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Local leaders embed CX in all aspects of government

Effective communications and engagement have a tremendous impact on creating a strong customer experience. Adopting a thorough approach to engagement and implementing digital solutions have proven critical to improving equity and driving organizational buy-in for an enhanced CX, according to several government leaders who spoke at the 2024 Digital Engagement Virtual Summit hosted by Granicus.

“We’re witnessing inspiring examples of digital transformation that are radically improving the connection between governments and their citizens,” said Granicus CEO Mark Hynes.

The day-long summit featured several sessions and panels highlighting engagement types, benefits of community engagement, and real-life solutions. One such customer panel, titled “Communications and Engagement Strategies to Enhance Customer Experience (CX),” moderated by Granicus Chief Customer Officer Gabriele “G” Masili, shed light on digital solutions Granicus customers have implemented to improve citizen engagement.

It is no secret that customer experience is a hot topic in government. Though CX has taken on a buzzworthy status, it can mean different things in different organizations.

This varied approach to CX often depends on organizational goals and who owns the CX responsibility within the organization. Olathe, Kansas, transformed its operations and underwent a re-organization to better embed CX into its culture, creating an Exceptional Services Department in which CX exists as its own division.

“We approach everything we do from a CX point of view,” said Scott Meyer, Olathe’s digital programs manager. “We understand that [CX] has to be a part of everything we do.”

In the spirit of embedding CX into everyday operations, the Town of Manchester, CT, developed a Communications Ambassador Program that helps empower those working directly with end users. Educating internal users on the importance of CX (with tools like monthly emails, informational videos, and journey mapping workshops) helps the Town of Manchester more effectively connect with residents.

Additionally, Communications Ambassadors were asked to provide input during the town’s website revamp through their EngagementHQ site.

“Engaging staff with different backgrounds was great because it gave them firsthand experience with the user journey. Launching this program has been successful for us because it supports existing staff and demonstrates how they can use CX daily,” Brianna Smith, Manchester’s director of communications and civic engagement, explained.

The impact of communications and engagement on CX

The concept of weaving communications and engagement together was a common theme among the panelists. Ruthnie Angrand, director of communications and marketing for Syracuse, NY, emphasized the importance of viewing communications and engagement on the same spectrum.

“We conducted journey mapping of what our process looked like in person and digitally. We wanted to ensure that they looked the same, but also wanted to reduce noise and disruption in both processes,” she said.

The city’s communications office has a minimum of five touchpoints for every citizen engagement, helping identify service delivery gaps.

“If the information isn’t getting to [the public], then it’s like we never communicated and the service doesn’t exist,” said Angrand. “We learned a lot of empathy in our service delivery when we realized that how we talk about a service and how people engage with that service opportunity are on the same string. It’s about feeling what constituents need from you and making sure the information flows in a way that is accessible to everyone.”

Similarly, King County, WA, focuses on targeting communications to residents who need it most.

“For a long time, we have thought about communications tools as a megaphone,” noted Warren Kagarise, King County’s digital engagement manager, “but what about the folks in the back who can’t hear us?”

King County’s elections department worked with Granicus to set up personalized ballot tracking alerts for those voting by mail. Kagarise said these personalized notifications help to reach those who have opted in, but he is mindful that the county is not reaching everyone.

“We should always be working to increase the number of folks that are interacting with us and provide more options for people to get the information they want in a format they are comfortable with,” he said.

Creating equity in the customer experience

Reaching people with the right messaging at the right time is a challenge in any communications and engagement plan. Analyzing and using data can help bridge that gap in communications.

In Manchester, survey data showed that messages were only reaching a very specific demographic. The town launched a Community Conversation Program and conducted anonymous research to help identify friction points in engagement.

“Distrust in local government is one of the barriers to entry for a lot of different community groups. Keeping responses anonymous built trust,” Smith explained.

Similarly, in Syracuse, the city embraced data to inform its operations. Though the city had a 98% compliance rate for its new trash pickup program, it focused on areas where people were being fined and how to reach and assist those populations.

“We had room to work and partner with Public Works and our neighborhood planners to keep pivoting because that’s why we’re in government,” Angrand said. “We want it to work.”

Influencing organizational ownership and buy-in of CX

Partnership is key in influencing ownership and buy-in of the customer experience within an organization. Sharing the responsibility among departments for creating an outstanding CX results in a lighter organizational lift.

“It takes continuous work to get operations to engage in communications work. Our departments must rely on a centrally located communications team,” Meyer said. “Communications and CX [departments] are empowered to include themselves if for nothing else than to observe and make suggestions. The more they are involved, the more prepared our entire organization becomes.”

Kagarise added, “In digital communications, we are always looking to share and help educate our colleagues about social media data. We have a ton of information from social listening and subscriber data that the rest of the organization may not have so it can get people excited about the work you’re doing.”

Empathy also helps shape CX ownership and buy-in.

“So long as your staff has empathy, it’s easier to teach them the communication tools and about customer experience because they already care about the end user,” said Smith.

Angrand agreed: “Partnering with your colleagues and residents is a best practice. We adopt a culture of partnership so that we own the problem together, and we must sell that partnership to leadership, so we are engaging in solutions together.”

Click here to watch the replay of the 2024 Granicus Digital Engagement Virtual Summit.