If traditional, hotline 311 calls and fully staffed call centers are financially unsustainable, then the future of customer service and CRM might be found in the city where the first mobile app was launched. Since that eventful moment, Boston has seen its digital channels grow significantly, expanding 10 percent per year for the past three years, according to CIO Jascha Franklin-Hodge. “Today, we are averaging 59 percent of our service requests through digital channels,” he said. “There’s been a dramatic move by our customers from phone to digital.”
Like other cities, the rise in digital requests, queries and complaints in Boston hasn’t put a big dent in the number of phone calls; instead, the city finds that citizens are becoming more comfortable and more aware of the fact they can contact and engage with the city as never before, pushing up the overall growth in 311-related services. At the same time, however, better technology means better data, and that converts into better information for the city.
The Age of Customer.gov
The Digital Communities Special Report, which appears twice a year in Government Technology magazine, offers in-depth coverage for local government leaders and technology professionals. The June 2017 report explores the idea that the tech that drives 311 can help government deliver an Amazon-like experience.
As cities become more sophisticated with 311, inevitably they speak about Amazon, the giant online retailer, as a metaphor of what public customer service can become. For example, Amazon doesn’t have a different website for each of its services; it’s all found under one digital roof, making it easy to shop. “Constituents expect the same from government these days,” said Franklin-Hodge. “That means breaking down the silos; building just one app, which allows a user to have just one login and one shared experience.”
While companies have figured out how to hide their silos from customers, government hasn’t quite reached that frontier. As Kansas City discovered, as long as there is no incentive or accountability for agencies to participate in 311, silos, whether they are hard or soft, will remain. It takes leadership at the very top to drive such change.
When it comes to customer services, one problem that government doesn’t face compared to the private sector is customer loyalty. If customers don’t have a good online experience on Expedia for example, they can move over to the next competitor. Government, of course, has a captive audience. But there’s a huge risk if government doesn’t provide the kind of consumer-like experience that is expected today.
“Consumers can’t change governments if they get frustrated,” said Franklin-Hodge. “But they will become cynical about government and lose trust, and will be less willing to support the next big public project or engage with us over an important issue. We have a profound obligation to define and set an experience of government services that is better than they have received in the past.”