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You’ve probably heard that “Customer Experience” (CX) is the next big thing. Wherever you go there are adverts for CX platforms, CX jobs and CX consultants. CX is red hot in the commercial sector with many organisations extolling the virtues (and rightly so) that improved customer understanding can deliver to a business. It increases revenue, aids customer retention and improves satisfaction. What’s not to like?

by Dave Worsell

What can the public sector learn from customer experience as a concept? Is it even relevant when you don’t have “customers” in the traditional sense? Many public services have a monopoly where citizens often have little or no choice about how, when and where they access them. Use of some services is mandatory and may even be exercised against the will of the citizen. So, does the quality of the individual’s experience really matter and therefore is CX an unwelcome distraction or just a passing fad?

First, a quick definition. Customer Experience is a general term that defines how businesses engage with their customers across every point in their buying journey. CX data can be used to inform and improve functions from marketing to sales, to customer service and pretty much everywhere in-between. However, CX is so much more than recording interactions with an organisation, it can also capture feelings and sentiment to understand how customers feel about your brand throughout their journey. 

To put it another way, CX is a way of describing the sum-total of all interactions someone has with your organisation and how they feel about you at each touchpoint. The insight provided by CX tools and the rich datasets they create allows organisations to make important decisions at each stage, and those decisions directly influence how successful you’ll be as a result.

“People do not care how much you know until they know how much you care.” – Teddy Roosevelt

Hopefully the reasons why this concept – and also a technological solution – is relevant for the public sector are now obvious. CX can be used to reduce costs, generate revenue and improve reputation. As a public sector entity, try thinking of it as “Citizen Experience” rather than Customer Experience and it all makes sense. For many public sector organisations it’s time to take the CitX plunge.

Citizen experience (CitX) needs to be different from the Customer experience (CX) because the relationship between public sector organisations and citizens is fundamentally different to that between a business and its customers.

Treating citizens as consumers risks misunderstanding and undermining the wider role of public service in building strong communities. While businesses serve the need of the individual; knowing that consumers will vote with their feet, and their wallets, they deploy customer experience management as a means to an end, building competitive advantage in the form of customer loyalty. Public service isn’t only about meeting individual demands, it also requires delicately balancing the diverse needs of a wider community.

During my time as Managing Director (MD) for Granicus UK, we’d partnered with hundreds of public sector organisations to help build their audience, grow engagement and ultimately drive behaviour change. It is the final part of this puzzle –behaviour change — where CitX was the crucial missing ingredient that would have significantly magnified the impact we achieved. We just didn’t know enough about our audience, and how they really felt, to implement meaningful change.

Effective behaviour change requires deep understanding of your service users — citizens — and in turn helps you build and deliver services that they’ll use and hopefully enjoy using. It’s hardly rocket science and there have been ways of identifying these outcomes for years. However, CitX finally provides a way of automating what was once a slow and laborious manual process.

I’ve watched the CX space with interest for years, long before CX became a thing. In the early Granicus days we had partnered with UK-based GovMetric as a way to better understand sentiment in the messages that were being sent to subscribers. At the time it seemed like a sensible integration but the market didn’t respond quite the way we hoped and I never fully understood why.

“Get closer than ever to your customers. So close that you tell them what they need well before they realize it themselves.” – Steve Jobs

It was clear to me that GovMetric was ahead of its time and clearly understood the nuanced distinction between CX and CitX. However, the market wasn’t ready for this disruptive technology and didn’t appreciate why citizen experience was important when they already had a captive audience. GovMetric saw things differently and knew the impact good citizen experience would have on an organisation and the people they serve. Those organisations “in the know” agreed and this allowed GovMetric to carve out a small CitX niche while the rest of the world slowly caught-up.

At the same time, everyone else was busy building “a single view of the customer” in CRM systems like MS Dynamics and SalesForce, which only give a one dimensional view of the citizen relationship without truly understanding the all-important emotional connection. Clearly the CRM-first approach has been a great stepping-stone towards a full CitX solution, but the lack of detailed insight is now holding these systems back. These tools lack the sophisticated data mining and data science functionality that unlocks the value in the data collected. 

While Local Government has dragged its heels, the UK housing sector has really started to get its CX act together and is looking to implement cross-sector benchmarks and robust mechanisms for capturing, interpreting and reporting tenant satisfaction.

While tenant surveys such as the HouseMark Star (Survey of Tenants and Resident) and StarT (Survey of Tenants and Resident Transactions) have been around for years, for the first time a consistent approach will be mandated as part of a new strategy outlined by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) in their updated policy paper “The charter for social housing residents: social housing white paper (January 2021)”.

This regulatory requirement will undoubtedly challenge the housing sector to adopt a consistent approach to data collection and drive the adoption of specialist CX solutions to help support and automate traditional labour intensive survey methods. Overtime, this technology will drive towards a digital-first approach and enable real-time collection of data, empower data-led decision making and ensure housing associations are far more responsive to tenants’ needs.

The exact format and mechanism for collecting tenant satisfaction data is still to be defined but the legal requirement certainly validates the approach adopted by GovMetric, who have been advocating this stuff for years. Unsurprisingly GovMetric are now heavily involved in supporting the Housing Sector through the forthcoming changes.

I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before local government is forced into maintaining similar metrics and benchmarks across a multitude of services areas. If you’re working in communications (or any other service area for that matter) understanding CitX and the value it can bring to your targeted outreach is essential. Make sure CitX learning is part of your future professional development because it’s something you’ll need to know and apply in the very near future. Anyway, when has knowing your audience ever been a bad idea?

Dave Worsell is founder of @IneoDigital and @digikind, and an investor at @hellolamppost_ He’s also helping @TarmacDev  grow in Europe. You can say hello on Twitter at @dworsell

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