Beyond Agency Web Pages | Citizen Self Service
You’ve just finished all of your holiday shopping and you never left the house. A DVD of your favorite movie will be released tomorrow and its already paid for and en route. The maturation of the internet over the last 10 years has raised the public's expectations of customer service and response. And at the outset of this technological revolution, the public sector has responded aggressively with “e-government” initiatives in the form of self service web sites which provide centralized repositories of relevant information and act as a gateway to civil servants.
As citizens and the government administrators who service them became more comfortable with the opportunities born of the internet, more information was put into web spaces. However, making sense of that information in a way that permits a citizen to find, retrieve and interact with the right information has created a new round of tech initiatives in government—the revamping of the old web sites from the first generation of static repositories to a next generation of web portals that deliver relevant information and a more powerful user experience.
Routinely pleased by retail experiences in the private sector with the likes of Amazon.com, citizens today demand more responsiveness from their governments and hence, the time has come for governments to show ingenuity and flexibility in their technological approach to the needs of the people. This increase in expectations has made it critical for agencies to expand their offerings across multiple communication channels including email, web, letter, fax, phone, in-person visits, and web self-services.
With self-service portals, the internet provides an outstanding opportunity to realize the citizen-centered vision of government service delivery. Programs offered by individual agencies can be connected electronically, either clustered on a single website or integrated into a single service that better responds to customer needs. Typical government self-service modules can facilitate access to forms and documents, license renewals, information on industry rules and regulations, and even expedited applications for police restraining orders or other process specific tasks. One example of an aggregated web self service site is Export.gov, a government platform that combines information on the services of several U.S. government agencies related to the exporting trade. This site is a classic example of a self service portal that goes beyond information delivery and includes e-commerce activities for export promotions that can be ordered and purchased through online credit card modules.
Another effective technology initiative related to web sites has been the increased use of revised Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) pages. After an evolution process that included content restructuring, improved answers, more relevant links, and dynamic responses based on keywords posed in questions, many agencies are seeing significantly fewer calls at their call centers, increased hits to the FAQ pages, and greater satisfaction from constituents. With governments very focused on customer service, providing a channel that people can access 24/7 to find information and access services is becoming essential. With self-service and FAQ sites in place, government call centers are finding that the questions they field are of a higher level of complexity, better suited and more efficient for a live agent, demonstrating the effectiveness of the sites and saving the organization precious resources.
Building on this efficiency, call centers can also route calls to FAQ pages, self-service web portals, or interactive voice response systems that access the same database used by the centers to handle inquiries typed into the keypad or spoken into a voice recognition system. Designed appropriately, such automation reduces labor and IT costs, tracks performance metrics and more quickly serves the customer.
Another popular government customer service technology is an organization-wide call center, or 311 system, that integrates most or all of a government’s non-emergency services through “one door” by dialing the three numbers. Behind self-service sites and 311 systems is a technology called Constituent Relationship Management (CRM) software, such as that available from Aplicor, Inc. of Boca Raton, FL. Aplicor’s enterprise CRM systems include modules that specifically manage the multi-channel communications needed to interact at self-service portals, over analog or digital telephones, or by fax. Call centers staffed with over-burdened government representatives can access CRM’s consolidated knowledge-base and scripts to finish each call quickly and accurately.
CRM modules for web self-service, phone, email, fax, face to face and contact center “knowledge management” ensure organizations deliver effective call avoidance, increased agent productivity, and greater service consistency. But more advances to help manage citizen needs are on the way. The newest widely adopted communications technology for CRM is Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP), which encodes voice calls over the same Internet Protocol that carries web traffic, enabling more-sophisticated call routing and the ability to insert relevant data into workflow and business process steps.
The pressure on government to reflect industry standards in providing services continues to mount, and agencies are generally receptive to employing technological solutions to meet demand. However, American society’s needs have gone beyond simple web sites, and require more interactive tools to meet citizens’ time and value expectations. Web self-servicing, call centers and the CRM technologies behind them are the next logical step to citizen satisfaction. If you were a government executive worried about customer service, CRM may be an answer, which affords relatively quick adoption and sustained cost savings; which would certainly be self-serving.