Engaging today’s digital citizen

By on 30/07/2018 | Updated on 31/07/2018
Miguel Carrasco, Boston Consulting Group

The digital services provided by the public sector are becoming as central to our lives as those provided by companies, and many are now just as well designed too

As entire industries have been turned on their head by digital companies across the past 15 years or so, it’s become common to hear people talking about how easy it was to shop on Amazon, say, or curate the perfect party playlist on Spotify. However it’s far more rare to hear someone talk about how easy it was to renew their car’s road tax or report a broken traffic crossing near their house.

This is despite the fact that digital public services are now in equally high demand as their commercial counterparts. Take the US as a test case: the websites owned and operated by the US government received 2.73 billion visits in the 90 days to June 11th (at the time of writing; see the live data here), whereas combined desktop and mobile visits to Amazon.com – the US version of the website – average around 2.4 billion a month.

Although the comparison is not quite fair, given Amazon is a single entity and the US federal government provides services through many agencies and websites, it’s still worth considering that while a small handful of well-known web pioneers are feted for their innovation and customer service, we pay scant attention to the type of digital services governments offer their citizens, despite how important they’ve become.

“There’s no doubt that governments around the world are increasingly adept at deploying digital technology to strengthen public services,” says Miguel Carrasco, senior partner and managing director at BCG, who specialises in helping governments provide digital services. Data from BCG back him up: a survey of 13,000 people in 20 countries and Hong Kong shows an eight percentage-point jump between 2014 and 2016 in the number of people using digital government services weekly or more frequently.

The right experience is vital

So given the scale at which digital government services are now being provided and the fact that this will only increase in the future, the quality of those services and, most importantly, the experience of using them matters.

Gerd Schenkel, founder and managing director of BGA Consulting, says that, “The experience in the digital world matters more than elsewhere for a couple of reasons. It’s far more measurable and the experience is really what drives adoption and repeat use in particular.

“This is very important for any commercial service but for government in particular because governments tend to be monopoly providers [of critical services]. If the experience is rubbish on the first attempt, people go back to clogging the waiting lines. So for governments it’s even more important than for commercial services to have a really good experience online.”

How to improve the experience

Any government team thinking about setting up a digital service should first understand what makes for a great digital customer experience. Mr Schenkel says that teams should think of a digital experience in two parts. First, its utility – does it work? – and, second, the emotional effect of the experience. He says, “In some ways that’s more important because the emotional effect determines the satisfaction of the user, it determines whether they come back and also determines whether they become an advocate and therefore drive further adoption in their circle.”

Teams should also watch out for typical public-sector risk aversion. As David Heacock, CEO of Cybertrack, says you don’t want to make everyone bear the heavy burden of compliance with the policy that, “because one person has tried to defraud the state through this service, I’m going to make all of you jump through as many hoops as I can.”

Finally, as Marla Mitelman, director of experience design at BCG Digital Ventures, says, “Governments should also look outside the sector for inspiration and innovations in service delivery. It’s also ok to steal great ideas, but it’s important to improve on them too.”

Denver’s Pocketgov: an exemplary experience

Some public sector teams have already made big strides with the service experience they offer. BCG’s inaugural GovCX awards were launched this year to find and celebrate the best in digital government services around the world. And, because it’s so vital, the awards focus on citizens’ experience of interacting with digital government services.

The first ever winner is the government of Denver for its Pocketgov service. The judges – three of whom are quoted above – unanimously agreed it was the best example of how to build a service around what users want.

Users simply enter their geographic information or log into Pocketgov and it provides a whole host of services personalised to the user and where they are in Denver. Residents can report problems in their neighbourhoods, ask questions, renew vehicle licence plates, and sign up for personalised services like street sweeping and waste pick-up reminders. The Denver government estimates that the service has saved the city more than $250,000 in reducing inquiries to its call centre, as well as making life much easier for residents.

The runners up in the GovCX awards were Engage Victoria, a web portal provided by the Australian state government that enabled people to provide feedback on policy decisions, and the Portugal Participatory Budget website. This is a platform that gives citizens a say in where and how their money is spent. The judges thought that both services should be rewarded for their consistency in design and presentation, how they engaged people in consulting with their governments, and for their accessibility and innovativeness.

Beyond these three, however, there are many public-sector teams out there right now working on great ideas to help us all interact with local and national governments, and to help us take one more step on our march to a digital future. Who knows, maybe one day soon the CEO of the latest and greatest tech firm will explain how they wanted their new app to be more like the one launched by your own government.

Find out more about the inaugural GovCX Awards


Hear how a Google Veteran is Bringing Government into the Digital Age

Read more on Digital Government Transformation on BCG.com

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