How can the public sector keep pace with the digital demands of citizen engagement?


Because the public sector is one of the largest service providers for most countries in the world, it is critical that they can keep pace with the demand for digital engagement. This, however, is easier said than done given the complex environments in which they run.

27th Jul 2021

Challenges for organisations pivoting to digital to accommodate the post-pandemic digital era we find ourselves in have been well documented. The need to adapt quickly to support seamless business delivery, ensure staff stay motivated and productive away from the office and find a balance between investing in new technology have been just some of the points of discussion.

Undoubtedly, the way we engage with each other has changed, and this is also true of organisations and governments who must provide services to citizens that are seamless and reliable. The need for services that adequately support citizens’ needs is not something that can stall, particularly in the face of a pandemic, and a such public services organisations have had to rapidly adapt to ensure they continue to serve those in need as dependency on digital channels grows.

One thing is certain, the path forward is increasingly geared towards digital. Because the public sector is one of the largest service providers for most countries in the world, it is critical that they can keep pace with new innovations and ways of communicating as more and more citizens rely on digital engagement as their primary point of contact.

Consider healthcare, almost overnight the shift to video calls and online consultation fundamentally changed perceptions around what was possible both in terms of how services were delivered and used. The same applies to welfare and tax – areas where apps and video calls have become commonplace, and the modern-day convenience of these services has become something that people now expect as a norm. To keep momentum, the sector is going to need to keep a sharp focus on transformation to continue to deliver.

This, however, is easier said than done given the fundamental role government departments and local services play, combined with the complex environments in which they run. To ensure continuity moving forward, large and complex agencies will need to focus their efforts on adaptability, digital channels and enhancing customer service, we lay out the steps on how they can get this right.

Building better resilience

The way we work has been irrevocably disrupted over the past year and for customer services organisations, the once unimaginable scenario of WFH has forced significant shifts in behaviours and expectations for both staff and employers. Reimagined office spaces, the way we engage with technologies and new working practices have also brought to the fore the need to inspire trust and resilience.

The role companies play in terms of guiding staff through this change to ensure trust and resilience endure is critical. Coupled with the rise of the gig economy and the fluid workforce, there is a growing societal trend of people changing roles more often and flexible outsourcing becoming a more popular decision. HMRC (HM Revenue and Customs), for example, has kickstarted the trend of flexible working contracts so that staff can schedule to work around their personal lives.

Providing flexible workplaces and prioritising wellbeing is one way that companies can ensure customer service staff are able to fit their jobs around their changing circumstances and are in a better position to provide a high-quality customer experience. Being adaptable to changing circumstances will help government services thrive, and in turn will mean customer needs are met with more agility. A recent market analysis on the future of customer service organisations has shown that the introduction of new modern technologies, online training and a buddy system has contributed towards a flexible workplace for agents.

Servicing the new digital audience

Over the past year, digital services have become so ingrained in our daily lives that, as a result, today’s customers expect instant, first time answers and tailor-made support. As services over lockdown shifted from in-store or call centre solutions to low touch, instant options such as webchat, the need for consistent, user-friendly, and accessible experiences across digital channels has been important for governments and public bodies to ensure they are delivering their services seamlessly. Used efficiently, these technologies will ensure that government departments can keep supporting citizens and maintain relevance in a world where digital-led experiences are the growing norm.

Going forwards, those in the public sector will need to continue to ensure that they are supporting capabilities for self-service, both within and across government departments, so that customers receive the quick, first-time resolution they expect. For example, to provide essential services to the community while reducing social contact during the pandemic, many local governments have shifted to govService to digitise customer experiences. Through this platform, citizens have actively been redirected to online forms, self-portals and dedicated webpages to COVID-19 resources as a way to avoid customer service teams being overloaded.

Empathy at the centre

Customer satisfaction is largely measured by how people feel after engaging with a service. For governments, this means taking extra care to provide a thoughtful and seamless customer experience underpinned by care, connection, inclusive design and empathetic advisors.

The pandemic has added a layer of additional stress, anxiety and worry for customers and public sector organisations must consider this to ensure they are offering additional information where needed, extra support and specific answers to navigate their new challenges. To get this right, it is critical that those staff providing services are adequately supported themselves. One way of doing this is to keep a pulse on changing customer preferences and embed those new requirements to ensure service can be delivered.

The pandemic has also made the digital divide more visible and public sector organisations must ensure that the same level of care and help is provided to those who don’t have access to digital channels, are not digitally savvy or have disabilities – to name a few. Public services must be designed with inclusivity and ease of access at their core, while delivery must guarantee needs are met.

As we move forward in a world where the increased use of digital channels and the speed of technology is the norm, demands on faultless customer service are likely to remain. For governments and public sector organisations to keep pace, it is critical that they maintain a keen focus on enabling flexible ways of working, increased self-service and customer care to ensure ongoing support to citizens.



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