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It’s no secret that relative to our private sector counterparts, governments face significant customer experience challenges. In Denver, we’re interested in capitalizing on the opportunities to revolutionize resident relationships with us and create an experience so outstanding our customers won’t believe it’s the government.
The primary challenge of being a municipality comes from being a monopoly: we must provide all of our services to everyone who demands them. From a customer experience perspective, this means that it is tough to abandon a channel once it has been established, no matter how old or obsolete. Do we still print fax numbers on our business cards? Of course, we do because as long as there’s a fax machine sitting in the back office, we will continue to accept faxes. Change is hard, but without the wherewithal to walk away from outdated technology, adoption of new channels will be seen as threatening and unnecessary. For example, despite an online adoption rate of 70 percent within weeks of a service (e.g., online roof permits) going online, I still overhear colleagues lamenting how Denver is forcing our developers to “do their work online when they could just come down and take care of it in person.” Rather than demand change from customers and employees, the trick is to make a case for innovation so compelling that the vast majority willingly come onboard.
In the last eight years, Denver municipal government has produced 55 percent more services on average – everything from potholes to 911 calls to liquor licenses – with only 19 percent more employees. Customer satisfaction during that time has increased dramatically across the board. In one instance, customer satisfaction dipped to as low as 32 percent (good or excellent), then rose over two years to exceed 90 percent, all while volume increased, and employee growth was stagnant — the only possible explanation: Innovation.
"Focus on creating an overwhelmingly positive experience — inline or online, and you’ll see something you might not have thought possible: happy government customers"
Innovation is where government advantages vis-à-vis the private sector come in. First, let’s acknowledge that customer expectations for the government are low, even lower than visiting your doctor. These lowered expectations are an advantage; you wouldn’t tolerate a five-minute wait time for a cup of coffee, but a fifteen-minute wait for the doctor or government service is par for the course. Generally speaking, residents aren’t looking for a deep, meaningful relationship with government. However, if you serve customers what they need in a reasonable amount of time, they will be ecstatic. Denver lowered its DMV wait times from one hour and ten minutes to under 15 minutes, and the customer response on Yelp was positively outrageous. Customers raved about how much they were looking forward to coming back from their license plate renewals because the experience so greatly exceeded expectations. Denver did the same thing with 311, lowering call answer times from over three minutes to under thirty seconds, and customer satisfaction metrics took off. Add all of these basic services together, and you create a customer experience that builds trust and loyalty among constituents.
Governments also enjoy a concept called second-mover advantage, the idea that there’s much lower risk associated with waiting to see what works for others versus being the first organization to market a potential innovation. No one is going to run the municipal government out of business if it takes calculated, thoughtful risks while letting others be the first to market. Chat bots and outbound calling are a great examples of where government can take years to adopt, significantly lower risk, and harness considerable upsides. The vendor landscape has matured, several evolutions of technology have come and gone, and governments can take their sweet time evaluating and rolling out these innovations. Want to reduce calls for missed trash pickups by 40 percent? Then introduce a market-ready, low-cost, outbound calling channel that alerts customers that it’s a holiday week and trash pickups are delayed one day. Approximately a gazillion private sector operations have already paved the way for this type of innovation, yet it’s still an innovation for government. Then scale it out to similar uses: jury duty notifications, rec center schedule changes, etc. – and watch your customer experience scores rise. This isn’t to say governments should avoid aggressive innovation, but given the breadth of operations and the luxury of a non-competitive landscape, lowering risk through calculated timing makes a lot of sense.
Let’s bring it back to the all-things-to-all-people paradigm. You’re doomed if you introduce an online service but charge a so-called credit card convenience fee for the privilege of doing business online. They’ll stick with faxing. Instead, focus on creating an overwhelmingly positive experience — inline or online, and you’ll see something you might not have thought possible: happy government customers.