Connecting state and local government leaders
Whether from staff or residents, feedback can help agencies spot pain points and improve user experience.
Digital transformation is an ongoing effort that requires constant internal and external engagement, three local leaders said.
One reason for that is that as digitization adds capabilities, it reveals additional needs. For instance, although “all of the embracing of digital engagement that government has done in the last decade is really inspiring and exciting, it’s also made us more aware of issues related to the digital divide and making sure that more people have access to connect with us and access service online,” Warren Kagarise, digital engagement manager for King County, Washington, said Feb. 28 during Granicus’ “Ask Us Anything” webinar.
An important way to foster communication about the user experience for internal and external users alike is to ask for feedback. The county does that by including simple clickable thumbs-up and -down options at the bottom of an email and through detailed surveys.
There are still some sticking points, though. “Where a lot of agencies, including mine, are still trying to find their way is how do we incorporate in-person feedback and give it the same weight as digital feedback,” Kagarise said.
In Grand Rapids, Michigan, 311 Customer Service Manager Angela Dore encourages her team to use the feedback they get to work with other departments about digital services. For example, if residents report that a webpage has one time for bulk trash pickup and another page has a different time, they’ll check with the Public Works Department to ensure consistency.
But as helpful as feedback is, it can be hard to hear, she added.
“You created a digital service or an online service and you’re so invested in it … and then you start to hear feedback like, ‘We don't know where to click or what to do.’ And it’s hard to hear that and not try to blow it off: ‘Well, that's just an older person who doesn't know what to do,’” Dore said. “I say this all the time: We know too much about our own services, so we think it seems cut and dry, and it’s not for Joe Citizen out there trying to navigate our services.”
When Dore oversaw the launch of the city’s first digital services in 2018, she created a customer user testing group in which service creators watched end users navigate their solution. “We had to keep our mouth closed and not help them,“ Dore said. “You have to sit and watch them and encourage them to speak about their struggle, and then as you watch, you realize, ‘Oh, yeah, that is confusing,’” she said. “It was very painful to watch something that I lovingly created get ripped apart, but it was very useful and helped us to learn and to edit and enhance and improve our services.”
The effort is worth it, agreed Scott Meyer, digital programs manager for Olathe, Kansas. “It’s having everyone on the same page … understanding who can make those changes, who can impact those changes,” he said. It’s also important to encourage customer-facing staff to dig into user confusion, “empowering them to ask the question back: ‘Well, where did you find that? Where are you seeing those kinds of things?’” Meyer said. With those insights, “changes can actually happen and updates can be made,” he said.
The future of digital customer service is providing a single sign-in for all city agencies that will let users see their search and activity history and commonly visited pages, he said. That feature will help governments too because it will let customer service agents see where residents are getting hung up.
“The world is turning to digital at a fast pace. Why can’t we as government leaders do the same thing?” Meyer said.
Stephanie Kanowitz is a freelance writer based in northern Virginia.