SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Receiving a speeding ticket or any sort of traffic violation is generally not a pleasant experience. But it is one form of a government-to-customer transaction. Instead of receiving a product or service, however, you receive a fine ... and possibly traffic school. While it is not a novel idea that governments be more customer-centric, in practice it is much more difficult to accomplish. The reason? Because agencies generally do not think of issuing tickets or permits as providing customer service.
But serving residents in any government service function requires agencies to understand what the entire process looks like holistically, said Peter Kelly, chief deputy director for California’s Child Welfare Digital Services, during a panel discussion at the California Public Sector CIO Academy* on March 2.
In thinking about the customer experience, he said, "agencies need to know what other steps are needed to complete the process.” In order to provide the best services, he added, it is necessary to know what other agencies are doing and how the residents have been treated.
Providing the best services, to which customers have grown accustomed in the private sector, typically entails digital services. Because many agency's legacy systems are not capable of handling these sorts of services, the transition to digital customer delivery often involves procuring systems.
And if we have a better method of procurement, Kelly said, the services offered also will be improved. One strategy is to be open and honest about what you are able to provide. “We have to be honest upfront,” he said.
Creating user-centric services for residents is crucial to how government services are rendered. In response to the passage of the Patient Protection Affordable Care Act (ACA), California launched Covered California, a health insurance marketplace for state residents and small businesses to purchase health insurance at federally subsidized rates.
In the portal's original iterations, the application process was confusing and the site was not optimized for mobile. In a separate panel at the CIO Academy, Covered California Chief Technology and Information Officer Karen Ruiz talked about overhauling the application so that it was more user friendly.
“We’re not here to just to sell insurance,” said Ruiz. “We want to make sure Californians get the right care at right time.” The agency partnered with Accenture and Fjord to update a section of the application as a proof of concept.
The firms were tasked with one of the most complicated sections: income. People will often get confused about certain terms and enter inaccurate information, barring them from receiving health benefits, said Fei Collier, program director for California's Department of Health Care Services.
Kenzie Haynes, who worked on the application redesign that was released in February, explained that the process of overhauling and optimizing the application is to understand who your target audience is. In this case, said Haynes, "we wanted to design for those who were not the most technologically apt."
The redesigned section features much less text and is more humanized. “We really tried focusing on being an inviting process so you weren’t scared off,” she said, adding that if chunks of text that may be necessary to know were included, “chances are, they won’t read it anyway.”
Additionally, the redesign focused on mobile-first because of the growing population that's reliant on mobile phones as their only source of Internet access. It is also easier to scale a mobile site up to desktop than vice versa, said Haynes.
Though there was a constant push and pull between the design firm and the state agencies over what information to highlight or what should be available via a mouse hover, the product ultimately came together because at the end of the day, both entities' goals were centered on providing the best health-care coverage possible.
The income section redesign served as a proof of concept, and the agency will continue to redesign other sections of the application to make them more user-friendly. The next round of updates is slated for September, said Ruiz, just before the next open enrollment period.
*The California Public Sector CIO Academy is an event hosted by Public CIO, sister publication to Government Technology.
Ryan McCauley was a staff writer for Government Technology magazine from October 2016 through July 2017, and previously served as the publication's editorial assistant.