Every government entity these days seems to want to improve its overall relationship with its customers; a far different position than two or three decades ago when governments at all levels didn’t know their customers, and frankly, didn’t want to bother to find out.

I can recall fervent discussions with program agency directors who believed identifying customers was as productive a counting angels on the head of a pin. That’s now a far cry from today’s attitude of almost obsessive Customer Engagement and Experience, or CX.

This new perspective was in full flower at a Feb. 22 GovLoop and Infor-sponsored online webinar. The event – 5 Strategies for Increasing Customer Engagement – showcased state and local government and industry technology experts and their strategies to plan and deploy solutions to meet the CX challenge.

Major takeaways from the experts were:

  • Specific strategies for increasing customer engagement;
  • The greatest barriers still facing agencies looking to modernize their constituent experiences; and
  • How agencies can track customer experience to find opportunities for improvement.

The panel featured Endi Silva, Director of Program Development for the Texas Department of Information Resources;  Summer Xiao, Deputy Chief Information Officer for enterprise applications in the Project Management Office for the City of Houston; and Bob Benstead, Director for Public Sector and Utilities at Infor. The moderator was GovLoop’s Senior Events Manager, Emily Jarvis.

“Sometimes outdated systems can create lower engagement and erode constituent trust,” Jarvis said.  “But on the flip side, it’s not like governments have millions of dollars to always throw at a CX problem and fix it with a snap of the fingers. So what can be done realistically,” she asked.

“We are approaching customer engagement as a component of the total customer experience,” Silva replied. “And as many of you know, CX is really about feelings, how customers feel and perceive their interactions with your organization, and they’re already experiencing it in one way or another.”

In Silva’s department, it’s really about being intentional, and driving the organization to really think about how they are interacting with those customers to create that ideal experience, and to build a customer culture from within.

“For the Texas Department of Information Resources (DIR) this all culminates in one of the most important strategies that I think we’ve implemented for customer engagement, and that is the customer experience focus group,” Silva said.  The CXG, as she called it, includes various stakeholders from across the agency and from across divisions, plus subject matter experts to really break down those silos that are often huge barriers to that customer engagement success.

“With the CXG, we are establishing customer experience as the main engagement tool, meaning we try to consider customers first in all of our communications, all of our outreach, all of our events. All of our experiences are starting with that customer first focus,” Silva said.

DIR tries to synchronize the voices of its customers across those divisions, and then facilitate collaboration across divisions. “DIR guides the program through a maturity model that we have developed for customer experience that as we mature, we’re bringing the entire agency along with us,” Silva said.

The Texas Department. of Information Resources is going through an eight-step component sequence, starting with defining their customers.

“Customers can mean a lot of things for many, many different organizations; constituents mean a lot of things to various people,” she said, adding, “to really define what that means for every single division is step one, and it was really eye opening when we went through that journey.” DIR also is performing journey mapping, providing everyone in the organization the tools that they will need.

“We’re all having that same engagement with our customers. It’s really inverting that culture from an inside-out perspective to an outside-in one, starting with the constituents, thinking about what they need, what they want from us, versus what we provide them. So that’s what we’re doing at DIR in a nutshell,” Silva concluded.

Quieter Engagement

Houston’s Deputy CIO Xiao voiced a somewhat counterintuitive position. “When we talk about CX or customer engagement, there may be an assumed understanding that more is better, right? How do we get people more excited about engaging with the government? How do we get more feedback? How do we get more constituent voice in what we do?”

But sometimes that’s not necessarily true, she explained.

“I learned once that a lot of people especially at the local level support level services – your water services, your trash pickup. The public actually doesn’t want to engage with you. So it’s really about providing your service so they don’t have to engage with you.”

Sometimes, she said, it’s as “simple as automatic payments. That’s something we all take for granted. So we don’t have to call or mail in. I think that’s a different perspective for the basic services that we realize that the public doesn’t want to engage. We have to have a mindset in the delivery of those services as well.

“So for the CX and customer engagement, it really has to be treated case by case,” Xiao said. Moderator Jarvis commented, “In this CX space, we’re always talking about better feedback. And I think you’re right, there are plenty of cases where actually getting no feedback means you’re doing a good job.”

Measure to Manage

Benstead pointed out that there are other measurements, among them the short-term metrics. “What’s the traffic to the site? Are people using it? Are we doing good customer satisfaction and things like that,” he said. But for the longer term, he said it’s imperative to tie all of these efforts to the long term result.

“Are you reducing your cost to provide those services? Are you actually doing metrics, identifying critical areas of measurement that you need to take into consideration,” he asked.

“You need to constantly monitor responses and give feedback, and try to put your teams and your view into the citizens’ shoes. What are they doing, what’s considered success for that?  So, I think, yes, there’s actually two big measurement pieces,” Benstead concluded.

So, it’s fair to say, “It’s no longer angels on a pin.”

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John Thomas Flynn
John Thomas Flynn
John Thomas Flynn serves as a senior advisor for government programs at MeriTalk. He was the first CIO for the both the State of California and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and was president of NASCIO.