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Extending a Customer Service-Oriented Government

As consumers, we expect smooth and simple experiences from online retailers. In many cases, the same expectations occur in government. Federal and local governments have an opportunity to meet and exceed these expectations by using digital communications technology to its fullest potential.

The Presidential memorandum, “Digital Government: Building a 21st Century Platform to Better Serve the American People,” issued a pledge in May of 2012 to modernize digital technology in the public sector by March of 2013 as a result of rising citizen expectations along with a series of budget cuts that affected government customer service centers.

There is progress being made across individual government agencies that are making efforts to implement more effective communication technologies. MichiganDHS

The Michigan Department of Human Services (DHS) was recently faced with a challenge—poor economic conditions were increasing the load on its caseworkers, who provide financial, medical, heating, and food assistance through a system of about 100 offices distributed throughout the state. There was an influx of requests for assistance, and its current communications technology couldn’t handle it.

The organization was forced to innovate. Using cloud technology and modern customer management software, Michigan DHS developed an integrated voice-recognition service to increase the load its online system could manage.

Since then, the voice-recognition system has processed almost half a million phone calls without any caseworker involvement. Calls usually take an average of 5 minutes each, equating to several thousand hours being saved each month. Over 180,000 online applications have been received without the need for people to physically visit the office. These simple innovations have freed up caseworkers to focus on important tasks that require human attention, and give the Michigan DHS more resources to allocate wherever they might be needed. These improvements have actually let the Michigan DHS expand its operations.

The Michigan DHS didn’t do anything magical to enhance its communications system. Other public sector institutions can follow its success by making use of the 3 golden rules of customer service.

1) Optimize the technology that is being used. Cloud computing has become a great choice for high-quality services at a relatively low price, and according to a report from October 2013, about half of state and local governments are starting or planning to use the cloud. Out of these, 70% say they plan to use it for web applications; 60% say they’ll use it for cloud storage; and 40% say they’ll use it for email.

2) Offer good service. The public sector may never match the private sector when it comes to online user experience, but a good interface is really all that is needed. The key here is being able to resolve a citizen’s issue on the first call, something the Michigan DHS nailed with its voice-recognition system.

3) Be consistent across every channel of communication. Many organizations have different messages and protocols across different channels, something that is off-putting to a user. As the online experience improves more people are expected to use it as their preferred channel of communication.

By taking advantage of the multitude of communication technologies developed in the private sector, federal and local government organizations can vastly improve their customer service. Michigan DHS has shown that relatively simple changes can have a tremendous impact on outreach and effectiveness, providing a successful model that other agencies can follow.