I took part in a salon on this topic earlier this week. It’s an expansive topic and one which is becoming increasingly relevant in the juxtaposed “Age of the Customer” and “Age of Austerity”. The opening remarks of the salon were quite far removed from my ultimate takeaway from the session comprising attendees that cut across industries, levels and both the public and private sector.
Convincing attendees of the need for good service design and a user-led approach was not required as I’d expected (the statistic that 80% of government costs go on providing services, and that 40% of calls received from citizens are still about “How do I do a thing?” was compelling enough!). Rather the focus around the role of the employee in managing, designing and delivering the citizen’s experience led the discussion.
Designers as influencers
Citizen’s experience from this group was grounded in a sense of duty and morality that I hadn’t considered before. As designers of citizen-facing services and experience, we hold an enormous amount of power and influence in our hands. In the private sector, this has (on the whole) a short-term, low-cost impact to the customer. I might buy a more expensive pair of shoes than I intended, or sign-up to a membership plan that isn’t right for my needs, but that’s reversible. In the public sector however, it could lead a citizen to make decisions which irreversibly change the course of their life, like becoming homeless or falling into substance misuse.
Is a good citizen’s experience actually grounded in trying to prevent that experience even occurring? By identifying the earlier trigger points to someone becoming homeless for example, can I prevent other citizens from going down this path? Rather than focusing on how “sticky” I’ve made my user experience, meaning customers spend more time within my product estate, it was debated whether a “slippery” metric is actually the one organisations should aim for. By making my service or experience so quick and easy for the user that they’re gone within minutes; having taken everything they need from us, they can focus on other aspects of their life.
Metrics, good for business, bad for citizens?
One opinion was that it all comes down to metrics. The private sector is measured on increasing customer loyalty, basket size and time in store, whilst the public sector is currently focused on efficiency, reducing call times and headcount. The latter sadly does not enable a good citizen’s experience; it sometimes even leads employees to demonstrate counterintuitive behaviour in search of those magic targets. By sitting down with actual users, you’ll develop a depth of understanding about their needs which will deliver meaningful, personalised experiences. Alternatively, one attendee removed all metrics from frontline staff and just let them get on with it. Empower your employees to act for the citizen, if they need to spend 2 hours talking to someone who’s coming out of hospital, let them.
This is easier said than done of course, and a challenge that was raised multiple times was around siloes and building the case for change. “The policy team are so far removed from the delivery team that they don’t actually know what citizens need, and they’re certainly not trying to work together on it!” My thought: By building cross-functional teams, sitting the policy team down with delivery, marketing and finance teams to work on a solution together, you’ll achieve so much more. Everyone wants to act in the best interests of the citizen, they often don’t know how, or don’t have visibility of what else is going on in the organisation.
The employee is central to the Citizen’s Experience
I could go on for hours, but overall, it was a fascinating discussion that placed an enormous emphasis on the employee. By designing the citizen’s experience in conjunction with that of the employee (how is the employee going to deliver this, what do they need or want from you?), you’ll empower them to support the citizen in whatever way they see fit. It’s our responsibility as experience designers to provide the frameworks for users to make the right decisions, whether that’s citizens or employees.