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Developing a citizen-centric approach in public institutions

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The average local or national government employee is rarely seen as
customer-oriented, writes Mark Payne, MD: sub Saharan Africa at Genesys Telecommunications Laboratories.

Are they really dedicated to serving the public – being a real "civil servant?" Bureaucracies can make it difficult for government employees to have the necessary information to complete an entire customer service transaction efficiently.
In fact, the whole government machine seems to have been created to make it as complex as possible to get the information citizens need. But a closer look at government institutions, from tax authorities to municipal services, shows they are making major
investments in becoming more efficient and helpful.
The customer service revolution that took place in the business sector over the last few years is now starting to trickle down to the government sector. Faced with tight budgets and rising customer expectations, legislators have become more receptive to citizens’ needs and are more open to leveraging huge advances in technology.
In many Western countries there has also been open government legislation enacted to provide citizens with more access to information and to create more transparency in government behavior toward citizens.
Public services are the largest growth area in the contact centre industry The public sector is the fastest growing sector of the contact centre market in North America and EMEA, with a year over year growth figure of 9,1% until 2009 according to a recent Datamonitor report.
Investments in contact centre solutions are the number one priority of local and national government in the U.S. Businesses like to call themselves customer centric, and many public institutions are now aiming to become "citizen centric".
Government investment in citizen services is a win-win situation. They are improving service levels, while at the same time seeing major cost savings through the use of self-service tools. The same self-service approach is true in the classic contact centre with speech-enabled voice self-service offering fast solutions to simple requests, in addition to transferring callers to the correct agent.
Service improvements result when government agencies transfer from an expensive bureaucratic paper system to a proper workflow management system.
The Web is a communication dream for government and citizens alike. If properly managed, it provides easy access to information, across all aspects of government. Government forms can be accessed on the Web, saving citizens from making several trips to local government offices. With the advent of e-signatures, such forms do not even need to be returned via traditional mail.
Even voting has "gone electronic" via the Web in several countries, and its use for business e-procurement from government is on the rise. Such Web services can be supported by contact centre agents through Web chat, joint Web browsing (for complex form filling), e-mail or voice callback.
The increase in service that the Web provides is phenomenal, but so are the cost savings in terms of reduced printed materials and government officials’ time.
The Internet, however, needs to be integrated as part of a multi-channel approach to citizen communication. Information and services have to be accessible for all citizens, without increasing the digital divide between those with access to the Internet and those without.
Face-to-face opportunities must remain an option, as should mail and fax. For the majority, improvements in phone services will result in the highest citizen
services satisfaction levels.
One huge leap forward is the integration of multiple departments within a single metropolitan area. A caller can ring a standard number for access to
a variety of non-emergency services, as has been the case in most countries with emergency services, reducing both cost and frustration.
Few citizens actually know who or where they need to call for a specific non-emergency problem. One groundbreaking effort has been to assign a single access
number that reaches a variety of city services. The City of Houston, for example, implemented a 311 helpline as a way to deflect non-emergency calls away from an overburdened 911 system, as well as improve community relations and support by offering easier access to government services.
By centralising calls to one main system, they aimed to decrease calls to other government departments while improving community service and providing better control over all management costs.
Ministries and local government in many countries are beginning to understand this and see that better inter-agency coordination can simplify contact with citizens through the sharing of data across multiple functions and service providers. The citizen calls a non-emergency number and immediately gets through to a speech-enabled voice system.
Via skills-based routing, a fast gateway takes them to the right agent or knowledge worker with the required information at their fingertips. The voice system can
leverage a variety of databases and deliver a "screen pop" that gives the agent immediate access to all the necessary information to service the citizen’s request.
Internet telephony and IP technology make it possible for a single phone system to transfer calls over the Internet to multiple departments located anywhere. Such technology eliminates the need for independent phone systems and switches, none of which used to be able to communicate with each other.
In addition, the current crop of customer interaction systems can apply business rules and security provisions to each call.
It is important to point out that not all citizen data can or should be made available. Such restrictions are mandatory because of legal issues surrounding protection of an individual’s privacy. In addition, many public institutions have evolved without coordination of departmental database and software systems, and the growing need for this coordination has led to a series of open standards initiatives within the European Union.
With the new breed of speech-enabled voice systems, caller acceptance of these systems is much higher than with archaic touchtone systems and never-ending menus. Now one simply has to state a key word into the interactive voice response (IVR) system, and the IVR will push the caller to the right agent or automatically give the answer. This means that instead of waiting forever for an agent who will route you to an expert agent, the citizen will be served in a more timely manner.
This type of blending of self -service and live agents has helped to tremendously cut costs for businesses and improve customer satisfaction. This self-service
option is just as useful in government as it ensures that citizens cease to endure endless call queues and that swapping between agents and departments becomes a thing of the past.
When the New Zealand Ministry of Social Development implemented the Genesys Voice Platform (a speech enabled IVR), call transfers were reduced by 20%. A speech enabled IVR is also a great help to institutions serving citizens with more than one language. The IVR can help to route the call to an agent with the right information and the right language skills.
Recent return on investment (ROI) studies have shown that through reduced time on the telephone, increased productivity, and elimination of redundant phone systems, a new customer service platform can often pay for itself in a matter of months, and usually in a single fiscal year.
Tax offices from South Africa to Hungary to Australia have implemented a Genesys multi-channel solution to help serve citizens more effectively and by whatever means is most suitable for the citizen. A multi-channel contact centre solution can help public agencies meet the demands of today’s constituents by offering access to public services.
The cost effectiveness of a multi-channel approach depends upon the seamless integration of channels and proper communication of the availability of the new options. Public bodies can now provide a consistent, high level of service around the clock, resulting in increased convenience for citizens.
Outbound solutions can also heighten customer benefits by allowing agents to switch instantaneously from answering calls to conducting outbound call campaigns.
Such solutions help government to regularly survey the needs and views of their citizens. Combined, these improvements in services increases citizens’ respect for public institutions, while instilling in public service employees a pride in being a true "civil" servant  – it’s all about citizen power.