If you’re an adult – pretty much anywhere in the world – you recognize the feeling that arises when it’s time to interact with public sector service providers. It’s an anxious eye-rolling feeling. Whether it is visiting the residency office, having a passport renewed or seeking support from an unemployment agency, you approach it with an immediate sense of, “Sigh…this is going to take way longer than necessary, with way too many pieces of paper, and way too many steps in the process.”
Navigating public sector services often feels like the complete opposite of a good customer experience.
Challenges to Public Sector Customer Experience Improvements
Of course, despite my tongue-in-cheek intro, there are actually reasons why the public sector has been slower to implement customer experience ideas more readily. (Spoiler alert: It’s not because they are trying to intentionally aggravate us.)
Service Solutions Are Needed by All
In the private sector, we have honed the skill of defining customer personas so that we can develop solutions that tightly align with their needs. The better we can address customer needs and delight them with our services, the more often they will do business with us. So, we are constantly fine-tuning services as customer demands dictate.
Defining personas and striving to meet their unique needs would be an immense task: Typically speaking, the public sector serves everyone.
In the public sector, this doesn’t work. Defining personas and striving to meet their unique needs would be an immense task: Typically speaking, the public sector serves everyone. While public sector professionals are often working with their customers in mind, the degree to which this can be precise and optimized is far more challenging.
Resource and Budget Bottlenecks
As business owners, our focus is on growth, and we’re willing to commit resources to making this happen. For instance, at OTRS Group, we just invested hundreds of thousands of dollars to improve the experience for service agents. And, it wasn’t a small task: It took many many months of gathering customer input, redesigning the interface to match agent needs, and developing the new version. The experience has been significantly improved, but it meant having full buy-in from leadership as well as designating resources and budget to support the effort.
In the public sector, it isn’t always possible to make such a decision in-house. Often, public sector services are dictated by legislation. Legislation likely sets the goals of the service provider and may determine how the service is evaluated. And, it likely provides funding for the organization too. This level of oversight can make it challenging for organizations to get the resources they need to support customer experience initiatives.
Supportive vs. Competitive Mindset
Private sector businesses tend to be motivated by competition: Providing better services to customers puts us a step ahead of our competitors. In the public sector, that motivation isn’t as necessary because there is less competition, if any exists at all.
What can motivate and inspire change is the inter-connectedness of services that you find in the public sector.
That’s not to say that there is a lack of motivation in the public sector. It’s simply different.
What can motivate and inspire change is the inter-connectedness of services that you find in the public sector. Having a very positive experience with one agency can color a customer’s thinking about what it will be like to deal with a second agency; and of course, the reverse can be true. So motivation for improving the customer experience in the public sector is driven more from a need to support other related services than by competition.
Technology Skills at a Premium
Today, understanding your customer means pouring over reams of data. Delivering service means making sure its mobile, accessible through multiple channels, takes advantage of AI and is practically instant. So, a significant part of designing customer experiences involves technology, which means that making improvements requires having the right skills.
We are making progress in this area through education and retraining. Yet, the rate at which new technology is evolving continues to outpace the number of people who are prepared to use these tools to solve problems and redesign customer experiences. While the potential to change may be there, the skills to do so may not be. This, of course, is true in both the public and private sectors.
Designing new customer experiences (or improving those that already exist) generally requires change — new software, different processes, extra infrastructure, new skills. For the many reasons listed above, these changes can be more difficult to accomplish in the public sector. Clearly, the public sector works hard to ensure that we’re all able to take advantage of the services offered, but it’s simply a slower process when it comes to changing the customer experience.