Drew Howell

Government leaders identify the citizen experience as a priority, both in the federal budget and through legislation aimed at improving federal citizen engagement. However, they continue to miss the mark when it comes to delivering the digital experience citizens desire as we discussed in our first post on the subject, Digital Citizen Experiences: Simple, Fast and Helpful. In the 2nd part of our series focused on digital citizen experiences, we explore three practical steps government leaders can take to improve the citizen experience online with government.
Treat Citizens as People and not Data Points
Put yourself in the shoes of a citizen trying to complete a form on your government website. While trying to find the information you need to complete the form, you’re interrupted by a pop-up window, mere seconds into your session, asking you for feedback. You say “Yes,” but the window takes you out of your session to a new screen. You return to your original window and ultimately can’t complete the form. When you close the browser frustrated, you’re greeted again with the survey that you’d forgotten you’d said “Yes” to 5 minutes earlier. You complete the survey – all 31 questions. In the survey, you ask for help and ask to be contacted in the open-end. However, you notice in the fine print at the bottom of the survey, “Please note you will not receive a direct response from us based on your survey comments.” You shut your browser, even more frustrated.
Let’s dissect this vignette and highlight areas for improvement in the eyes of the citizen.
1) First, the feedback invitation appears too early – the citizen has not been on the site long enough to have feedback – and the pop-under survey also takes the citizen away from their experience and the website.
2) Second, when the citizen does get to the feedback, the feedback is no longer in-the-moment, rather after the session, when a person might reasonably forget their feedback or decide now not to provide it.
3) Third, the survey is long – 31 questions – and many of the questions are not topical to the citizen’s specific actions during the last session.
4) Lastly, it’s clear from the feedback form that the government will not take specific action with you – even stating that any comments won’t actually be used to follow-up with an individual. This approach treats citizens not as people, but data points.
Digital engagement done right involves multiple forms of active and passive listening across digital properties. Surveys should occur in-session, as part of the web experience, making the feedback easy to give, high quality, and actionable because it is closest to the good experience or point of pain in the journey. Active invitations should be incorporated into a citizen’s digital journey, triggering based on activity, session data, and context – making the feedback specific to what a citizen is doing in that moment. Always-on, passive feedback options should be integrated throughout the digital landscape too, allowing users to easily opt-in and provide feedback at any time during the session. This dual-approach makes it easy to give feedback across the digital experience.
In the scenario above, a more engaging approach would use the feedback process to foster a dialogue with the citizen, rather than just collect data at the end of the session. We don’t want to use one generic, long survey. We want to have passive and active options along the journey. On each page, we want to be always listening if a citizen wants to provide feedback. Digital surveys should be short (5 questions or less). Also, we want to ask specific active questions in each part of the journey, using sampling logic to ensure customers are not over-surveyed or presented multiple invitations during a single session. In this world, when the citizen goes to abandon the form, an active invitation can engage that citizen to ask what went wrong at that moment and enable a citizen to opt-in and provide contact information. This approach makes it easy to give feedback on a specific moment and also enables the citizen to ask for help and engagement.  
Contextualize Feedback
Once we have citizen feedback across the digital journey, contextualizing and figuring out why a citizen had a problem on a page is the second critical, and often difficult, step. But, it doesn’t have to be that difficult! Behavioral analytics data – when paired with the journey-based approach to digital citizen engagement and feedback laid out above- brings the voice of citizens to life across their digital journey.
Digital teams can utilize web and behavioral analytics to understand usage of webpages, what places citizens may be getting stuck, where they are coming from (e.g., direct to a website or from another channel), and what information they’re looking to find. In fact, for participating government agencies, this data is largely already available on https://analytics.usa.gov/, and every agency’s digital team should utilize this data. This data alone though is just raw quantitative and event data.
To contextualize the quantitative data, government teams should combine it with feedback to provide rich, qualitative color. Imagine in the scenario above, you have quantitative data showing you that citizens are having a systemic problem completing a form, abandoning it at an alarmingly high rate. The one-sized fits all feedback you do have is not specific to that moment nor are customers who take the surveys discussing anything relating to that specific form. We’re stuck guessing at why citizens are abandoning the page and making changes based on only a few data points.
In the new model, we know the exact page where citizens are having problems from both web analytics data and qualitative feedback. We have an active behavioral listening post in place and engage citizens for feedback specific to the form that’s causing problems. We make it easy for citizens to provide feedback, and as a result, we have a significant volume of actionable, relevant feedback telling us the “why” behind the form abandonment.
Drive Real-Time Action and Innovation
Once your agency has begun receiving meaningful, contextualized feedback, specific to its digital services, it is important to respond appropriately. To take action, engagement with feedback is not something that should happen once a month or once a quarter, when a report is published. Engagement with feedback and customer comments should be real-time and for both the citizen citizen-facing workforce and also for those individuals who may develop and work-on the webpage. Feedback should be distributed in real-time to the organization. Everyone plays a role in the citizen experience and distributing feedback drives a common sense of purpose and involves all parts of the organization in the solution immediately, not a quarter late.
Learnings from the commercial sector show that customers are more willing to provide feedback if they believe it’s being used. This begins with affording citizens the option to provide their contact information as part of their feedback, if they wish to be contacted. Following up and closing the loop with citizens who provide contact information is a CX best practice because it demonstrates to citizens that you are listening and also enables staff to capture additional learnings from their conversations with customers. Moreover, follow-ups enable agencies to help citizens accomplish their tasks, increasing citizen trust and an agency’s mission effectiveness.
In the scenario above, we follow-up with the citizen, help him/her complete the form, and learn more about what was difficult. Once we have contextual feedback and additional insight, we can use it to innovate, fix the problem, and test if the changes make a difference. We fix the form and launch it. With the new form live, we use the same listening approach to monitor feedback and see if we are improving, both with feedback and form completion rates. Medallia research shows that if organizations are using customer comments to surface and rapidly test new ideas, like we did in this scenario, these organizations outperform their peers by an average of 10 points in the eyes of customers (measured using Net Promoter Score®, a metric widely used to evaluate customer satisfaction, on a scale from -100 to 100).
Citizens deserve a better digital experience. To improve, federal agencies should shift their approach to digital listening by: treating citizens as people and not data points, contextualizing feedback, and driving real-time action and innovation. Citizens expect this level of service from the private sector. By following these three steps, agencies can respond to changing expectations and get ahead of digital trends rather than constantly reacting to them. Federal agencies can close the digital experience gap. Engage Medallia’s Public Sector practice to learn more about how we can help your agency adopt a new approach today!
Photo Credit: Lilly Rum