Brian Mistretta at NICE CXone explains how even government contact centres need to provide good customer service to their citizens.
Government agencies are making progress in improving the quality of the experiences they provide to their constituents. A history of focusing on costs instead of customer satisfaction resulted in unhappy citizens and a bad reputation to overcome (I’ll spare you the DMV jokes).
But there are plenty of signs the tide is turning. For example, Accenture reports that at least six federal agencies now have customer experience officials, up from just two in 2016.
Additionally, 18 federal organizations that provide high-impact services now publish customer experience feedback, compared to just one in 2018.
Despite the progress, there’s still much work to be done, especially with government contact centres. Contact centres are at the heart of delivering on the agency’s mission and providing great customer experiences, and they often drive satisfaction levels.
Today’s citizens are much less tolerant of bad service, and more likely to do something about it if a government agency doesn’t meet their expectations. Whether it’s complaining to an oversight agency, trying to influence an election, or just complaining loudly on Twitter, people will make their opinions known.
Part of what’s driving this intolerance for bad service is that the modern consumer knows what’s possible. Conditioned by superior customer experiences they’ve had with industry-leading private sector businesses, they wonder why public sector entities can’t do the same.
And businesses have set the bar high. Today’s consumers have high standards for customer service:
- 83% of customers expect to engage with someone immediately when reaching out to a business—a five-point increase from the prior year
- 96% of consumers expect businesses to make it easy to switch channels without the need to repeat information
- 66% of customers expect companies to understand their needs and expectations
Although expectations are high, they aren’t beyond reach. Government contact centres can meet them by overcoming common barriers to success and implementing CX-enhancing solutions.
CX Challenges in Government Contact Centres
To meet these high customer experience expectations, agency contact centres need to shed some baggage, including the following:
Antiquated Legacy Systems
The COVID-19 pandemic shone a bright, harsh light on just how old and inflexible many government systems are.
A case that comes to mind is how the Kansas unemployment system saw countless delays and errors due to a substantial increase in new claims.
A state audit found, it “relied on an outdated, piecemeal, and poorly maintained unemployment computer system during the pandemic.”
Even worse, the call centre wasn’t prepared for the huge increase in claims-related calls. In April 2020, they only had 33 fully trained staff to handle 12.5 million calls (with the help of staff from other agencies, they handled about 1% of these calls).
This perfect storm of system and staffing issues resulted in payments that were often delayed weeks or months, along with an estimated $700 million in fraudulent payments.
Outdated technology—in both the back office and the contact centre—is the enemy of great CX. When government contact centres are chained to legacy systems, they’re limited in what they can do to improve customer experience and respond to volume fluctuations.
- Isn’t scalable
- Eats up budget dollars that otherwise could be allocated to customer service enhancements
- Doesn’t offer digital channels and capabilities
- Is difficult to integrate
- Hampers remote work and business continuity
Those five limitations alone are enough to build a convincing business case to replace antiquated contact centre systems.
Government agencies have some of the tightest budgets around, and when comes to making them even tighter, big system implementations are often the first to get cut.
That was the case with the Kansas unemployment system. Budget balancing efforts caused a modernization initiative to be delayed or canceled, and the ultimate outcome was costly and devastating for unemployed citizens whose benefits were delayed.
Bringing government contact centre technology up to date should be a budgeting priority because it directly impacts citizens.
Plus, when organizations move to cloud-based software as a service (SaaS) solutions, they typically save money due to reduced licensing and IT overhead costs.
Tight budgets lead to a cost-focused mindset. Public servants need to be good stewards of the taxpayers’ dollars, but when taken to the extreme, this mindset can be a huge barrier to improving CX and giving citizens the level of service they’ve come to expect.
Government contact centres need to shift their focus from costs to the customer. But changing a person’s frame of mind can be difficult, especially if it’s been ingrained for several years.
A good place to begin this change management shift is by adopting contact centre KPIs that are more aligned with CX.
For example, if cost-related metrics such as average handle time (AHT) are your top performance measurements, they are likely encouraging agent and supervisor behavior that creates suboptimal customer experiences.
Being rushed off a support call frustrates people and may generate a call back if they weren’t given enough time to have all their issues resolved.
When first contact resolutions are low because customers are rushed off calls, the increased volume from follow-up calls can negate any savings from keeping handle times low.
Contact centre leaders will always need to monitor cost drivers, but those metrics don’t need to be the primary KPIs.
Instead, focusing on metrics such as first contact resolution rates, customer satisfaction scores, and customer effort scores can help shift mindsets away from costs and toward the customer experience.
3 Ways to Modernize Government Agency CX
Adopting more customer-oriented metrics is one way to improve CX, but it’s not enough. In this digital age, technology plays a vital role in delivering seamless, satisfying customer service experiences. Let’s take a look at three technology solutions that can modernize public sector CX.
Cloud Contact Centre Platform
When contact centre software is in the cloud, it’s hosted by the software vendor and end-users access it through a browser. This means the vendor:
- Provides and manages the hardware
- Keeps the software updated with the latest release
- Takes care of the database
- Is responsible for data security
These characteristics yield substantial benefits—think of the reduction in IT overhead and the benefits of always having the newest software version.
The nature of cloud software also provides several significant capabilities:
- Easy to integrate
- Quickly and easily scales up and down
- Highly secure (with the right FedRAMP-certified provider)
- Supports a hybrid workforce model
- Easy to add new channels and capabilities
- Budget friendly
Additionally, when you choose an industry-leading platform, the solutions are infused with artificial intelligence and come with a guaranteed 99.9% availability.
Many government agencies offer voice as well as digital support. Offering multiple ways to communicate provides convenience and empowers constituents to select the channel that’s most appropriate for their question or issue.
But when these multiple channels aren’t integrated, it creates frustrating friction. Consumers frequently begin a customer service interaction in one channel and then finish in another.
For example, they may send an email and then call a couple of days later if they don’t receive a response to their email.
If the contact centre doesn’t have omnichannel capabilities, the phone agent won’t have access to the email the customer sent, requiring the customer to repeat the information they already provided. This is a top frustration for customers, and it happens too often.
The best contact centre software can provide seamless experiences through capabilities such as omnichannel routing, smart workforce management tools, and a unified agent desktop.
Most people try to solve their own problems or answer their own questions before contacting customer service.
In fact, an article published by Harvard Business Review reports that 81% of all customers attempt to take matters into their own hands before reaching out to a live representative.
Well-designed digital self-service satisfies DIY-ers and can help agencies absorb volume spikes. For example, self-service tools can answer commonly asked questions and perform rule-based tasks such as scheduling appointments and providing benefit status.
There are many options for self-service tools ranging from simple FAQ web pages to sophisticated virtual agents. Government contact centres should consider the following DIY solutions.
A well designed knowledge management platform extends quick, relevant answers to constituents at multiple points during their journey, including the search engine, your agency’s website, and chatbot or other self-service channel.
Support agents likewise have access to instant answers that help provide more effective service. This will ensure constituents receive consistent and accurate information at every touchpoint and on every channel.
A conversational interactive voice response (IVR) uses natural language processing (NLP) to allow customers to use their natural language to say what they want to do.
This provides a better experience than tapping numbers on a phone keypad. Conversational IVRs can help make routing more accurate and easier to facilitate self-service transactions, such as requesting a pothole be filled.
AI-powered virtual agents are smart bots that can be deployed on websites, apps, messaging systems, and IVRs. They can facilitate all the transaction types we’ve already discussed as well as provide proactive customer service.
For example, organizations can place them in areas of the website where users might need additional help. Additionally, virtual agents can predict follow-up questions and provide answers before customers ask for them.
In addition to helping with volume spikes and satisfying DIY-ers, self-service solutions are available 24/7 and can accommodate multiple languages. They can also offload mundane tasks so agents can better focus on more complex transactions.
Example of how one agency is improving the customer experience
Handling 1.8 million calls annually, San Diego County’s Health and Human Services Agency contact centre is one of the busiest government service centers in the United States.
Its mission is to provide outstanding customer service, but it was impeded by its on-premises Avaya system. Port capacity limitations meant callers frequently experienced busy signals or dropped calls.
When it was time to replace the outdated system, the agency chose a cloud solution (NICE CXone) that was flexible enough to meet customer demands, improve customer satisfaction, and support remote workers.
The new platform enabled the agency to reduce average speed to answer by 75%, and no caller is ever dropped or receives a busy signal. Additionally, the cloud solution enabled it to achieve its main goal—customer satisfaction increased by 445% (that isn’t a typo!).This blog post has been re-published by kind permission of NICE – View the Original Article
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