At Control Group, our thinking about the public sector and “citizen service” is heavily influenced by the hospitality, retail and entertainment industries. We believe focusing on things like customer experience, data-driven decision making and a strong brand– backed by a fulfilled promise– is critical for any organization, public or private.
One area in which we’re seeing a lot of activity are so called “one stop shops” for social services, non-emergency services and travel information– 211, 311 and 511, respectively. These are the “1-800 numbers” of sorts for cities nationwide.
There’s a lot of potential in these efforts. Providing citizens one number to call to interface with the city, and providing service in a way that reinforces the responsiveness and effectiveness of government, can have enormous effects on customer satisfaction and perception. In fact, if done well, such initiatives can result in government customer satisfaction rates that exceed the private sector. Something the cynical among us might not have thought possible of government.
So how can one be successful? Below are some things to consider:
Channels. In addition to usual and expected channels, in-person engagement opportunities provide a friendly face for populations that may be reluctant to engage with government, or cannot do so via other channels. Boston’s “City Hall To Go” is a great example.
Follow-up. For service requests or issue reports, following-up with the customer via an appropriate communications channel “post-report” offers confidence the city received and understood the request correctly. It’s also a great time to collect feedback and provide information on self-service options to check on the status of the request later. Think ZenDesk or Uber’s receipt/rating workflow.
Integration. This one has many dimensions. From a channel’s ability to refer the user to other organizations (e.g. 211 or 511), technology integration and information sharing, to cross-agency collaboration, “integration” is one promise of using information technology in the first place. It’s also a big enabler of customer self-service options. What might a Google Docs-like collaborative workspace for 311 request fulfillment look like?
Mobile. An obvious rising star in the Internet-computing world, mobile devices are increasingly common across all demographics and ages, even the primary mode for Internet access for some. Mobile has unique opportunities for enabling self-service: recording ambient audio levels, taking photos of issues or accurately reporting a user’s location can aid in the verification and submission of a request. For instance, noise complaints might prompt a sample of ambient sound. Might a well designed app ask citizens to verify an issue exists if they happen to go by it?
Partnership. Cities can’t handle all requests that come in from the public–e.g. plastic bags in trees. Instead of turning citizens away, can a referral be made to a private or third-sector organization for follow-up? Might cities broker requests from citizens, providing a portal for third-sector organizations to use during community cleanup days?
In the end, I’m reminded of a term I hear frequently in architectural circles: “porous.” As public sector budgets shrink and public-private partnerships become more common (and perhaps necessary), creating porous systems that can exchange data and responsibility with an engaged public can be a benefit to both.