Citizen-centric public services: citizen and customer experience – convergence or confusion?

Written by Radhika Chadwick on 6 June 2018

Should citizens expect the same "customer experience" from public services as they get from private sector products and services? Share your views in EY's poll

Today’s private sector customers are becoming more demanding of their products and services. These always-on, digitally-enabled, personalised consumer experiences are now influencing citizens’ expectations of their public services. These are now directly compared against the private sector in three key areas:

Convenience – how easily services can be accessed across channels

Experience – seamless, end-to-end experiences that require minimal effort to engage

Personalisation – tailoring to individuals based on their location, situation or state-of-mind

Understanding this is vital to the successful delivery of the UK government’s overarching vision to “transform the relationship between citizens and the state – putting more power in the hands of citizens and being more responsive to their needs”.

Citizen’s expectations of their public services are converging with consumer-grade expectations despite differences in the relationship

Citizens are subtly different to consumers. Where consumers choose to buy specific products or services, citizens’ relationships range from the fast and voluntary (a wedding license, museum admission) to longer-term, judicially imposed actions (regulatory compliance, licensing fines). Public services are often fundamental to everyday life. They are typically viewed as rights and utilities, rather than objects of attraction. In contrast, the customer relationship is specific, contractual and (if required) time-bound for any given market. This complexity makes our segmentation of citizen groups for services more difficult than private sector consumer groups.

Consumer preferences now determine how citizens want to interact with their local authorities, pension funds, police force, regulator and licensing body. For government, understanding what this means is critical for designing different kinds of services – whether they are government to citizen or government to business. Recognising and designing for this change in behaviours and expectations will mean that government can become increasingly responsive to citizens’ needs.

Fast and painless to access – a bridge too far?

Accessibility is one of the more fundamental differences between citizen and consumer expectations. In the private sector customers might expect instantaneous responses and flexibility in a service because of the nature of the contractual and specifically paid-for relationship. For instance, we expect a take-out meal to arrive within 15 minutes or a credit card company to pre-approve an application on the basis of information provided up-front.

These features may not be as comparable across citizen experiences due to the contrasting nature of the relationship, the often needed verification check and the requirement to ensure access for all via Assisted Digital for those who are not digitally literate. For instance, a grant applicant would undergo financial checks to give officials confidence that they will be able to deliver the work, or a licence applicant would undergo a physical inspection prior to obtaining a chemical license.

That being said, the principles underpinning a fast and painless citizen experience are very much the same.

What do you think?

Should citizens have the same expectation of their “customer experience” of public services as they do in the consumer market? Please respond to the poll to share your thoughts. You can access the poll here.


As a Partner in Strategy at EY London Radhika Chadwick specialises in Complex, Transformational and Digitally-Driven Change in Government. She believes we will see a monumental change over the coming decade in both which services government delivers to its citizens, as well as how those services are delivered. New technologies have the potential to help redefine and recharge the relationship between citizen and state, away from largely bureaucratic touchpoints and towards a much more meaningful and citizen-centric relationship. She is delighted to have the opportunity to work across the UK’s central government departments to help make those changes happen for the benefit of our economy and our society. She has 25 years of experience working with both private and public sector organisations in rethinking complex strategic issues and refocusing organisations for success. She is a Trustee of national charity The Restorative Justice Council, and a Sloan Fellow in Strategy & Leadership from London Business School. If you would like to find out about the services Radhika’s team can provide to your department, please get in touch at RChadwick1@uk.ey.com.

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