Citizens First 3 proves value of service improvement

Lac Carling participants and decision-makers from all three levels of government had the value to citizens of improved service delivery confirmed when the Public Sector Service Delivery Council and Public Sector CIO Council joint research committee made its presentation to delegates.

Brian Marson, Art Daniels and Charles Vincent reported on the findings of the groundbreaking Citizens First 3 survey, the third in a series of examinations that are teaching government decision-makers more about how citizens perceive service. The survey was produced by the Institute for Citizen-Centred Service in cooperation with the Institute of Public Administration of Canada. The Institute for Citizen-Centred Service is an intergovernmental project supported by the two Councils.

The presentation confirmed that government services and service delivery matter to citizens. It also provided new insights into citizens’ views on service and the Internet channel, the telephone, and the need for governments to take an integrated service channel approach.

The presentation reported on ‘service reputation’, the overall rating of services of a respondent’s municipal and provincial/territorial government and the federal government. For each level of government, the service reputation scores have increased significantly since the first edition of the survey came out in 1998: municipal satisfaction rates have gone from 53 to 59 (out of possible score of 100); for provinces and territories, from 47 to 51; and for the federal government, from 47 to 56.

The Citizens First series is unique in its examination and assessment of citizen views of specific services provided by the three levels of governments. Citizens were asked if they had used a given service in the past year, and, if so, to rate the quality of that service. Overall, the ratings demonstrated a significant increase across a set of 28 municipal/provincial/territorial services and 18 federal services. Some service ratings have dropped: regarding the getting or renewing of a passport, in 1998 the service rating (out of 100) was 66; Citizens First 3 reports that it has now dropped to 60.

Of prime significance is the fact that for the first time a link has been made between satisfaction with service and confidence in government. The presentation noted that over half of those surveyed said that service quality shaped their view of government. The challenge for decision-makers rests in the fact that more and more citizens, while understanding that governments have a harder time delivering quality services than the private sector does, still expect better service from them: 55% of respondents said they expect better service from governments, up from 46% two years ago and 42% in Citizens First (1998). To further complicate matters, service expectations are becoming more complicated : today, one-half of all service transactions with government involve more than one channel. These results reinforce the fact that decision-makers face a complex service environment when improving service delivery.

In 1998, Citizens First identified access as a central issue related to citizen satisfaction with government service delivery. The presentation to delegates at Lac Carling confirmed that it still remains an irritant in today’s multi-channel service delivery universe: half of the respondents had used two or more channels in their service experience with government, and expressed concern over busy telephone lines, long waiting times and being bounced from person to person. One quarter of those surveyed said they could not readily access the services they needed. Citizens First 3 also demonstrated that the number of problems citizens face affects their perception of access; not surprisingly, when there are no problems, Canadians find services easy to access.

Brian Marson noted that telephone access remains a significant problem: citizens complain of busy telephone lines, being bounced from one person to another, having trouble with IVR or voicemail, not knowing where to start and being unable to find the service in the Blue Pages. When citizens use more than one channel when accessing government services, the telephone always has lower service quality scores: citizens feel the service is slower, that staff does not have sufficient knowledge /competence, and that the outcome is less likely to be satisfactory. In spite of their views on telephone service, citizens are more likely to use the telephone when accessing government than any other channel: the telephone was used in 55% of all service contacts with governments. (Office visits were next at 48% of services, and the Internet was third at 30%). For decision-makers involved with improving service delivery, these findings suggest improving telephone service should be a priority and that governments need to ensure that staff in telephone centres is appropriately trained.

Governments are investing heavily in IT infrastructure, and have been looking to the Internet as an important service delivery channel, as well as an enabler of integrated, cross-channel service delivery and improved back office efficiencies. Citizens First 3 provided updated information on citizen views of the Internet as a service delivery channel. It suggested that the investment being made in this channel is not in vain, but that the expected migration of citizens to the Internet channel as the sole and preferred channel of service has yet to occur. Overall, while citizen use of government websites is up, 87% are still using the Internet for information gathering (as opposed, for example, to filling out a form or finding links to other sites). While people are migrating toward the Internet channel, the survey confirmed that the real story remains the integration of service channels: over one-half of the Internet users used one or more channels, with three-quarters of them also calling on the telephone.

The survey also provided useful information regarding the impact of the Internet and government websites on the satisfaction of citizens. The results of the survey suggest that there is not a significant service advantage to citizens who use Internet services in simple situations, but that as the number of contacts required to get the service increases, satisfaction with the Internet does not decrease as quickly as it does for other channels. The survey suggests this is because making an extra contact with the Internet is simply a matter of a few clicks, while visiting an office may take a few hours.

There was good news in the survey for government web designers: over half of the respondents agreed they were able to find what they were looking for easily and that the government website that they visited had all the information they needed. Those in government correspondence units who answer emails might take note that over half of the citizens surveyed said they expect to have a reply to their email on the next business day.

Looking to the future, decision-makers were provided with a sense of what citizens see as their priorities for service improvement. These priorities represent the services that impact the most upon Canadians, not necessarily those they now rate badly. At the federal level, these include Employment Insurance, border (customs) activity and Canada Post. At the municipal/territorial/provincial level, the top three candidates for improvement are hospitals, road maintenance and snow removal, and health care outside hospitals. It should be noted that municipal, provincial and territorial services were lumped together in this survey.

The joint research committee put an impressive forward research agenda before delegates, who approved each item through the electronic voting process. Topics to be pursued over the next year include examinations of client segmentation, third party service delivery, collaborative arrangements, citizen engagement and e-democracy, service in regulatory agencies, and best practices in improving client satisfaction.