The future of citizen experience in the digital age

The fundamental differences between customer experience (CX) in a commercial setting and the public sector offer valuable insights. While commercial entities focus on targeted customer segments in a competitive environment, the government must provide universal services, catering to diverse populations with varying barriers to access. Additionally, the public sector must adhere to policy intent and legal requirements.

Using appropriate terminology to describe experience design in the public sector is a challenge. Terms like 'customer' imply a commercialTerry Dixon relationship, while 'citizen' may exclude non-citizens who interact with the government.

Nevertheless, whether we use the imperfect terms of ‘customer experience’ or ‘citizen experience’, we recognise the value of learning from a well-established practice with extensive experience when designing government experiences. Furthermore, there is an underlying cost to these experiences, either through service fees, taxpayer expenses and the impact of poorly designed services on individuals’ time, health, and finances.

Service Design, CX, and Technology in Government: Balancing Innovation and Trust

Service design is well-established approach to designing government services, and several agencies and departments have already added a CX lens to their service design approach. The combined approach helps remove barriers to access, considers the emotions involved in experiences, and Anne Dhirrecognises the importance of memory in the lifelong relationship between individuals and the government.

Technological advancements can facilitate these experiences, but they also present risks and fears. Damaging the relationship between citizens and the government can undermine trust in democracy and essential services like healthcare and education. The number of users further amplifies these concerns.

Three opportunity areas for citizen experience:

1. Going beyond service design

The Government Digital Service (GDS) has revolutionised service design, shifting the focus from the service provider's perspective to the user's needs. The next evolution involves applying lessons learned from CX to enhance citizen experiences.

This includes focusing on the role of emotions, designing for customer success beyond service interactions, and promoting trust and engagement. Moreover, designing for convenience by connecting services and interactions across different departments and organisations.

Designing for service failures and transparency help build trust, reduce the cost to serve, and improve employee experiences by freeing their capacity. It is vital to have a 'human in charge', ensuring that the technology is understandable and explainable.

Some public sector organisations have already adopted a CX strategy, for example, BJSS and SPARCK collaborated with NHSX, conducting extensive research, establishing a diverse customer experience baseline, and developing a progressive framework for NHS digital services.

“BJSS helped us define our CX vision and the role our national digital channels play in putting health and care directly in the hands of people in the future. They ensured this was not only grounded in best practice but brought to life for multiple audiences, laying the foundations for CX principles/thinking being embedded across our work."

Emma Bradley, Head of Customer Experience, NHS Transformation Directorate

However, some public sector organisations face issues scaling up and embedding CX strategies in all their processes can present challenges. In the private sector, CX strategies are underpinned by connecting data across services and products.

In the public sector, there are good reasons why walls have been put in place to ensure the fairness of public services. Designing these connections carefully and avoiding the potential abuse of algorithms are essential aspects of this process.

2. Focusing on experience to unlock preventative agendas

The public sector aims to build relationships that encourage people to feel safe engaging with them before reaching a crisis point. However, some individuals and communities feel unsafe, due to past experiences with that same service, another service, or cultural barriers.

Focusing on convenience and ease of access might seem like a nice-to-have, but for many users experiencing multiple deprivations, frictions can become insurmountable barriers to access. By moving toward a preventative agenda, the government can promote outcomes such as healthy living, vaccination uptake, and other proactive measures.

Addressing the inconveniences and barriers faced by different individuals is crucial to prevent crises and ensure everyone can access the services and benefits they are entitled to. The benefits to government from this approach are clear.

3. Strengthening the connection between individuals and the government

The long-term opportunity lies in fostering genuine engagement between citizens and the government, so that citizens can, not just access services, but play a part in shaping them. Digital innovation in community engagement and participatory budgeting are some examples.

Technology can enable this connection but must be implemented with consideration for privacy, security, and accessibility – and without excluding those requiring assisted digital or non-digital access. This approach can help include diverse voices in policy shaping, decision-making, and creating a continual conversation with citizens to gain insight into the needs and challenges of all parts of society.

In conclusion, the public sector can learn from established private sector practices by adapting them to the government context. The opportunities are immense, but so are challenges in implementing these practices at scale. Technology is rapidly evolving, and ensuring the collaboration of policymakers, front-line staff, and citizens in the development process is crucial. Ultimately, those with the greater good at heart must lead the charge in leveraging technology to enhance citizen experiences.

Find out how BJSS can help you create people-centric solutions with the power of design:

Written by Terry Dixon, Head of Growth and Anne Dhir, Strategist and Service Designer at BJSS. 

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