Citizens expect online public services to be highly functional, efficient and well-designed. More fundamentally however, they want a positive experience that comes from services that look beyond functionality and focus on understanding their needs to provide tailored, personalized online experiences which also promote closer relationships with citizens. While progress is being made, people currently experience variable levels of service from public sector online services. This leads to a loss of trust in the ability of governments to meet their needs.
In the private sector, a company with many customers would struggle to compete in today’s marketplace without customer-centric digital services. In government, an area ripe for great service design, innovation has been hindered by an institutional mindset that citizens are obliged to conform to government processes and therefore their engagement need not to be earned. An absence of marketplace competition has meant a lopsided digital transformation process with emphasis on driving efficiencies and savings on back office processes – like making forms available online that can also be filled out and submitted – rather than designing front-end digital journeys tailored to citizens’ needs.
Today, many online public sector services sit in silos built around government departments and not around the citizen. This means data and documents also sit in silos instead of being housed in a single, online destination, where they would be easy for the citizen and the state to access, resulting in a better overall experience.
With today’s technologies and experience design tools, government has a real opportunity to take a citizen-centric approach and better align public sector delivery with citizens’ expectations. Done well, it could shift the relationship from one that requires citizens to conform, to one that fosters broader engagement with government.
When private companies provide great digital and online experiences, they are rewarded with engagement and customers sharing insightful information about themselves. The easier you make it for customers to engage, the better you'll understand each customer. Whether filing a tax return or applying for a driver’s license, governments could better serve their citizens such that, in return, they contribute more to these government-based processes. Analysis of user data and online behaviour will surface powerful insights that allow governments to improve and tailor services more closely to the needs of citizens. It won't require going to the people to find out what works and doesn’t, what’s useful and what isn’t. Without effective digital services, it’s not just difficult to anticipate citizens’ needs, it’s also almost impossible to understand which services people use, who uses them and how.
Innovation is key across all sectors. Governments and public sector organisations need to ensure that citizens feel a genuine and tangible benefit to innovation. The alternative scenario is one in which governments continue to invest in developing online public services using a “one-size-fits-all” approach – services which most citizens cannot, will not or do not want to use.
Customer centric companies thrive. Just like a business, government should care and obsess about their individual customers (in this case citizens), asking what more could be done to improve the experience for them.
Transformation is a process. Start with the things that are easy to change and build from there. By the time it comes to changing the hard, well entrenched services, there will already be a body of evidence around what matters to citizens and how they engage. Citizens expect online services to be quicker, more convenient, mobile-friendly, and, crucially, to keep evolving so taking an iterative approach is key to success.
There is a real opportunity for governments to foster closer relationships with all of their citizens through the provision of great digital services, but they must match the amazing experiences delivered by digital leaders from the private sector, and the only way to do that is to put citizens at the centre of the process – from design through to delivery and beyond.