At GovMetric, we believe that the relationship between companies and customers is fundamentally different to the relationship between citizens and our public services. In this article, we explore some of these differences in more detail, and consider their implications for Citizen Experience Management (CitXM) in the public sector.
1. Public sector organisations are hugely complex
Even the most sophisticated B2C businesses still don't offer anything like the variety of services delivered by our public sector. Take Ocado as an example: widely recognised as an international leader in the online grocery sector, the operations of this logistics giant can actually be distilled into a few relatively straightforward component parts—ordering, stocking, picking, and fulfilment—with tightly bounded customer channels and touchpoints.
This means Ocado can be laser-focussed when it comes to understanding customer expectations and improving the experience at each point in the journey (in this case, using robotics and artificial intelligence to revolutionise operations and deliver highly personalised customer experiences).
Public sector organisations are different. The range of services they offer means resources are spread more thinly and that what works in one area may not work in another. Corporate-wide CitX strategies need to acknowledge and design for this, while remaining focussed on answering the key question—"what outcome does the citizen want when they interact with us?"
Public sector organisations are a lot more complicated than private businesses of a comparable size
2. Public sector services are more complex, too
Not only is an average public sector organisation much more complex than a private sector company of a similar size, but the services themselves are also more complicated.
Most CXM technologies have originated from the private sector, where customer journeys are typically simpler, shorter and take place over a single touchpoint, and the factors that influence the customer experience are easier to identify, analyse and act on.
For example, if you are an online retailer that ships products to your customers, you can use pretty much any off-the-shelf CXM platform to understand the relationship between delivery time and customer sentiment. You can fine-tune your strategy accordingly, just like tweaking a dial, until you hit the sweet spot between fulfilment cost and customer satisfaction.
But public sector services don't have simple, tidy use-cases like this one, and there are a lot more dials to tweak. CitXM platforms need to be flexible enough to handle a wide range of different journeys that are highly personal to the individual citizen.
CXM vs CitXM: how it feels
3. You can't choose your customers…
In the private sector, CXM helps businesses identify their high-value customers, who deliver the most revenue and growth for the lowest cost, and, at the other end of the scale, which customers cost the business more than they are worth. This enables businesses to nurture their most profitable customer segments and deprioritise less worthwhile ones (or even cast them off altogether).
This application of CXM doesn't translate to the public sector. Its organisations can't pick and choose their customers, or dump the ones that are just too difficult, too frustrating, or too costly to serve.
In fact, the reverse is often true: a relatively small percentage of the population are expensive 'super users’ of public services. A key goal of CitXM is to inform service design so that in the long-term these citizens have better outcomes while also needing fewer, not more, of the services on offer.
4. …and your customers can't choose you.
Many government services are a monopoly, and citizens often have little or no choice about how, when and where they access them. Use of some services is mandatory and may even be exercised against the will of the citizen. This means the traditional driving forces behind CXM—lead generation, conversions, and long-term brand loyalty and advocacy—aren't relevant to the public sector.
But that doesn't mean that the quality of the citizen experience isn't important: it just has a different focus. The ROI of CitXM in the public sector needs to be framed in terms of value-for-money services and improved long-term outcomes for citizens, rather than profitability. The goal of the public sector is to achieve optimal service quality within the constraint of fixed budgets: by focusing on quality, organisations can lower costs through timely interventions and by reducing failure demand.
5. You can act collaboratively, not competitively
Customer experience has become a critical differentiator for all kinds of businesses in a competitive global marketplace, and companies safeguard their knowledge of customer behaviours and preferences as closely as Coca Cola guards its legendary syrup formula.
But the public sector is under no such constraint. Sharing customer experience insight across agencies is essential if the public sector is to be successful in its ambition to deliver simple, seamless services that are centred around the needs of the citizen. CitXM solutions must be highly interoperable, not just with existing internal systems, but with the CX technologies used by other organisations.
6. The stakes are much higher
The quality of public services has a profound effect on the quality of our lives, with some services—health, social care and policing, for example—being quite literally a matter of life and death. So, can a customer's experience of buying a new phone contract be measured in the same way as a traumatised victim of crime who is dealing with the police?
In some respects, yes—in both examples, the individual will have a range of emotions about how their actual experience compares with their expectations. But how that experience is best understood, the nature of the insight gained, and how and when it is shared and acted upon by the organisation, is likely to be very different.
CitXM solutions need to reflect these differences and be capable of handling highly sensitive and time-critical CitX data safely and appropriately.
7. Treating citizens as customers isn't always the right thing to do.
The concept of thinking of citizens as customers of the public sector is long-established, and the always-on, digitally-enabled, personalised experiences that we are used to as consumers certainly influences our expectations of public services.
But is it really that simple? By reducing citizens to the role of consumers, we may risk forgetting what ‘citizenship’ really means—a shared responsibility for the good of the community, rather than fulfilling one’s own needs without consideration of others. After all, communities aren't built by governments and populated with passive customers who simply consume their services.
Instead of simply making it easier for citizens to receive public services, we should also be recognising citizens as our most valuable partners. By understanding the citizen experience through effective CitXM, we can help to build a sense of participation and collective responsibility that leads to happier, healthier and more resilient communities.
Do you think the relationship between companies and customers is different to that between citizens and public services? And do you think it matters? We would love to hear your thoughts.
Nic Streatfeild is the founder and director of GovMetric, home of the leading Citizen Experience Management solution for the public sector.