succeed

Your employees are there to solve problems for citizens. So, be sure you’re dedicating ample time and resources to training that addresses citizen engagement center technology, agency-specific policies, and soft skills that demonstrate care and compassion.

At Maximus, we have established learning-centric environments that deliver capable and effective employees and place an increased priority on recognition. Be sure to celebrate top performers and demonstrate your investment in employees’ success and development. And, set clear and transparent career paths, and then groom staff in kind — making sure you have a bench of talent that allows you to staff-up when needed. It’s also crucial to allow for temporary management roles during surges so agents can test out positions and envision themselves in bigger roles. Most of all, be good to your people and they’ll be good to you and the public you serve.

Understand the connection between your people and your customers

Engaged employees who feel valued by their company deliver better performance. It’s been proven time and again — but it isn’t rocket science. We’re all happier at our jobs when we feel like we’re making a difference. A citizen engagement center employee who feels that they are effective — because they’ve been trained well and given tools to succeed — will be happier at work and better at what they do there. An investment in employee engagement and training will absolutely lead to better outcomes.

In Maximus’ citizen engagement centers, we aim for one-call issue resolutions. As a result, our handle time is six to seven minutes longer — but that’s ok with us. We know that citizens are calling to resolve a problem, schedule a medical appointment, or look for something as critical as help with basic needs following a disaster. They need someone on the other end of the line who has the ability and the information necessary to solve their problem and not someone who is trying to quickly wrap-up the call to meet an unimportant metric.

Incentivizing employees on the number of calls they take or how quickly they can get callers off the line is counterproductive. When employees are going the extra mile — which is what we want them to do — they are being more effective for citizens and will be happier employees as a result of that efficacy. It also means that the citizen doesn’t have to keep calling back in to solve their problem, which wastes their time and the agents’ time.

Create ways for neighbors to help neighbors

When Maximus establishes a new citizen engagement center in an area, we intend to be part of the local community for many years. So, we hire our employees from the immediate surrounding area and focus our recruitment efforts on the ways that a position with (and a relationship with) Maximus helps their communities thrive.

We consider it a business imperative to build relationships with employees and engage with the community at large. In the past, we've even held job fairs and invited employees to "bring a friend to work" to recruit staff from their communities. We want to be the place where people want to work and a place they'd recommend their friends and families to work.

This transparent and intentional approach to recruitment really makes us a trusted partner and an employer of choice in these areas — something that allows us to respond quickly to surges and to be competitive in our quest for new work.

A holistic employee engagement approach, where the focus is on training, employee success, and communities, will continuously improve the citizens' experiences within government agencies. Our experience has proven that time and again, and our approach has enabled us to become the largest provider of citizen engagement services to the federal government.

Learn more about why a robust employee engagement strategy is critical to program performance in Laura Parson’s piece, Employee engagement is foundational to program success.