Canada has set the bar in e-government service delivery for the fifth consecutive year, according to a report released this week by consulting firm Accenture.
But we can’t afford to rest on our laurels. According to an Accenture spokesperson, there is still work to be done to meet citizens’ growing expectations.
Titled Leadership in Customer Service: New Expectations, New Experiences, the Accenture report includes two major sections. The first is an assessment of the overall service maturity of governments surveyed.
For the second section, Accenture canvassed the views of 9,000 adults on how they felt about interacting with their governments online, in person, or via the telephone.
Of 22 countries surveyed in North America, Europe and Asia, Canada ranked first in customer service maturity in e-government. The U.S., Denmark, Singapore and Australia followed.
But according to Alden Cuddihey, a partner at Accenture’s Canadian government operating group in Toronto, governments still have a long way to go in terms of how well services are offered in an integrated and seamless fashion, he said. “When you see the report and rankings, Canada still [emerges] as number one, and even though Canada and a few others are clear leaders, there is a lot of work ahead of them to achieve what we call true customer service” — defined as the ability to offer services to citizens through multiple, integrated channels.
To measure e-government service maturity, Accenture looked at four criteria: to what degree governments are able to offer services based on citizen segmentation; how well governments can deliver services through multiple channels; how fluid and integrated are the different levels of government when it comes to providing services; and how well the government communicates its ability to offer services.
On the communication front, Canada has done quite well, Cuddihey said. For instance, he said on arriving in Vancouver recently he saw several billboards with “quit smoking” messages from Health Canada and a 1-800 number that citizens could call to receive more information. Alternatively, a citizen can visit the Health Canada Web site, click on “Healthy Living” and link to a Web site which has tools and support for people trying to quit smoking. Citizens can also sign up for e-mails that include motivational messages and tips to help them be successful in their quitting efforts.
“This is an example of Canada making a concerted effort to reach out to citizens and let them know what services are available,” while giving them options to access those services, he said.
However, the citizen survey section of the report tells another story about the levels of citizen satisfaction with government services, Chddihey said.
First, when people consider their experiences with government, they compare those experiences to the best service experience they ever had. “That becomes the benchmark by which we address how well government is doing,” he said. The survey’s general finding was that citizens are not satisfied with government services.
Additionally, people who have multiple interactions with government are often frustrated when they have to repeat details of the previous transaction, Cuddihey said. “There is a direct correlation between satisfaction and the degree to which government remembers who I am as a citizen,” he said, adding that governments need to improve in that area.
Brent Staeben, spokesperson with Service New Brunswick (SNB), said his agency has worked hard to integrate transactions via various channels. A corporation owned by the Province of New Brunswick tasked with improving the delivery of government services to the public, SNB is becoming increasingly integrated with its partner departments on the database level.
The systems and interfaces SNB uses online and in its teleservices centre are based on the same technology. “So when you call up and want to renew your vehicle information, pay a fine, pay your municipal water bill, the call centre agent punches that information into the same system you would use when you’re doing it yourself online.” This means service is quicker and everyone has the same information, which keeps things seamless, Staeben said.
The Accenture report also found that people still prefer the telephone as the primary way to access government services, though they also had the highest level of dissatisfaction with the phone as a form of communication, primarily due to negative call centre experiences.
Ironically, the more services go online, the more demand for the call centre goes up, Cuddihey said. “I think often there is a view that online access to services will reduce [demand for] access to other channels. But the online channel might make people more aware of what services are available, which leads to more questions, and call centre use goes up.”
However, Staeben said phone usage as a percentage of SNB transactions has actually dropped. “Our online transactions are eating into in-person and over-the-phone interaction.”
He said the increased phone usage trend cited by Accenture may be a sign that citizens are dissatisfied with initial walk-in or online visits. “When you don’t get the service you want at first contact…you are really going to pick up the phone and start calling because you don’t want to make a second trip. But what we find is the quality of service they’re getting from us is so high,” even during in-person visits, that it is making the rate of phone calls drop, he said.
Although Cuddihey said governments should definitely make all services available through the Internet, they should not stop there. “Citizens told us they do not want government to mandate access through one particular channel — they want choice.”