The citizen-customer: how governments can surpass the expectations of digital natives

Digital native customers expect personalised and efficient customer experience, says Keith Fenner of Microsoft

Tags: Customer experienceCustomer serviceMicrosoft Corporation
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The citizen-customer: how governments can surpass the expectations of digital natives Government organisations need the right tools to be able to provide the levels of personalised and efficient customer service that people have come to expect, says Fenner.
By  Keith Fenner Published  August 13, 2018

The Gulf region offers some valuable lessons in good governance, and GCC nations have ambitious and diligent programmes in place for economic expansion and diversification. At the heart of these strategies is the relationship of the government with its people - service, communication and information flow have all been heightened, and technology is playing a huge part in the enhancement of end services.

For example, artificial intelligence is ushering in sweeping changes to the regional healthcare industry, as software is now able to diagnose some diseases more effectively than humans. Smartphone apps are capable of monitoring high blood pressure and blood sugar for diabetics. Such changes will likely be a boon to revenues in the healthcare industry. By the year 2020, Dubai is projected to have around 34 pharmaceutical and medical equipment plants, and the value of its $1.6 billion private pharmaceutical industry, will have jumped to AED 6.8 billion by 2025.

But as the region's public sector and its satellite industries grow, and the end-services provided grow more sophisticated, there may be a tendency to forget the softer side of the relationship between citizens and public service-providers. Leaps forward in mixed reality or 3D printing or AI-fuelled drug R&D may mean a smoother treatment journey for the patient, but what about the humdrum, day-to-day admin of handling billing questions, queries and complaints? Spare a thought for the beleaguered customer-service agent handling an overflow of calls. Customers placed on hold for long periods rarely walk away satisfied, and digital natives are of a ‘sharing' disposition. And word gets around.

It may surprise you to learn that, even as the abundance of self-service Web portals grows, customer-service agents find their jobs are becoming more difficult. This is because the contacts that they handle daily invariably involve a greater frequency of complex issues. Where previously their workloads would have been diluted by a commonality of more trivial matters, these issues are now resolved by customers by themselves, leaving agents to face more tricky and time-consuming issues.

In addition, agents are nowadays typically exposed to multiple applications and disparate data sources, as well as having to deal with queries and complaints from multiple communication channels. Juggling these challenges while trying to provide customers with positive experiences is problematic and potentially stressful, which helps to explain why the annual average agent turnover rate is around 29%, according to the US Contact Centre HR & Operational Benchmarking Report for 2017/18.  

Customer experience is something that digitising governments are having to think about more and more. Digital transformation is not just an operational optimiser or a means to reinvent a business model, product or service. It has the power to engage citizens and empower public service-agents. Today's citizens are predominantly digital natives, with expectations of effective, personalised service. In this regard, GCC governments face the same challenges as do retailers, manufacturers or hoteliers. The citizen as customer.

So, let's apply those principles of personalisation and efficiency to the digital transformation of public services. To serve the citizen-customer, service agents need a unified commerce platform that empowers them with deep and relevant information in real time. They need to be aware of where the customer is in the resolution process. Have they just been on the self-service portal? Have they had previous conversations with that agent's colleagues? What were the outcomes? Being able to vocalise the customer's current state, in the form of, "Sir/madam, I see you tried to resolve this issue by..." is a very powerful experience for a customer in search of a solution.

To deliver this level of service, the tools the agent uses must be harmonised - data must be homogeneous and offer a single, rounded view of the customer, and applications must be merged into a single point of access. Cross-communication and collaboration between departments and colleagues must be seamless, to enable co-serving that does not require a customer to repeat themselves or perform an action more than once. The ability to incorporate customer feedback into the process, which becomes an integral part of future contacts, troubleshooting and management, is also essential.

All these elements play their part; all come together to connect the agent with the customer in real time. A customer who never has to tell an agent anything they should already know, walks away a happy citizen. A relationship is built.

Intelligent business applications such as Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Customer Service deliver the kind of centralised tools public service-agents need to provide them with the right guidance and data to personalise each and every citizen-customer interaction. A single, role-driven interface empowers agents to solve cases faster, avoid escalations and achieve more for the citizens they serve.

Keith Fenner is Dynamics 365 Business group director, Microsoft Middle East & Africa.

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