Government Service in a Digital (and Smarter) World

We live in a digital world where you can access information and complete tasks online whenever and wherever you want. We’ve all gone online to do some shopping, download music or stream our favourite TV shows.

The good news is that government and public sector organizations have largely followed the commercial sector, and are now well and truly operating within the digital world. Government and public sector organizations are encouraging their citizens and customers to submit vehicle registrations, report noisy neighbors, file tax returns and complete other tasks online.

Some of this encouragement is being primarily driven by government austerity measures. Regardless of the reasons why, this digital shift undoubtedly gives citizens and customers what they want and expect in today’s digital world.

With the plethora of information and services available to citizens and customers online, do the government employees who staff the contact centers truly have a place in this digital world? Especially when some very senior government leaders have told me they have considered the notion of getting rid of their contact centers altogether?

I believe such views are a reflection of where government is in terms of its digital maturity. However, much like their commercial sector counterparts have some years ago, I think they will quickly realize the truth— the role of digital employee is now more important and challenging than ever before.

Why? Well, what happens when a customer trying to complete a task (such as paying a tax bill) on the Web or via a mobile device gets stuck and needs some help? Clearly some sort of human assistance is still required. I term this digital-assisted service (as opposed to digital self-service). Whether it is a live chat, answering a customer email, responding to a comment or request via social media or another channel, government employees are on the back end of these interactions. And, they must still provide the high-quality service that citizens already get in the commercial sector and now expect from government and public sector agencies. People are critical to supporting digital and online self-service.

And, despite the plethora of digital self-service channels, one of the oldest and most reliable ways to reach an agent—the phone—is still one of the most widely used channels.

That’s because, while customers can find a lot of information and complete all sorts of transactions online, when they have complex customer service issues or problems, they may not be easy to resolve via self-service online. Those complex issues can sometimes only be solved with human-to-human contact, meaning a phone conversation.

Speaking to someone on the phone can be reassuring when there is a problem, giving citizens and customers a sense of comfort and helping you build a meaningful relationship with them.

However, the agent has to do more than just answer the customer’s call. The agent must be prepared to handle the most complex issues in a way that takes the customer’s feelings into account. That means putting all the information the agents need to give that specialized service—service history, payment schedule, previous problems and more—at their fingertips.

Citizens and customers who are already frustrated want their problems handled as quickly and efficiently as possible. If the agent wastes time searching several screens to find basic information, the citizen’s frustration will assuredly grow. Therefore, it is critical to streamline these complex processes using such tools as a unified desktop and case management.

In fact, today’s digital government initiatives will actually increase, rather than decrease, the importance of employees. They are critical in providing the support customers and citizens need to be able to complete more tasks online. This places even more demand on solutions, such as live chat, co-browse, video, workforce optimization, social engagement and others, to empower your agents to provide the quality service your citizens deserve and expect.

In summary, digital government needs digital employees to serve digital customers.

David Moody is VP & Global Practice Leader, Government and Public Sector, Verint Systems Inc. Follow him on Twitter.  

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