Making better use of the voice of the citizen in Government services

Voice of the customer

How good is the UK public sector at bringing the voice of end users into the design and delivery of public services - and how can they improve to deliver better outcomes for citizens?

As the commitment to user-centric design continues to grow in public services, the onus on government organisations to build the voice of the citizen into their work becomes ever more important.

Ultimately, public services exist to deliver the best possible outcomes for citizens, and if their needs and experiences aren’t being successfully captured and used to inform design and execution, the organisation is failing the community it serves.

While it’s encouraging that most public sector organisations are focused on capturing the voice of the citizen, we continue to see ways that they can improve that process and deliver better services.

From our work at Qualtrics with numerous public sector organisations in the UK and internationally, it’s clear that efforts to harness the voice of the customer can be too narrow, and typically focused on the same areas and formats. They are good at collecting solicited data - interactions with public services are very often followed up by requests to complete formal customer surveys. But although the public sector is good at collecting that kind of information, they still tend to be data-rich and insights-poor.

Beyond the numerical survey data, we often find that public sector organisations aren’t able to understand the reasons for that feedback. The missing piece is being able to distinguish the key drivers, which will then inform the best course of action to address concerns or enhance the service.

Opportunities for improvement

We encourage organisations to broaden the scope of their user feedback programmes, so that they can tap into a wealth of new insights. For example, many organisations seem hesitant about using identifiable feedback, preferring to run anonymised feedback programmes. While it clearly has value in some cases, anonymised feedback also creates challenges and limitations - one being that it’s difficult to close what we refer to as the ‘inner loop’ that allows the organisation to follow up with individual users. For example, if a citizen provided feedback on website content, could they let that person know when they’d fixed it?

When feedback is solicited in an anonymous fashion, organisations also struggle to understand how a citizen interacts with them across multiple channels and services. If a user can’t find the information that they’re looking for, that potentially drives them to higher-cost channels like contact centres. Many organisations we work with report high website usage, but are unable to understand why their call volumes are also continuing to rise. They're not able to track a citizen through their entire interaction journey, because they can't identify the point at which the customer switches to another channel and their reasons for doing so.

Starting the improvement journey

There are some common areas that organisations typically need to improve to make better use of the voice of the citizen.

They need a strong cultural foundation around governance to ensure senior-level buy-in for the programme. Without executive support, organisations struggle to ensure that processes are followed and ownership is acknowledged. When setting up these types of programmes, we often find a lack of coordination between different parts of the organisation.

While one team may be capturing excellent user insights, the team responsible for using that feedback to redesign services hasn’t bought into the process, so nothing happens as a result. Technology and process can only do so much - if the cultural groundwork isn’t in place in the organisation for this type of programme, it's unlikely to have real impact.

Emerging technologies like machine learning and AI are playing growing roles in exploring the wealth of unsolicited data

Emerging opportunities

Increasingly we’re helping public sector organisations to explore new ways to harness the voice of the citizen, particularly in capturing insights around unsolicited feedback. We know that they are great at doing surveys, but findings show response rates can be low, or that the feedback isn't necessarily representative because the same user types tend to complete surveys. This is where emerging technologies like machine learning and AI are playing growing roles in exploring the wealth of unsolicited data. Allowing organisations to begin to understand the sentiment the customer feels during those interactions, identify emerging trends, and to recognise what is and isn't working, so that they can redesign services or create new training for frontline teams.

Any agency providing public services should have a strong commitment to listening to their customers, and we’d urge them continually to broaden the scope of that process, look around the public sector for examples of best practice, and make citizen-centric thinking central to organisational culture.

💡 Find out more about how Qualtrics works with public sector organisations

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