Customer experience tops citizen experience as digital government awareness remains low

Profile picture for user slauchlan By Stuart Lauchlan April 4, 2017
Salesforce's 2017 Connected Citizen Report exposes low levels of awareness around the potential for digital delivery of public services. Bad news at a time when government digital transformation in the US and beyond is changing.

Over two thirds of people have better customer experiences with private sector organizations than they have citizen experiences with their public sector counterparts.

That’s one of the top line findings from The 2017 Connected Citizen Report from Salesforce. The study is restricted to the US public sector, both federal and local, so some of the findings are inevitably likely skewed to that culture, but equally it’s likely that the broad themes are mirrored outisde of the US as governments worldwide seek to transform delivery of citizen-facing public services.

On the citizen experience front, respondents felt that private enterprises resolve customer service issues more quickly (62%), care more about people as customers (52%), provide easier ways to communicate via the likes of text and social media (45%), and have more engaged employees (44%), than public sector organizations.

Interestingly, given the allegations and rumors swirling around about hacking and external systems influence on the US Presidential Election, an overall 84% of respondents stated that they found the experience of voting to be excellent or good.

What comes across very strongly from the results is that when it comes to dealing with Federal Government, the main demand from those who’ve had poor experiences is for greater transparency into how your case/issue is being dealt with. For example, 35% of respondents called for more insight in relation to their dealings with the IRS, a percentage that leaps to 49% when it comes to dealing with healthcare agencies.

There’s a high level of lack of awareness, particularly at local government level, of what digital services are available, particularly around areas that tend to matter a greate deal at local level. For example, only 41% of respondents realised they could find information on garbage pickups online. Only 37% knew they could report potholes in the road via digital channels, while just over a quarter (27%) knew they could get genned up on street cleaning online.

What’s interesting is that there’s no particularly large gap in most cases between the awareness levels of Millenials, Generation X and Baby Boomers. For example, regarding getting garbage pickup information, the spread was 42% among Millennials, 41% among Generation X and 40% among Baby Boomers.

So the concept of the digitally-engaged Millennial seems questionable here. Where Millennials do demonstrate more digital awarneness is around registering to vote, where a majority (54%) know about this capability, compared to 33% of Baby Boomers. Another generational gap emerges around the idea of the sharing economy, with 56% of Uber generation Millennials in keen to use ride-sharing companies over public transportation, compared to 35% of Baby Boomers.

Lacking trust

When it comes to attitudes towards data, there’s also a clear divide with almost twice as many Millennials than Baby Boomers (41% v 22%) willing to give the government access to their personal data, such as their locations or social media posts, in order to increase the quality of the services it provides.

For those who aren’t happy about government having access to personal data, the main point of contention is trust - or rather lack of trust. Seventy percent cite just not wanting the government to have access to personal data on principle, while a further 64% bluntly state they don’t trust the government with that data. Only 51% say they don’t want to hand over such data because they don’t reckon it will help improve service delivery.

While digital technologies ought to be enabling greater civic participation by allowing remote access via the likes of video-streaming and social media, local govenrment doesn’t seem keen on offering this. Overall, only 19% of respondents said their local agencies provided the abillty to participate remotely in town hall events, such as budget meetings.

Despite all the hype around Smart Cities and the potential of the Internet of Things, there’s a decided lack of enthusiasm on show from respondents for spending tax dollars on this sort of stuff. Only 39% of all respondents said they’re for spending on the use of sensors in vehicles to allow for better monitoring of traffic flows to manage gridlock better. Even fewer (17%) are in favor of the idea of smart trash cans that schedule pickups only when full.

My take

This is an interesting report whose findings confirm how long a road there is still to travel when it comes to digital delivery of public services. There are some salutary lessons to be learned here about trust and about priorities for digital transformation in government. These are conclusions that I suspect we’d see mirrored in other geographies if the same study were to be carried out elsewhere.

Actually I’d really urge Salesforce to give serious consideration to doing just that. With Article 50 now triggered and UK and the European Union negotiating the shape of the future, prioritising which areas of digital government transformation to focus on, against an agenda dominated by the need to get systems in place to cope with life after Brexit, is a huge ask for public sector organizations. Such a study as this would undoubtedly help shape to that agenda.

These are turbulent times. On both sides of the Atlantic, there have been shifts and disruption around attitudes digital transformation in govenrment. In the UK, the nature of the role of the Government Digital Service have been closely followed, while the return to favor of the so-called Oligopoly of big-ticket suppliers has accompanied this.

In the US, there was pressure from various sources for incoming President Trump to eliminate the General Services Administration's tech consultancy 18F and the White House's U.S. Digital Service, set up under President Obama. In the event, both are still standing (for now), now joined by The Office of American Innovation (OAI), headed by Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who told The Washington Post that government should be run “like a great American company”.

As one of the objectives of the OAI is to modernize the technology and data infrastructure of every Federal Government department and agency, there's been a lot of talk about the advisory involvement of tech leaders, such as Apple's Tim Cook, Microsoft's Bill Gates, IBM’s Ginni Rometty, Tesla’s Elon Musk and Salesforce's Marc Benioff.

That Salesforce itself has grand ambitions for its public sector footprint was re-affirmed last week with the appointment of Casey Coleman, former CIO at the General Services Administration, as its Senior Vice President for Global Public Sector. Coleman, who joins after stints at Unisys Federal and AT&T Government Solutions, comes with a ton of experience of how government IT works - and doesn’t work. She was also CIO at the GSA in 2011 when the agency signed a five year, $28.1 million enterprise deal with Salesforce as part of its public cloud usgage commitment.

A good appointment at an nexus point for government digital transformation.