Refining customer service

After years of rapiddevelopment in e-government around the world, Accenture hasdetected a slowing of advances. It takes governments longer to makenoticeable improvements as the picture of leadership in customerservice becomes more complex. And more visionary, citizen-centricstrategies and cross-cutting initiatives needed time to take holdand develop proven results.

To address this slowdown,Accenture has opted not to proceed with its usual ranking ofe-government performance. Instead, our seventh annual governmentstudy asks different questions: “What sets these leaders apart?What do they do to perform so consistently well?”

By way of background,government leadership in customer service has been marked byservice that is citizen-centred, cross-government, multi-channeland promoted through proactive communication and education.Governments that embraced these principles delivered greater valuefor their stakeholders by providing better outcomes more costeffectively. At the same time, they positioned themselves for thenext wave of new aspirations and challenges.

Five key findings haveemerged in our study this year, along with new challenges:
First, we see that leading governments are introducing services onpar with the best of the private sector. While many observers feelthat government trails business in introducing service innovations,our own survey of the landscape shows that this is not always thecase. We saw governments using a range of technologies – from SMSand text applications to kiosks and interactive voice response – toprovide unique and interesting services that range from the merelyhelpful to the truly life changing.
To reach this future – where service value equates to lookingbeyond citizens’ and businesses’ in-the-moment “wants” todeveloping insight into and meeting their unexpressed broader needs- governments need to retire strategies that focus solely on thetactics of online service delivery.

Second, we find thatgovernments are at a critical juncture for service success.Government executives recognize that they have “reached the limit”with their current approaches to customer service. The leaders arefacing this challenge by stepping into the uncomfortable arena oftransformation. This has two key dimensions.

First, they are re-assessingand re-crafting their customer service strategies, not just tosatisfy citizens but also to create lasting value. As governmentspush toward service trust, they are tackling the issues of not onlywhat their customers want now, but what will they need in thefuture.

Second, these strategies areveering away from a “best practice,” one-size-fits-all template.Governments are building their strategies based on their own uniquechallenges and value propositions. Leading countries, inparticular, have recognized that there is no set definition forcitizen centricity. They are putting the “custom” back in customerservice.

Our third finding is thatsuccessful governments are advancing by implementing internalstructures and processes that vary dramatically from the past. Asgovernments have developed increasingly rich e-government programs,they have created a new vantage point – a platform from which theycan see that the true picture of leadership in customer servicedelivery is much more complicated than they had previouslyunderstood.

They recognize that much oftheir existing infrastructure, built for a government-centric viewof service delivery, will be inadequate to support their ambitiousnew strategies. In response, they have begun to implement new toolsand modes of operation that vary quite dramatically from those ofthe past, including strong new organizational designs, relentlesssimplification, business reengineering, consolidation and foraysinto shared services.

In Canada, where governmenthas a history of making progress through horizontal cooperation,the federal service transformation agenda is advanced through amodel of “business-like cooperation” that begins with a weeklybreakfast meeting of deputy ministers.

Fourth, we find thatsuccessful governments are using a combination of four proactivemarketing tactics to drive implementation and adoption of theirservice strategies. More than putting a technology in place andthen running an ad hoc radio campaign, for example, these leadersare using a combination of:

The stick. Strong pressureor mandatory use of more efficient channels for someservices.

The carrot. Incentives foronline use.

Marketing pull. Innovativemarketing campaigns to increase awareness and educate users on howto access and use the available services.

High-touch push. Help andsupport; showing people and businesses how to get the most out ofservices.

Our fifth and final findingis that last year’s leaders won’t necessarily be next year’sleaders. The future challenges for governments are broad and deep.What would typically be considered leading service practices in theprivate sector (such as data mining or offshoring, for example)remain difficult if not impossible for some governments. Theability to co-operate across boundaries and levels of governmentalso remains a difficult challenge.

Many governments arecompromising their ability to prepare for the future by focusingtoo much on tactical service levels and not enough on the biggerpicture. It is how public sector executives rise to meet thesechallenges that will determine which governments are able to leadthe way in creating an environment of implicit service value andtrust. Difficult decisions lie ahead:

Challenge: Service deliverychannels are exploding, and so is the complexity forgovernments.

The proliferation of devices(channels of interaction) offers a government unparalleledopportunities for connecting with citizens. As new channels open,they give a government unprecedented new reach. But they also openpitfalls, expected and unexpected.

Challenge: Citizen fears,beliefs and value systems may fly in the face of what is consideredbest practice.

Last year, we reported thatin most countries, governments’ concerns about citizens’ privacyfears were overblown. With few exceptions, citizens are prepared toallow government to have access to and share a whole range ofinformation, from nationality down to health insurance details, andto a lesser extent, social security numbers and taxinformation.

Some countries, such asNorway, Denmark and Finland, already have unique identifiers inplace, for populations where the citizens are familiar – andcomfortable – with governments sharing information. Still, privacyremains a thorny challenge in a number of othercountries.

Challenge: The cost oftechnology is rising for governments.

Governments are burdened bythe costs of their legacy systems. Private sector companies havethe option to offshore some functions and activities that otherscan perform more effectively. Yet for most countries, includingworld leaders Canada and the United States, offshoring isunpalatable, prevented by unions, or goes against the culturalgrain. For most countries, the challenge of staying abreast oftechnology while managing the costs of implementation (both ofwhich factor into the country’s ability to remain competitive in aglobal environment), is a growing issue.

Challenge: Ad hoccooperation works on a small scale, but does not have the strengthto tackle big challenges.

The greatest serviceinnovations often come from an individual or small group of peoplewho develop an idea they are keenly interested in seeing succeedand who rally enough resources to make it happen.

In some respects, Canada isstill working on connecting vision to implementation with ServiceCanada. The country has been ahead of the curve for years. It has ahistory and a culture of working cooperatively. The Service Canadaprogram has already launched incredibly innovative pilots -starting small and growing in an organic way.

But moving Service Canadaforward on a large scale remains a challenge, due at least in partto the collaborative nature of the Canadian government that hasbeen key to its very success.

Challenge: Some governmentsare stuck in their own service processes.

Leading governments havelistened to the call for citizen centricity. They understand thatthe ultimate determinant of service success will be whether, infact, citizens use the service. With so much riding on citizensmoving to the more efficient self-service channels provided bygovernments, it is little wonder that they are trying to tune in tocitizens’ attitudes and perceptions. Most executives that weinterviewed described how they implemented satisfaction surveys forcitizens after completing their transactions. Others talked aboutworking to service level agreements.

In the future, leadership incustomer service will be defined by service that builds an implicittrust between citizens and their governments. Here, trust meanseven more than a belief that governments are acting in citizens’best interests; it implies an inviolate institution. Theimplications of building trust through leadership in customerservice can be seen as a virtuous circle: trust in governmentbuilds a more connected populace, whose true needs inform thedevelopment of more effective policy to answer those needs, whichis then implemented via excellent service, which strengthens thetrust, and the cycle repeats.

Alden Cuddihey is a seniorexecutive in Accenture’s Canadian Government Practice. For fullresults of Accenture’s Annual Government Study, visit

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