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  • Nic Streatfeild

Forget CX: Why the public sector needs to start thinking about CitX

Updated: Aug 23, 2023

What is the difference between being a customer and being a citizen, and does the distinction matter? Does the public sector's monopoly on some of our most fundamental services mean we should care more, not less, about how we all experience them?

Printed text with the words "WE HEAR YOU"

Public services matter—a lot.

Let's begin by recognising that the public sector delivers, without exception, the most important services that we consume during our lifetimes. They are the foundation of a fair and civilised society, essential to our economic development and prosperity.

From healthcare to housing, education to emergency services, the quality of public services is inextricably bound up with our quality of life as citizens, and the strength of our communities.

So, as I see it, the biggest difference between being the straightforward customer of a company and being a citizen is, quite simply, how much stuff matters. Making our vital public services better through CX adoption should be a no-brainer for the sector—right?

CX in the public sector has different drivers to the private sector.

In the space of just a few years, CX has gone from a niche concern to becoming the powerhouse driving growth and revenue at companies across the world, attracting soaring levels of investment, brand new job functions, and delivering value to shareholders through customer loyalty and competitive advantage. So why does the public sector lag behind the private sector in CX adoption, when the stakes are so much higher?

For starters, the straightforward stimuli of customer loyalty and competitive advantage don't translate easily into public sector monopolies. This has left public service providers with an uphill battle when building a business case for serious investment in CX talent and technology. Happily, that is beginning to change, with more and more organisations recognising that the citizen voice can play a starring role in designing and delivering more efficient, cost-effective services, with lower rates of failure demand.

CitX recognises citizens as shareholders of our public services.

Still, the comparative immaturity of CX in the public sector goes beyond a simple (lack of) investment. Many of its organisations are still struggling to make sense of what CX has to offer them in the context of the highly complex and diverse services they deliver. In this situation, I think it helps to switch your perspective from that of a service provider, to you as a citizen.

As citizens, we need to start thinking of ourselves as the ‘shareholders’ of public services: shareholders who are passionate about making services—and society— better, who are ready to engage and challenge and hold our providers to account.

As citizens, we want to be understood as more than a service user, a survey response or an NPS or CSAT score; we want the public sector to adopt a holistic approach to understanding the tapestry of needs and our experiences across all public services, and to deliver them in a way that feels personal to us and our lives.

This is more that CX—this is CitX, and it is fundamental to the principles of democratic engagement and accountability that underpin a strong society.

Join the data dots - but remember the people behind the numbers

If this sounds complex, there's a reason for that—it is complex. And until relatively recently, joining up the citizen experience across multiple services has been an aspirational rather than an achievable goal.

But this is changing. The coronavirus pandemic has only accelerated the digital transformation that has been gaining pace over the past decade, which has seen an increasing commitment to interoperability, data sharing and analytics. Citizen data that was previously fragmented across different systems and organisations is now being woven together, which is in turn delivering new insights, enabling an enhanced understanding of current and future needs, and reducing friction in citizen/service interactions.

The idea of this 'single citizen view' isn't new and, as public service provider, anything you do that helps build these data insights is well invested. However, I believe that the focus of current data-sharing initiatives is still too narrow, defining citizens in terms of the services they consume, rather than as unique individuals whose interactions with you include a complex emotional dimension that is too often overlooked.

We know that empathy and trust are the foundations upon which healthy, productive customer relationships are built—so of all the data insights available to you, is there really anything more important than the citizen experience—spoken in their own words?

Choose CX partners who understand your world.

CX suppliers that straddle the private and public sector can often fail to grasp these nuanced differences between customer and citizen, leading to generic solutions that fall short of delivering real value for both clients and users.

At GovMetric, we are customers of our customers. As a UK-based company, we, our families, our friends, and our communities are directly impacted by the quality of UK public services throughout our lives.

We believe this helps us to think differently and to act with authenticity in everything we do. By helping good people to do good things, we will all stand to benefit. And what could be a greater motivation than that?

Nic Streatfeild is the founder and director of GovMetric, home of the leading Citizen Experience Management solution for the public sector.

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