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The government’s imperative to improve the consumer experience, and the opportunity it holds for industry.

Websites, 24/7 customer support, mobile applications and other tools have opened communication between government and citizens like never before. Citizens demand customer service for everything they do – the government is no exception – and they want many options to access it. However, with each new advance in delivering customer service, the complexity of the processes and consumer technology increases for how it’s delivered. The government must meet these expectations to help citizens effectively. The experience and interaction of a citizen from the beginning to the end, when seeking assistance from their government, is what we call the Citizen JourneyTM.

In order to provide exceptional service throughout the Citizen Journey, government agencies must reexamine how they engage with and provide value to citizens. For example, when the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was enacted and was launched, many pundits initially thought that consumers would just go to the website and complete their application and enrollment for health insurance from start to finish. As was quickly discovered, consumers wanted to reach out to a person, via multiple channels and at any time of the day or night, for help with everything from password resets to finding out of if their child’s specialist was covered by one of the available health plans.

The ACA experience exemplified the new expectations for citizens’ interaction with the government, solidifying that a citizen-centric experience is a required key tenet of modern government. It brought to light the difference between simply applying a user-friendly technology and truly making government service a citizen-centric experience.

Improving the Citizen Journey throughout the entire experience is so critical that President Obama even issued an executive order about it in 2011. The President’s order requires federal agencies to improve customer service, stating, “With advances in technology and service delivery systems in other sectors, the public’s expectations of the government have continued to rise. The government must keep pace with and even exceed those expectations.”

Beth Cobert, Deputy Director for Management at the Office of Management and Budget, echoed President Obama’s sentiment. This past March, she testified before the Senate committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs that the administration is committed to an effective government that is focused on delivering a world-class customer service experience for citizens and businesses.

“Americans today live in a world where almost anything can be accessed instantly from a phone or computer,” Cobert said. “To deliver effective services, government transactions need to be available in the simple, accessible and easy-to-use formats that our citizens and businesses expect.” The government’s emphasis on the citizen’s journey through its services also appeared in the President’s Management Agenda, which discussed creating government-industry partnerships and government-citizen interactions that improve the services delivered.

Many federal government agencies have created initiatives with a mission of providing more effective and easier-to-access information for citizens. The General Services Administration, an agency created for the sole purpose of managing and supporting the basic functions of government agencies, has a newly formed organization under its Office of Citizen Services called 18F. Its focus is to build “effective, user-centric digital services focused on the interaction between government and the people and the businesses it serves.”

This focus from government leaders enforces the importance that streamlining service delivery and improving the Citizen Journey is the customer service of the future.  Achieving it will require a number of key components:

  • Strong leadership, focused attention and collaboration with private industry
  • Better-designed, restructured and more efficient business processes, enabled by innovative technology
  • An openness and willingness for the government to solicit, listen to, and incorporate feedback from its citizens on the experience they encounter when they engage with their government
  • A fundamental shift in the way that we all think about the Citizen Journey to embrace the variety of ways that people can and will access government services

The launch of provided an example of what can happen when citizen expectations for service are not met and – for the first time in our history – the President of the United States has addressed problems with customer service related to multi-channel support. That experience serves as an example of how important the Citizen Journey has become and how citizen expectations have evolved.

As a new generation of government program participants emerges, it will be more important than ever to not only handle the needs of citizens, but to meaningfully engage with them to improve the Citizen Journey and achieve the best possible outcomes for both the government and the people.

Special thanks to Scott Clarke, Senior Director of Contact Centers for Maximus Federal Services, for his contributions to this piece. Look for Scott’s upcoming blog post on how to establish a more engaging Citizen Journey process, coming soon to this space.