Implementing a Citizen-Centric Approach to Delivering Government Services

When governments deliver services based on the needs of the people they serve, they can increase public satisfaction and reduce costs.

July 2015 | by Robert Emmerich, Government Affairs Officer

Delivering services to citizens is at the heart of what most government agencies do. Tasks like paying taxes, renewing driving licenses, and applying for benefits are often the most tangible interactions citizens have with their government. Services are therefore critical in shaping trust in and perceptions of the public sector.

Citizens today expect more transparent, accessible, and responsive services from the public sector. And those expectations are rising. Many governments have made efforts to improve service delivery through online portals or “one-stop shops” like centralized call centers, but find they are still unable to meet the public’s expectations.

Part of the problem is that despite their best intentions, many governments continue to design and deliver services based on their own requirements and processes instead of the needs of the people they serve. But some government agencies—including at the local, state, and federal levels—have successfully implemented a customer-centric approach to service design and delivery.

Measuring Citizen Satisfaction

Transforming service delivery begins with understanding citizens’ needs and priorities. Identifying which services citizens find most problematic and measuring the extent of that dissatisfaction is one way governments can prioritize areas for improvement. There are three guiding principles to ensure that citizen satisfaction measurement efforts generate accurate, actionable insights.

Let citizens tell you what matters most, but avoid asking them directly

Asking people which aspects of service delivery are most in need of improvement—the time required to resolve a request versus the politeness of staff, for example—is unlikely to yield accurate results. Most people will say every aspect is equally important. So rather than asking citizens to rank the importance of different drivers of satisfaction, ask them to rate each service (for example, the overall process of applying for a parking permit) across the drivers. This method provides more reliable insights into users’ needs and priorities.

This technique has been used successfully for transformation efforts in the public sector. In the United Kingdom, for instance, the Local Government Association undertook a project to measure how satisfied residents were with their local council’s performance.4 Their analysis showed that perceived value for the money—essentially, whether residents feel they’re getting a good return on their tax dollars—was by far the most powerful influencer of public satisfaction; it was far more important than the tax levels themselves. Further, perceived value for the money was determined largely by how well residents were informed about local services. Several councils used these insights to make specific improvements; one group launched a “cleaner, greener, safer” public-relations campaign that helped move the council from the bottom forty percent of performance satisfaction ratings to the top ten percent in less than five years.

Identify natural break points in customer satisfaction

Striving for zero wait times and one-click transactions across the entirety of government services is likely to prove both unrealistic and costly. Government leaders can find a balance between delivering high-quality, responsive services and managing resources effectively by using citizen-satisfaction metrics to determine acceptable service levels. One way to do that is by identifying break points—the point at which delays or service shortfalls cause customer satisfaction to drop significantly.

Public-sector organizations have already had success with break-point analysis. One agency used this technique to find optimal staffing levels across its call centers and paper-based processing facilities. Managers were able to identify, in real time, the trade-offs between staffing and citizen satisfaction for both of these channels. In turn, they raised overall citizen satisfaction.

Combine public feedback with internal data to uncover hidden pain points

Combining customer-satisfaction information with operational data—call-center volumes and number of in-person visits, for instance—can yield additional insights, beyond what citizens state explicitly via surveys and other feedback channels. The Australian Taxation Office, for example, combines insights gleaned from customer-service calls and customer-relationship-management records with more formal customer-satisfaction feedback to identify statistical correlations between the specific areas customers have identified as problematic and the drivers of their dissatisfaction. This approach has helped the agency identify areas for improvement within its interactive-voice-recognition (IVR) systems—specifically, the agency discovered that IVR staff needed additional training. Further, the office has identified customer-service “champions” to help train other customer-service representatives. A government agency in Asia has taken a similar approach to identifying why exactly citizens are dissatisfied with its services.

Employees can also be tremendously helpful in identifying pain points. Because they are closer to the front line and have extensive daily interactions with citizens, many employees are highly skilled at gauging public satisfaction and can often devise practical solutions. Employees are an especially important resource in circumstances that would make soliciting public feedback challenging.


Executive Editor

Ms Anna Sullivan

Ms Anna Sullivan