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3 Tools for Improving the Customer Experience in Government

America's most successful companies have learned a lot about keeping their customers happy. The public sector can join that revolution.

Every election cycle brings an intensified round of speechifying, editorializing and, nowadays, tweeting about what's wrong with government. Is it too big? Or is it not doing enough? Are the policies wrong? Or the politicians? Is government out of touch?

The answer -- at least one answer -- is actually very simple. People are unhappy with government because it so often doesn't work well for them. They feel that too many of their interactions with government are hurting them more than helping them.

Poor government services have real-life consequences -- consequences that are particularly acute for businesspeople. Licensing delays can derail financing for a start-up. Misunderstanding a regulation can lead to a restaurant owner closing down and laying off staff. Permitting problems can cost a contractor his customers and investors.

Of course, disappointing government service isn't intentional. Most government employees want to help their fellow citizens and business owners. The problem is that government has largely missed the customer experience (CX) revolution that has transformed the private sector and irrevocably altered people's expectations of the organizations they deal with.

The core insight of CX is that it is smarter, cheaper and more effective for organizations to accommodate their users than to expect users to adapt to organizational structures. By designing their business strategies around input from customers, businesses like Amazon and Apple have come to dominate the corporate landscape. And, fortunately for the public sector, they have developed a rich array of tools that can help government work better for ordinary Americans.

A recent Deloitte University Press study, "Rx CX: Customer Experience as a Prescription for Improving Government Performance," provides a detailed description of the CX toolkit, as well as a step-by-step guide to implementing CX reforms. Here is a small sampling of these tools:

1. Journey mapping

Journey mapping uses data gathered from surveys, customer interviews and focus groups to understand exactly how users engage with an organization. An entrepreneur's journey, for example, might start when she first looks at a Small Business Administration website or picks up a brochure at her local library. It continues as she sets up her business, obtaining the necessary registrations, licenses and permits. Once her business is up and running, the journey goes on as the entrepreneur pays taxes, submits disclosures, attends government-sponsored classes and perhaps seeks SBA financing to expand.

A journey map highlights where regulators and government service providers are doing well and also where people are encountering "pain points" such as unclear instructions, unfriendly websites or processing delays. In the course of a CX-driven analysis of construction permitting, for example, the city of Boston found that contractors had trouble finding addresses of record, so a link to those files was added to the application interface.

2. Segmentation

Segmentation recognizes that people have different needs, not just in terms of the services they receive but also in how services are delivered.

An especially creative approach to segmentation was developed by the Department of Veterans Affairs in the wake of the 2014 scandal over service failures in its Phoenix medical center. Detailed CX research revealed that veterans had very diverse needs and preferences. Many older veterans, for example, cherished their relationships with individual VA staffers. But younger veterans were less interested in the human touch: their priority was accessing services quickly and conveniently from their laptops or mobile devices.

As a result, the VA divided its clients into segments based on these and other characteristics and then designed interfaces tailored to each group. Communication was improved, veterans gained more control over their services, and wait times declined.

3. Budget optimization

A well-designed CX reform can advance mission goals and cut costs. The key is allocating the right resources to the right people. An example is the U.S. Transportation Security Administration's PreCheck program. Frequent travellers are able to obtain background checks before they fly and then move quickly through airport security. PreCheck has reduced wait times and freed up airport security staff to spend more time on higher-risk passengers.

Some CX reforms detect false economies. In an extensive survey of incoming calls, the Arizona Department of Economic Services found that integrated response systems (the dreaded "press 1 for X, press 2 for Y" auto-responses) were generating multiple repeat calls as users struggled to get the information they needed. It turned out to be cheaper to have knowledgeable humans answer the calls in the first place.

Other tools available to governments aspiring to CX reforms include human-centered design, web analytics, social-media scans and nudges -- guiding customers' decisions through "choice architecture." These tools have transformed many of America's most successful businesses in ways that were unimaginable just a decade ago. People will never stop complaining about government, of course, but widespread adoption of the CX tools that the private sector is using so effectively would give them a lot less to complain about.

This story was originally published by Governing.