Why Government Customers are Just Like Holiday Makers
As part of Customer Experience Day (#CXDay2020) celebrations that took place on 6th October 2020, we shared a number of blog posts which showed our approach to customer experience.
While the day might be over for another year, we’re continuing our programme with more insight into how and why we put the customer at the heart of everything we do.
It’s worth reflecting, at a time when government guidelines and decision-making are having such a huge impact on the travel industry, what part these direct and indirect interactions with government agencies e.g. Foreign Commonwealth Office, Passport Office, Border Force etc. are having on the holiday maker experience.
What onward effect could this have on long term behaviour when it comes to taking holidays abroad?
The lines between customers of government and private sector organisations are becoming blurred and we are becoming more demanding of the experience we get.
In my early career I worked for a tour operator, selling mainly summer package holidays at the budget end of the market where it is very easy to misjudge expectations. To start with, my success was determined by ability to quickly relay key information about the package and calculate the correct price. All that information could be found in the brochure, but our task was to navigate that better than direct customers and the travel agencies.
For many customers that was enough, and decisions were made swiftly, holidays secured, hopefully enjoyed. But I soon became aware of the significant repeat business as callers asked for specific colleagues by name i.e. who they’d dealt with year after year.
I wondered what they did differently.
It came to three things, which have served me well in various roles throughout a 20-year IT career journey, beginning at the service desk, helping people navigate their IT effectively.
• They were carefully noting and keeping a track of the customer’s journey from initial call, to processing the booking form, to the issuing tickets and, if possible, their arrival in the resort with local representatives. It was a question of ownership and proactivity long after putting down the phone.
• They learned that there was flexibility in the processes. If decisions taken that moved outside ‘the rules’ were done openly and consultatively, then it was possible to, for example, alter normal departure dates; change the length of stay; squeeze one more person into an accommodation; or upgrade it after a few days.
• They understood who needed to be part of those decisions, so no surprises occurred, and how to communicate what was done at the time. No internal conflict, everyone wins together.
Customer experience in government and public sector
This was a relatively small company. I now work in a world where the potential interactions and touchpoints are vast, the systems complex. Most recently, I’ve been helping drive positive experiences for customers in the retail, media and public sectors. It is the latter that seems to be ripe for a Customer Experience (CX) revolution, specifically government.
The machinery of public sector institutions takes this complexity to another level. In an article last year Forrester reported that ‘the need to upgrade the government customer experience has never been more urgent’, and that this hampers mission success.
The recent pandemic and emergency response must take this to yet greater heights, and companies with business to business relationships in government departments should recognise it as an opportunity.
In a McKinsey study, it was shown that in almost every country, reliability and simplicity – not speed – are the top drivers of government customer experience. We don’t need our passport to arrive quickly, but we do want it to arrive before we must depart.
In other words, we want our needs to be understood and met. Don’t misjudge expectations.
So, when I talk about government customers, I reflect on my own journey as a UK citizen renewing passports, buying a house, giving my kids an education, checking tax issues, accessing health services, but I also consider the people my company supports in their endeavours, working for government departments to generate those services.
If we seek to understand their personas, their specific needs, and the judgements they inevitably make based on the values of their own organisation, we stand a greater chance of ‘helping (them) succeed in a way they feel good about’, which is a thought I took from a book I was recently introduced to as a guide for aspiring sales people (Khalsa, 1999).
Successful outcomes in government such as increased trust, achieving missions, meeting budgetary goals, boosting employee morale are all determined by the effectiveness of the people working across silos and outside partners to keep understanding and meeting or exceeding their expectations.
People who feel good and succeed, come back year after year, having derived value from services and wanting to buy more.
In that sense, where agencies listen to customers, enable and equip their frontline employees – who increasingly need to be attracted into the sector – with both the systems, and empowerment to provide calculated flexibility and proactive advice, then they can also enable life dreams for their customers – us!
In a digital age, success for companies like mine is to recognise our current and future contribution to that and keep it firmly in mind so we can jointly succeed and feel good about it – just like when we go on holiday.
No longer should engaging with government be a chore or something to be feared, it should be playing a supporting lifestyle role.
As this CX message pervades agencies and they evolve, so IT providers need to be ready to support their customers in pursuit of these aims through digital enablement of the journey – allowing them individually to make connections and have a chance to recognise the impact they are having on our lives.
If we first understand their touchpoints through the journey; secondly find a way for increased flexibility through bureaucracy; and thirdly engage and openly communicate to the right people both inside and external to our own organisations, then success and happy travellers are mutually successful rather than exclusive. We disrespect our government customers, and ourselves if we think of them any differently to holiday makers.
- The Global Case for Customer Experience in Government, Tony D’Emidio, Sarah Greenberg, Kevin Heidenreich, Julia Klier, Jonah Wagner, and Thomas Weber, Sept 2019
- Why and How to Improve the Government Customer Experience, Rick Parrish, Jan 2019
- Let’s Get Real or Let’s Not Play, Mahan Khalsa, 1999, Franklin Covey