Digital government is revolutionising certain aspects of public service, but more must be done to improve the customer experience, public and private sector leaders said last month during a webchat hosted by CSW and IT company TCS.
Centered around the question of whether digital services suit the most pertinent needs of the public, participants challenged the government’s attitude toward customer satisfaction, and considered whether service delivery aims to satisfy consumer needs or whether it disregards the wishes of those it’s meant to provide for.
While the conversation generally supported the idea that the government intends to please its customers, the panellists questioned whether the current structure provides services that must just be accepted, without any catering to the needs of the consumer.
Below is a summary of the key arguments.
The right mindset:
For some, the government lacks the necessary mentality to consider the specific wants and needs of consumers, instead adopting a get-what-you-get approach.
One panellist, Robin Ryde - former chief executive of the National School of Government and director of Robin Ryde Consulting - said from his experience, government lacks a customer satisfaction mind-set.
“I don't think that the public service has much of a history of 'delighting' the customer,” he said, later adding that the mind-set issue can be traced to competition between organisations.
"the cultural shift in attitudes required within the public service has not completed its journey and this is where the battle still needs to be won." Robin Ryde said in the discussion
Private sector organisations feel greater pressure from competitors, and are therefore pushed to satisfy customer needs, said Ryde. Comparatively, the public sector – which he believes has greater accessibility to the consumer journey – don’t have the same external pressure.
Difference between public and private sector delivery?
Panellists generally agreed that the ultimate goal for both sectors is one in the same: assured delivery, accessibility and satisfaction of services. However, opinions differed on how the structure of private and public sector organisations impact how these goals are accomplished.
“Is the public sector too disjointed to ever deliver a good experience to customers?” asked David, a commenter from Leeds. “Comparing it to single private sector organisations which fall under a single management seems like a case of apples and oranges when the public sector is made up of tens of thousands of organisations working in separate ways.”
Some believed that there was little difference between delivery in either the private or public, as the ultimate goal of any service delivery organisation spans across sectors.
Anthony Grigg, head of Strategy & Structure, Global Consulting Practice at Tata Consultancy Services, said that both the private and public sector share a desire to deliver simple and convenient service, and therefore face the same challenges in delivering high quality customer service.
"The challenge is defining the journeys that make sense and bringing the right services together."
The difference for Grigg is in the breadth of delivery, as the private sector works to “create customer experience beyond a single organisation”.
“The private sector are looking to create experiences that extend beyond a single organisation. So one example is Banks and Building Societies redefining the customer journeys for mortgages on the understanding that to deliver an exceptional experience could include participation from Property searches, Solicitors, Lenders, Surveyors, Utilities, etc. to develop a value ecosystem.
“For local government they have the advantage that at least the ecosystem exists within the same organisation. The challenge is defining the journeys that make sense and bringing the right services together,” he said.
Limited reach of online customer service:
Panellists acknowledged that a range of factors can influence whether or not a consumer will be receptive to digital service delivery, and the importance of supporting the most in-need.
Overall, while in agreement that service delivery struggles in its mission to satisfy, panellists believed in the public sector’s intent to please, and recognized the reach of delivery may be limited.
“[..] delivering for such a wide ranging group as the general public is a far greater challenge than many private companies might face,” said panellist Mark Kieran, an interim manager who operates on the cusp of the three sectors: private, public and not-for-profit.
"Frontline staff need to live and breath the change so that everything they do sends out the sincere messages necessary to convince customers they really do matter." Kieran said in the discussion
Kieran’s sentiment holds true in a world where not every service provider, nor customer in need of said service, is digitally-minded. While senior civil servants might remain unengaged in the digital movement, a struggle exists in that those very same digital outlets being pushed aren’t reaching the people that they’re meant to help.
After all, a smartphone application doesn’t necessarily appeal to the most vulnerable in need of public services, as acknowledged by panellist Clair Fisher of Westminster Explained. She also explained how a home working policy within the public sector was failing in part due to a lack of staff with at-home internet access.
Sam Mitha, CBE and former deputy director of HMRC’s Tax Policy Group, said that a greater mistake would be for government departments to communicate with already disaffected customers via channels that are inaccessible due to disability, physical or mental weakness, or age.
In recognising the nature of the public service structure and the weaknesses therein, the panellists have presented a myriad of ways to effectively take on the issues surrounding digital service delivery. As for the most important focuses, the answer is three-fold: all-encompassing accessibility, the disposition for enhancing experience and an understanding of how structure shapes service throughout the sectors.
To see the full webchat, click here. To find out how to participate in our next webchat on this topic on Thursday, 19 March, click here.