The public sector, like the private sector, has been profoundly transformed by technological innovation. Perhaps the most striking evidence of this transformation is that public organizations find themselves interacting with growing numbers of citizens who are becoming familiar (or who are already familiar) with the use of digital tools. As a result, the public service delivery system must be modernized and simplified to meet the needs of this large and digitally literate audience. And it is in this context that the concept of the citizen experience begins to take shape, to establish itself as central not only in the field of service marketing and institutional communication but as a real pillar of a country’s culture and politics (here, use the term “politics” in its ideal meaning, as the virtuous management of public affairs).
If state organizations are an integral part of every person’s life—we’re referring to agencies that are constantly engaged in dialogue with users, such as the various public administration offices, the health service companies, and the system of schools and universities—efforts to raise the standards of the citizen experience must be directed toward intercepting and responding to increasingly specific requests. As we shall see, there are modes of digital communication that contribute to achieving this goal more than others. Before we go further, let’s provide a definition of the citizen experience.
What is the citizen experience?
The use of the expression “citizen experience” has been spreading since the early 2000s, when public institutions were hit by digital transformation and began to use new technologies to organize their services around the user. The citizen experience refers to the complex system of interactions that citizens have with public institutions as well as the users’ perception of the quality of the services offered. Put another way: through citizen experience, which is created by the sum of individual moments of contact with public institutions, an individual experiences the presence of the state. The citizen experience takes the form of a long series of exchanges that are often, but not always, transactional. This includes identifying available services, obtaining or updating licenses, requesting assistance, seeking information, or making a payment. A final key aspect to consider concerns the integration of classical marketing principles (especially digital marketing) into the definition of citizen experience. Typical elements of customer service and user-centered design are applied to the concept of the citizen experience. In addition, we can easily trace the similarities between the citizen experience and the customer experience (CX) and user experience (UX).
Similarities and differences between the citizen experience and the customer experience and user experience
The citizen experience in the public sector can be similar to the experience a customer accrues in his or her interactions with companies in the private sector. At the same time, the citizen experience is unique, since the expected outcomes and the reference values are also different. For public institutions, improving the citizen experience translates into enhancing a range of activities that have great social significance, such as gathering information and providing relevant and accessible services for all people who need them in both virtual and physical places. Just as with “customer satisfaction“, which needs to grow for the customer experience to improve, citizen satisfaction is the first aspect to consider in the citizen experience.
Trust, citizen experience, and citizen satisfaction
Citizen satisfaction has a major influence on the trust they have in the state. And when citizens trust, the benefits are obvious. It increases the likelihood that citizens will share their experiences, resulting in services that are actually relevant to citizens because they are constantly shaped on current data.
Also, communities are more motivated to follow regulations at both the national and local level, which is especially important when we think about rules that protect vital common interests (e.g., health guidelines).
In general, citizens who trust institutions have a greater sense of civic duty, are more knowledgeable, and are able to make informed decisions that affect the community as a whole (for example, in exercising the right to vote). Recent data shows how investing in customer experience can benefit public institutions:
- Citizens are 9 times more likely to trust an institution when they are satisfied with the service they receive (Mckinsey);
- Dissatisfied citizens are twice as likely to contact institution call centers by phone, clogging these typically expensive and inefficient channels (Mckinsey).
In this sense, organizations working on behalf of the state must necessarily strive to establish and maintain a solid and lasting relationship of trust with citizens. But there are still many difficulties and obstacles: in particular, citizens aren’t satisfied with the quality of their digital experience.
Why do citizens’ expectations continue to be disregarded?
Recent research by McKinsey suggests that the citizen experience is precisely where the stability and authority of government policies is at stake. The fact is, citizens today expect to connect to public services securely, reliably, and seamlessly. They want their interactions to be as smooth and satisfying as those they have with their favorite brands. However, citizens’ expectations of a seamless, dynamic, and engaging citizen experience are rarely met. And one of the main reasons appears to be the inability of the public sector to become fully digitized. Statistics bear this out:
- 60% of citizens have a strong preference for digital channels (Mckinsey).
- 70% of public agency managers believe they are creating a citizen experience that is equal to the quality provided by the private sector, while users themselves rank public sector services last among 10 sectors in this category (Deloitte).
- Only 47% of citizens surveyed by Forrester express satisfaction with online public services, and just 40% trust the public organizations they interact with.
In light of this data, we can easily understand why improving the citizen experience—and improving it by delivering high-quality services—has become a strategic priority for the entire public sector. So much so that 81% of public organizations (Fgi) aim to become partially or entirely digital in the short term. If public institutions can build a future-projected citizen experience that meets the changing needs of contemporary users, it’s because of the advances brought about by digital transformation.
What does the citizen experience of the future look like?
Similar to the customer experience in the private sector, the citizen experience is increasingly being designed based on the needs of users. This means that public agencies must first strive to understand their needs in order to provide services that truly meet citizens’ expectations. They need to gather meaningful information about what citizens expect, using surveys and focus groups and activating and nurturing feedback mechanisms. They must also engage in personalization initiatives: by investing in analyzing the vast amounts of data they hold, they will be able to get to know their users more deeply. Public agencies can extract insights that they will employ to anticipate problems, proactively provide solutions, and create content and insights based on the profiles and preferences of individual citizens. Easy-to-navigate, immediate, and high-performing websites, mobile apps that provide broad and articulate access, online platforms with advanced features to make it easy to use a variety of services: efforts to improve the citizen experience almost always involve advanced digitization initiatives. Adopting digital technologies streamlines and enhances public services, reducing—and sometimes eliminating—the need to travel in person to physical locations to do paperwork. The ability to offer services on different channels (online, mobile, telephone) makes it possible to meet different accessibility needs, freeing the citizen from space and time constraints. There is no doubt: thanks to digital transformation, the citizen experience of the future—digitized and personalized—is now a reality.
Digitization has thus changed the rules of the game, offering new communication models supported by innovative technologies. Local and central public administrations now have the opportunity to offer an effective and engaging citizen experience and, at the same time, they are able to finally make citizen-facing communication processes efficient and measurable. How? Through the tools of digital communication.
How digital communication improves the citizen experience: personalized videos and responsive mini-sites
If the goal is to make interactions between users and public organizations as user-friendly and efficient as possible, by prioritizing digital communication, public agencies can create positive experiences that are in line with citizen expectations. Ensuring the consistency, transparency, completeness, and reliability of information across multiple channels requires the timely implementation of state-of-the-art communication tools, especially video and mini-sites. Digital communication, especially that which takes place through responsive mini websites and personalized videos, has the potential to radically transform the citizen experience, creating innovative ways of interaction between users and public institutions.
If we talk about citizen engagement, for example, the use of responsive mini-websites and personalized interactive videos can go beyond simply transmitting information to the opening of a real dialogue. Let’s try to imagine: a citizen receives a personalized video message via email, where the voice over calls him by name and the narration by images provides a brief overview of a public service he is sure to be interested in. An interactive call to action appears at the end of the video that links to a mini-website via a simple click. This mini-website is a virtual place that is tailored to the individual user, and contains both custom areas based on his or her profile, interaction history, and preferences, as well as a section where they can make payments.
The key lies in harnessing the personalization capabilities of these tools—which are made possible by advances in data collection and analysis—to create a digital experience that individuals perceive as unique and exclusive. For example, the mini-site could offer not just static information but a dynamic, interactive interface that allows people to enter their preferences, answer questions, and receive answers in real time. The processes are not just transactional but more conversational and they reflect the customer service standards that are typical of the private sector.
Integrating images in the form of personalized interactive videos allows for a stronger emotional connection. Again, this is not just about conveying raw information; it’s about telling a story that can resonate with the viewer. Video not only explains the intricacies of a policy or how a new service works, but by showing its impact on the real lives of citizens, it encourages understanding, sharing, and memorization of the message. Videos and mini-sites are indispensable when you need to simplify complex information. Instead of inundating citizens with documents dense with graphs and statistics or text containing long, obscure explanations, a video, preferably interactive and personalized, can break the content down into more digestible units. The mini website, in turn, functions as a resource hub from which citizens can consult to explore all levels of the content at their own pace.
Finally, digital communication promotes citizen engagement at a deeper level: users are not passive recipients of information but active participants in building their experience. Through interactive features, mini-sites, and videos, users can provide feedback, express their preferences, explore relevant topics, and perform practical tasks, such as making payments, updating their contact details, and booking appointments.
In essence, digital communication transforms the citizen experience in many ways. It enables the design of a space that is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, where citizens can feel heard, understood, and empowered. Through personalized and interactive storytelling, public institutions can increase the satisfaction of their citizens by making services not only accessible, but truly engaging and tailored to their individual needs.
Personalized mini-sites and videos are the ideal tool for designing and managing digital touchpoints along the entire citizen journey: from offering personalized information about services related to the city where they live, to making it easy to pay taxes, from quickly requesting documents or permits to getting guidance on schools and training. In this way, the citizen is solidly at the center of a new approach, the goal of which is to increase the quality of the citizen experience.