In the Public Administration as well as in the private sector, the customer experience has become fundamental and the reasons are not so different.
In both cases, it makes it possible to make the communication of content more effective, whether it be commercial or institutional in nature.
However, a customer is not a citizen, and that makes a big difference.
The first has demands in terms of performance and quality of service, and its importance derives from the fact that, if what the customer has purchased is not up to expectations, they can always turn to another company.
On the other hand, when addressing the Public Administration, citizens do so by claiming rights established by a specific regulatory framework, where the public administration is obliged to ensure transparency and access to information.
It is precisely these two principles that should push the Public Administration to get even closer to citizens, to meet their needs and their expectations. But what are these expectations?
The first directive of a transformation
Unlike public entities, citizens have changed radically in recent years thanks to the development of new digital technologies, which are now rather widespread in most parts of the world.
This constant contact with new digital technologies has inevitably had an impact on the habits and expectations of citizens, who have become more demanding of companies and the Public Administration alike.
In particular, it is possible to identify three different directives that the PA must follow in order to effectively carry out its duty and fully satisfy citizens.
First of all, citizens are asking the Public Administration to become more digital. That is, they expect to interact with the Public Administration through the same customer experience that is offered to them by private companies. This should push institutions to conceive their services as retail experiences.
To do this, the Public Administration should consider and even replicate the practices adopted in the private sector, which for some time now has been facing digital transformation and the digitization of the customer experience.
Operationally, this means significantly and consistently developing one’s own content and optimizing it for use, for example through mobile devices.
Moreover, the lack of usability is one of the main problems of customer experience within the Public Administration.
According to a study by the Digital Innovation Observatory in 2016, Public Administration services in Italy are only accessible 36% of the time, compared to an average of 54% and more in Europe.
This generates a certain frustration on the part of citizens, who are also open to greater digitization of public institutions. This is demonstrated by the fact that, according to data from the end of 2017, Italians are generally in favor of the digital transformation of the Public Administration, especially as it pertains to simplifying procedures (29.1%) and speeding up of processes (25.5%).
In addition, almost one in two Italians expect to find the PA information they are looking for on the internet and the number increases for users between the ages of 18 and 54.
The same applies when it comes to trust: more than four out of 10 Italians consider the information they find on the web from public administrations to be reliable and, even in this case, in the 18-54 age group, the figure exceeds 50%.
However, even if there is a great demand for digital services, citizens are often disappointed by the customer experience offered by the Public Administration.
In fact, 30% of citizens who have used public digital services say that they have not received substantial benefits from them compared to those provided in the traditional way.
This contributes to distancing citizens from the Public Administration, which is perceived by citizens as being irreversibly backward and complex, and contributes to feeding what has been defined by the BEM research 2017 report on E-Government as “The Italian paradox in digital: a lot of social but little e-gov.”
Although Italians are very interested in new digital technologies, only one in four people says they have used e-gov services because of issues related to usability and access.
The second directive of a transformation
The second directive that the Public Administration must follow in order to simultaneously provide a quality customer experience to all citizens, as well as a complete and consistent digital transformation, is the development or inclusion of specific skills.
This would require a general rethinking of the internal structures of the Public Administration that manage the communication.
Italian law no. 150/2000 regulates this very subject and distinguishes three different bodies dedicated to institutional communication, identifying for each a specific role. Specifically:
1) the Spokesperson, who represents the public body in relations with the media and manages political and institutional communication
2) the Press Office, which is made up of professional journalists and prepares press releases and maintains constant relations with the mass media
3) the Public Relations Office, which maintains direct relations with citizens, both individually and in organizations, in order to provide a direct exchange of information and equal confrontation with the Public Administration
First of all, it is precisely this rigid division of roles between information, understood as a one-way flow of content from top to bottom, and communication, which should have a more horizontal flow between public and private entities.
On the contrary, innovative digital technologies have made communication more liquid, and for this reason, it is necessary to have a more streamlined and adaptable model of organization and management.
To do so requires not only a review of the communication skills of PA staff, but should also provide for new, essential roles in the light of the digital requirements of citizenship.
This is the case of the public social media manager, who is specialized in the management of social channels. This is an essential role for every Public Administration office, for two reasons. For one, more and more public bodies now have social profiles.
Out of 106 Italian municipalities, 94 actively use a social platform. More specifically, 85 municipalities use Facebook, 73 are on Twitter and 67 on YouTube, followed by Instagram and Flickr. In 2016, the Quirinale, the heart of the Italian government, opened its own profiles on Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube. The Ministry of Education, University and Research, soon followed suit, opening their own Instagram account on January 30, 2017.
It is, therefore, necessary to have a dedicated professional who is knowledgeable of their technical and operational specificities and who is able to use them. Secondly, it’s not enough to control a social platform; it must be integrated into a specific communication strategy, where each channel has a specific function.
For example, the Quirinale communicates externally through traditional channels and also through its official accounts, activating them alternately according to the content that is shared.
The website specifies the role of each platform: “Twitter for constantly updated information on the activities of the President and the President of the Republic; Instagram for the most significant photographs of the President’s activities; Youtube for the publication of video content produced by the Press Office; Google+ where news about the Presidency is reported in English for the international public.”
All of this requires a strategic content management and the construction of a precise and coherent editorial plan that only a digital professional can effectively manage.
Only in this way will it be possible to provide relevant content and ensure clear and timely communication, which is perceived as being of quality by all users.
The third directive of a transformation
In summary, to create a customer experience that is appreciated by its citizens, the Public Administration must be digital, fast, and more accessible. In addition, performance must be high in order to meet the expectations of users and who will inevitably compare it with similar services in the private sector.
The third directive that is missing is a transformation of the Public Administration that removes intermediaries and brings it closer to the citizen, showing that it is prepared to listen and provide simple, rapid, and effective answers.
To do this, it is necessary, once again, to exploit the tools made available by digital transformation, in particular, social networks.
These platforms offer the possibility of providing immediate two-way communication, via smartphones, and also thanks to technological innovations that are suitable for improving customer care, such as artificial intelligence, which can be used to develop chatbots capable of learning and anticipating user requests.
Despite these considerable opportunities, many Public Administrations remain sceptical about the use of social networks and are especially frightened by the possible risks, especially those related to information asymmetry.
In so doing, however, the Public Administration only feeds a vicious circle that leads to further delay compared to the private sector in terms of digitization, without understanding that the new digital tools can integrate perfectly with public communication, making it even more effective.
The advantages of an effective public Customer Experience
In a nutshell, by listing the main coordinates of the transformation that the Public Administration must follow in order to finally become “citizen-friendly,” some of the benefits that the Public Administration can obtain from the development of modern and satisfactory customer experience have already emerged.
As we mentioned earlier, the importance of this is proven out by the private sector that knows that providing the customer (in this case, the citizen) with a memorable experience makes him/her more satisfied and therefore more loyal and, consequently, the business is more successful.
The same applies to the Public Administration and the reasons are as follows:
1. Offering a good customer experience to citizens is strong positioning for the Public Administration, which can improve its reputation.
2. Through an effective customer experience, the Public Administration can get to know its citizens better, through social listening activities and by collecting relevant data. In this way, it is possible to constantly improve the services offered and even anticipate the requests of the citizens themselves.
3. Another advantage that is not often highlighted is that building a customer experience is very useful in the management of institutional crisis situations. In fact, it allows to effectively exploit the different touch points through which a citizen can be reached to provide a decisive and timely reaction, without losing the authority
4. Related to the previous point, good customer experience is a powerful tool to directly and effectively communicate what the Public Administration has done or intends to do. After all, in a world that lives on social and connections, what is not communicated, does not exist.
In this way, among other things, two duties that must inspire the conduct of the Public Administration are fulfilled in a complete manner: transparency and accessibility
5. Precisely for this reason, the customer experience can also be used to combat fake news.
Thanks to the viral nature of the network, it is easy for false news to spread on the internet, and this could impact public administrations or related departments.
The same weapon that makes these news endemics, can thus be used by the institutions to debunk falsehoods by speaking directly to citizens.
6. Finally, a quality customer experience, adapted to the individual needs of each citizen, allows the PA to build (or rebuild) a relationship of trust, which drives citizens to adopt virtuous behavior and in return, to exercise their active citizenship.
The whole community will benefit from this, as will the territory, which will be able to respond to the demand for innovation with pragmatic, sustainable, and effective solutions.
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