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Three Steps to Modernize Government’s Customer Experience

Many government agencies have been slow to invest in experience the way the private sector has — but modern technology, including artificial intelligence, is opening up new avenues to reduce friction.

Close up of a man using mobile smart phone
When an issue arises, customers expect a seamless experience that will solve their problems quickly and accurately. This expectation has only heightened in the digital era.

To meet this demand for instant gratification, brands have migrated to a digital-first approach to customer experience, one that can reach a customer at any touchpoint at any time. These advancements have set high expectations for the industry as a whole — the average customer wants to engage across 13 different channels including various forms of social media, chat and a company’s website.

While many private-sector businesses have quickly adapted to meet these new expectations, it has taken more time for government agencies. Many agencies are highly transactional and do not form “relationships” with their constituents. A recent study from McKinsey found that government services often rank below a myriad of other sectors when it comes to customer service, consistently leaving constituents more frustrated and dissatisfied compared to banks, retailers, airlines and utilities.

The answer lies in organizational barriers and a cost-saving mindset, the latter of which continues to be propagated as government officials experience public pressure to spend taxpayer dollars wisely. These roadblocks often lead to money- and time-saving measures like reducing average call time instead of prioritizing a seamless customer experience and investing in digital transformation.

While government agencies often lack the flexibility and organizational agility of businesses, priorities are slowly shifting as leaders begin to see the benefit in the citizen experience. Accenture reports more federal agencies are investing in experience. In 2016, only Federal Student Aid and the Department of Veterans Affairs employed customer experience officers. Since then, agencies including the Census Bureau, General Services Administration, Social Security Administration and even the Internal Revenue Service have added similar roles.

From federal to local agencies, optimal and efficient citizen experiences aren’t out of reach. Let’s look at three key steps government agencies can take to elevate their CX.

1. Invest in an Open, Cloud Native Platform With a Suite of Best-of-Breed Solutions

Many critical government systems, processes and, in turn, contact centers, run on old, on-premise technology — piecemeal, outdated systems that inhibit flexibility and speed. Many agencies don’t realize that investing money in updated systems often saves costs overall. Cloud platforms are scalable, secure, easy to integrate, customizable, and budget friendly. Agencies can take this one step further and ensure that the platform is combined with a suite of best-of-breed solutions underpinned by AI. This is the key to delivering seamless CX.

2. Prioritize Efficient, Omnichannel Interactions

Agencies need to meet their customers at their preferred touchpoint. Offering more than phone support better assists constituents by allowing them to choose the touchpoint that’s right for them. In the age of modern customer service, it’s common for customers to begin their journey on one touchpoint and later migrate to another, like search to chat or email to phone call. Minimizing friction and maximizing efficiency is the key when deploying omnichannel support and solutions.

While many government agencies support multiple channels, integrating them within a single platform is critical and allows agents to view interaction history and pick up right where they need to — not start from the beginning. Repeating already-provided information frustrates customers, driving impatience and in turn making them more likely to take their frustration out on agents, lowering agent satisfaction. The best contact center software powers seamless experiences by making interaction data accessible across the entire platform.

3. Deliver Smart Self-Service

Often, customers take matters into their own hands and only reach out for help once they’ve exhausted all options. NICE’s 2022 Digital-First Customer Experience Report found that 85 percent of consumers go to Google as their first stop for customer service and 81 percent crave more self-service options. This is a massive opportunity for government agencies to revamp their CX. Well-planned digital self-service solutions cater to these customers while helping contact centers mitigate volume spikes and reducing wait times.

Four critical self-service technologies unlock the most success for government agencies:

  • Knowledge Management: A strategic knowledge management platform makes information easily accessible for customers at any point in their journey including through the website, Google search or chatbot interaction. On the agent side, staff can quickly access resources they need to provide more effective customer service.
  • Interactive Voice Response (IVR): IVR uses natural language processing (NLP) over the phone to interpret voice requests to get customers the help they need. Instead of pushing buttons on a phone, customers can simply converse with the IVR like they would an agent to complete tasks on their own, like requesting a pothole to be filled, or have their call directed to the right department to be addressed by a representative. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services turned to IVR in 2020 to help increase efficiency and expand self-service options.
  • Smart Chatbots: AI-powered chatbots are virtual agents that can be deployed on a website, messaging system or social media. Bots can help field requests and can be deployed in an area of the website where citizens are more likely to ask for help or have questions. Chatbots that integrate historical business data with generative AI systems like ChatGPT are now essential to enhance existing platforms and provide more extensive and detailed responses to customers than ever before. The IRS famously deployed an army of chatbots this past tax season to reduce wait times and help address common taxpayer questions.
  • Interactive Guides: This is a newer form of self-service enablement.  Guides are implemented on the website. They can determine when a web visitor may need assistance and then intervene to offer more information, recommend next steps and even initiate a conversation with a live agent.

The next steps are there for government agencies to continue or begin their evolution. No matter if it is a private or public institution, every customer deserves a seamless experience regardless of where they are in their journey. In this age of rapid digitization, the gap will only widen between organizations who do and do not provide seamless CX. Now is the time for government agencies to elevate their contact center operations and deliver the top-notch service their citizens want and deserve.

Mark Ungerman is director of marketing CX at NICE.