How Building a Seamless Digital Service Experience Helps Governments
Of all the lasting impacts brought by the COVID pandemic, one that seems to have completely changed the way that people interact with businesses, government, and each other has been the increasing reliance on digital services as part of their daily life. Whether booking a ride, ordering food, planning a vacation, or sending money, the convenience of using online tools to take care of many common tasks without a face-to-face encounter is becoming more and more the norm.
Because of this increasing daily reliance on digital experiences, seamless digital service has become a necessity for governments looking to meet constituent needs. Members of the public no longer need to come into city hall and fill out multiple forms in three different offices. Digital experiences now allow them to get their needs met and complete tasks in one place — no farther away than their phone or home computer. Driven forward by the need to continue government when lockdowns prevented in-person visits, this digital shift has changed what was once seen by the public as a necessary nuisance to a potentially convenient, and even enjoyable, experience as completing forms has become less of a barrier to fulfilling requested services.
But as businesses continue to move forward into the realm of digital experiences at breakneck speed, governments may seem hampered by the slower speed of government decision-making and implementation. While that might appear to put the government sector at a disadvantage compared to the public sector when it comes to creating the digital tools that can make life easier, it actually provides the opportunity for organizations to take the time and create experiences online that not only meet the needs of their residents, but also improve engagement with all communities.
What is Seamless Digital Service for Government?
Unlike an Uber or DoorDash, governments don’t have the convenience of having a narrow focus when developing digital services. The online experience may eliminate the need for a resident to visit three different departments to complete a service request, but all three departments still need to provide the resources to accomplish the same outcome that was previously accessed in person.
The end result of government digital services should give residents the idea that they are meeting all their needs in one place, creating a seamless experience. To accomplish that outcome, a strong and organized backbone that connects departments behind the scenes is a necessity. More importantly, an end-to-end service model should be built on the idea that the service responsibility doesn’t end at the completion of a form. It must have proper and dependable service from the first interaction until the ultimate finalization of service being fulfilled in a way that avoids service breakage along the line.
Building a Proper Customer Journey
Understanding the ways in which a customer engages with services offers a key insight into building strong and seamless digital services. Identifying the pain points that the public faces in an organization’s current journey, whether digital or in-person, provides early targets around which to develop a new digital service experience. Common pain points include:
- Incorrect or inconvenient form fills: Whether through user error or unclear instructions, few things can be more frustrating in a customer journey than a form rejected as incorrectly completed. How a form is designed and presented to the customer can help alleviate common problems, often as simple as properly following the flow between field tabs in a fillable PDF.
- Hard-to-reach contacts: While the digital experience is designed to help reduce the time expended on person-to-person contact, users may still have questions that require staff attention. If contact information is hard to find, many users will just abandon the journey.
- Administration-heavy processes: On the other side of the coin, if the journey requires too many steps where staff interaction is required, the entire service process can become a waste of time to those who approach the digital experience with the intention of a more efficient process. Giving users the information and ability to meet requirements makes it easier to fulfill services.
- Supporting accessibility: Whether providing mobile-friendly options or presenting information in a way that is compliant with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), accessibility helps users along the journey by allowing them to complete the process in the way that they can best engage with information.
Making Effective Digital Forms
Understanding the pain points that prevent users from completing their journey toward digital services provides a roadmap to creating a seamless experience. How organizations create forms that address those issues is the next step in the process, and a crucial one. Here are four critical areas to consider when building forms for an agency’s digital service experience
- Determine the outcome: When building a form, consider what the user will be trying to accomplish with the form. Having a clear understanding of what a successful completion of the form will look like for both the user and the staff reviewing the form can impact design and prioritization of information.
- Manage the experience: Every online interaction results in an experience, whether it be good, bad, or neutral. When addressing pain points, an effective digital experience not only overcomes the previous problems that a user might have faced, but can have a positive impact on their relationship with both the task they are completing and the organization with which they are working. Find ways to manage the experience to create the most positive reflection on both.
- Automate using data: By using existing data, from either profile information or previous forms completed by the user, organizations can create efficiencies, such as auto-population of application, that improve the customer journey.
- Build responsive services: Automated communications can also provide a responsive feel to the form process. Update emails, notifications about the process, or other user-centered communication points can show users that an organization is not a large bureaucratic hole into which their form has been sent.
Developing a Roadmap to Seamless Service Development
While digital forms create a touchpoint that builds into a positive overall experience, the elements that go into building effective forms should be extended across the entire service request process. By working across departments with a targeted goal of better digital experiences for residents, governments can create online services that truly become seamless both in the experience of the user, and in the work done by departments behind the scenes. Here are some ideas to consider when building overall service development:
- Determine goals and success criteria: Just as with forms, having a target for overall services helps increase the likelihood of success.
- Focus on human-centered design: The process to find a form should not be more complicated than the process to complete a form. Understanding how users interact with design is critical to making a positive overall experience.
- Spend time on quality content: High-quality content supplementing steps in the process can not only help users become more knowledgeable of what is required of them when completing a form, but it can also answer many of the questions that might lead to an email or telephone call taking up valuable staff time.
- Create workflows centered on engagement: As the completion of the form is not the end of the process for a service request, it shouldn’t be the end of user engagement. Automated email responses or text messages can put a focus on engagement throughout the entire service request process. This helps keep the user aware of status and prevents calls to staff to check on progress.
- Prepare for change: Digital processes create efficiencies when embraced by the staff that uses them. While changes may seem daunting at first, staff can benefit from the time savings that online forms provide. Understanding the overall goal to the process can help maintain a flexibility when change is needed in the process.
- Include room for follow-up via feedback and engagement: Feedback is critical to the growth and improvement of digital experiences. By using engagement tools, such as EngagementHQ, to begin meaningful conversations, collect feedback, and solicit ideas from users, organizations can better understand user preferences and analyze engagement, sentiment, and improvements over time. Building the importance of feedback into a roadmap will create feedback loops that infuse customer sentiment into the design of online services moving forward.
Developing Best Practices
The future is clear. Digital services are no longer optional for governments. But building a seamless end-to-end service model may be easier said than done. Understanding the ways that agencies can identify and, more importantly, put best practices into place can help make that vision a reality.
Rachel Keen, Granicus Senior Director of Digital Services Implementation discusses tips for organizations making this move into a more positive digital experience, including examples of governments who have built successful systems.