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EXCLUSIVE: OpenGovLive! Virtual Breakfast Insight – Delivering Consistent, Relevant, and Responsive Omnichannel Citizen Services in the New Normal

In the new normal people are increasingly relying on social messaging platforms to carry on daily routines and activities. Still reeling from the challenges that COVID-19 brings, people have a common goal – to try to settle and adapt to the new normal. As the nature of life has changed fundamentally, people find themselves sheltering in place to combat the spread of the virus and this has led to great reordering.

This shift in people’s behaviour has compelled the public sector to adapt and embrace digital interactions. Organisations and agencies are re-evaluating how they deliver their messages and convey critical information across platforms in a more social approach that caters to today’s context. Omnichannel solutions and a more social approach are critical to deliver and exchange information to improve response time and boost citizen satisfaction and enhance user experience.

In the age of COVID-19, the Singaporean government has adopted an approach that includes prevention, contact tracing, quarantine and wide access to information. The nation’s continuous attention to ensuring access to information, transparency and daily contact with citizens and agencies have shown great results. Its effective and responsive communication with citizens and other bodies has been commended internationally.

Moreover, sending messages through multiple channels has proven to be more efficient and agile than merely sticking to a single, limited platform. The diverse communication platforms with a simple, unified message are key and have improved penetration and response times.

Lines of communication between government agencies during a time of crisis is vital as well. Providing multiple channels to these agencies to deliver their services and get on businesses will prove to be essential to rapid national recovery. To reap the maximum benefits of an effective communication strategy, public sector institutions must implement an up-to-date omnichannel approach using the right technology solutions in their communication models.

Agencies can have relevant, connected, effective and personalised conversations with their citizens and other agencies by utilising powerful messaging tools across multiple platforms. The ability to scale up quickly on demand is of paramount importance. By offering a range of communication options, the public sector can intentionally achieve a more connected and effective conversational experience for citizens and inter-agency communications across the media of their choice. The best experiences are built by empowering citizens and other agencies as well as improving engagement levels.

Messaging platforms must cater to all citizens with varying levels of digital literacy. The need for a paradigm shift in the way agencies communicate with citizens in this new normal is undeniable. The public sector must create more social and multiple-channel ways of communicating with citizens and other governing agencies.

Today’s citizens demand real-time experiences at a level and pace never seen before. Therefore the public sector must deploy the best available technology to effectively cater to citizens’ ever-evolving needs. An innovative communication framework offers advanced capabilities and advantages such as proactive notifications, cloud-based technology and third-party bots that allow citizens to transact in real-time, without delays, getting much-needed results anytime, anywhere on any device.

Given the necessity of robust, multi-platform communication solutions, the question is: how can the public sector conduct a more social and efficient way of delivering key messages and information to citizens and other government bodies across multiple platforms in the new normal?

This was the focal point of the OpenGovLive! Virtual Breakfast Insight held on 2 June 2021. This session aimed at imparting knowledge on effective citizen relationship management tools in the public sector and best practices, information dissemination and cost-efficient modes of communication using omnichannels to improve citizen satisfaction.

This session served as a great peer-to-peer learning platform to gain insights and practical solutions to integrate cutting-edge tools and technologies for public sector communication and to scale these, as necessary.

How Pandemic Escalated People’s Expectation of Government Services

Mohit Sagar: Governments need to understand what their citizens want and simplify it.

To kickstart the session, Mohit Sagar, Group Managing Director and Editor-in-Chief at OpenGov Asia delivered the opening address.

The COVID-19 Pandemic has reinforced communication as one of the key pillars of government services. Pushed by COVID-driven needs and used to private sector delivery quality, citizens are expecting services at an unprecedented level. Most recently, the benchmark of customer experience has been set by banks; as a result, people have become even more demanding about what they want and how they expect it provided.

As in the private sector, service rating systems play a huge part in driving change and development. So citizens demand services and can be relied upon to give relevant ratings and reviews for the services they access.

Governments need to understand what their citizens want and simplify it; services and access need to be user-friendly and intuitive. Instead of using band-aid technology for the sake of keeping services running after the pandemic, governments must truly undergo the process of digital transformation.

Mohit expanded on the difference between multichannel and omnichannel. Multichannel allows customers to have access to all available channels but those channels may not necessarily be integrated. Omnichannel platforms offer connectivity between all available channels.  Irrespective, governments need to pay attention to their message delivery to ensure effective communication and generate appropriate responses and behaviours. Providing relevant information to citizens at the right time is critical to foster change and receive desired outcomes.

Mohit emphasised the importance of partnership in creating the best customer experience. Finding the right partners is paramount in improving governments’ communication channels and delivery mechanism. Governments need to learn from experts in the private sector. Organisations like Zendesk are well versed in the deployment of omnichannel strategies and have the capability to guide public sector agencies.

Accelerating Citizen Engagement in The New Era

Steph Owen: Redefine customer experience and respond to ever-changing demands that are difficult to foresee

The session moved to a presentation by Steph Owen, Regional Vice President APAC, Customer Success, Zendesk who discussed ways to accelerate citizen engagement in the post-pandemic new normal.

As would be expected, during the pandemic, customer support ticket volume was up over 20%. Well past the peak in many countries, the post-covid era continues to be challenging due to the unpredictable and uncontrollable nature of the virus. Statistics show how the pandemic created and continues to create disruptions in the citizen services.

Zendesk has deep experience in life-critical scenarios and has studied how well the government does with crises-responses such as vaccination programs. Similarly, in the private sector, businesses are genuinely struggling to adapt as the trend has unpredictable extreme spikes and troughs. With its analytics and solutions, Zendesk can provide effective guidance for critical event management – like a pandemic.

Zendesk’s research shows that the pandemic has ushered in big changes, particularly in customers, teams and businesses. Nowadays, customers care more about the customer experience when making a purchase. They also have new expectations and will quickly switch to the competition if they have a bad experience.

As the customer’s expectations escalate, agencies and organisations can get overwhelmed with this intense demand. Steph elaborated on how to redefine customer experience and how to respond to ever-changing demands that are difficult to foresee.

Initially, almost all industries and sectors had to start operating remotely, almost overnight​. To a large extent, this has eased and for the most part, a blended model is being followed. Nonetheless, in this VUCA era, many teams still do not feel they have the right tools to succeed​. Therefore, organisations need to equip and empower the staff to adapt and respond to the new demands.

From a business perspective, customer experience is now key to informing business strategy​. Businesses often face gaps in being able to keep up with customer needs. They are looking to ramp up tech-driven solutions to manage – but this means data, data analytics and AI. So for businesses to stay relevant, they must have access to massive amounts of data.

Steph encouraged everyone not to treat data as the end goal, but as a tool to derive insights that enable effective decision making. Actionable insights from data help fill gaps in enhancing citizens’ customer experience.

How to reinvent ourselves in this era

Malcolm Koh: Technology needs to work in harmony with people and processes

Malcolm Koh, CX Strategist Customer Residence, Zendesk, the next speaker, discussed ways to reinvent ourselves in this era. Malcolm shared a report by Zendesk about this year’s five trends based on information they gathered coupled with transactional data from a global survey based on billions of service transactions. This is the third year running they conducted this research.

The five trends include:

  • Spotlight on customer experience: Customer’s expectations and volumes have increased. At the same, customers also want to be loyal to a particular business. However, they have increasingly higher expectations as the benchmark continues being reset due to disruptions.
  • A conversational world: Social messaging is a new ecosystem of the way people interact. The potential is immense as there is a lot of automation, data, and other tools that can be utilised to increase efficiency.
  • Emphasis on agility: Before becoming agile, it is important to look at the optimal channel management, such as embracing artificial intelligence (AI), automation or self-service.
  • The future of work is now: Collaborating, finding new tools, empowering teams, building values and trust are the new future workplace.
  • The digital tipping point: Many organisations are willing to invest in their digital technology so it is the right time to invest. Even though the investment is up, the timeline is shorter. Therefore, collaborating with different systems is preferable instead of building the whole ecosystem all at once. It is essential to leverage the technology and creativity and talent of different people.

Malcolm discussed the three components of a great customer experience.

  • Make it easy for customers: Build conversational experiences, set up all the available channels, make self-service at scale, build a personalised and contextual customer experience.
  • Set teams up for success: Use agent workspace, use powerful collaboration tools, routing and intelligence, create seamless content.
  • Keep business in sync: Have a unified view of customers, make powerful reporting and use analytics, have customisable workflows, integrate and connect data.

The digital tipping point is all about providing the best customer experience. Malcolm reminded everyone that technology needs to work in harmony with people and processes. This key is about investing in technology but also setting up people for success.

Data Sharing and Use in the Public Sector

Dr Ian Oppermann: We need to redefine the conversation in terms of outcomes

The session moved to the third speaker, Dr Ian Oppermann, Chief Data Scientist and CEO, NSW Data Analytics Centre, NSW Government who talked about how to share and use data in the public sector.

New South Wales (NSW) government has built a data analytics centre that is tasked to look at policy problems with the lens of data and analytics. Their fundamental principle in each case is to reframe the conversation in terms of real-world outcomes and focus on what they are trying to achieve. This philosophy has now embedded itself into how the NSW government works in general.

Highlighting the importance of data, Ian said it now affects all aspects of citizen-focused outcomes, based on life journeys such as starting a family, education, jobs, serious illness and injury and retirement plans. In NSW, data has been empowering these social and community areas. The NSW government aims to deliver outcomes to benefit the citizens, businesses, employees and partners.

NSW developed NSW Human Services Outcomes Framework:

  • Social and community: People can participate and feel culturally and socially connected.
  • Empowerment: People can contribute to decision making that affects them and live fulfilling lives
  • Safety: People feel safe
  • Home: People have a safe and affordable place to live
  • Education and skills: People can learn, contribute, and achieve
  • Economic: People can contribute to, and benefit from, the economy
  • Health: People can live a healthy life

The crucial point comes down to the ability to link together data sets and focus on people-centric data. However, there is a huge challenge in securing the data and preventing its misuse. Therefore, governments need to understand the entire life-cycle of data from creation, transmission, storage, analysis, reuse, archive, down to the delete process.

When the governments want to use the data, they need to understand whether they have the authority, whether the data is suitable for a particular application, whether the quality is right and how much they can trust the result. This is a truly complex and nuanced problem that governments need to face.

Ian addressed data use and exchange issues on data that contains high levels of personal information. He is concerned about the capability to make the right decision based on the data and how to understand the context of data. As one possibility, he shared the NSW model that allows the government to deal with highly sensitive and personal information, such as health and domestic and family violence.

Ian ended his presentation by stressing the importance of redefining the conversation in terms of outcomes. Governments need to convince people that they do the right thing by sharing and using data. Finally, governments must set up a clear standard for data usage and sharing.

Interactive Discussion

After the informative presentations, delegates participated in interactive discussions facilitated by polling questions. This activity is designed to provide live-audience interaction, promote engagement, hear real-life experiences and impart professional learning and development for participants.

The first question in the poll was about delegates’ key priorities to enhance the service experience for the public and government agencies. Almost half (43%) of the delegates said that they prioritise improving internal collaboration across teams and agencies. Almost a quarter (23%) said that unifying channels, tools and customer context into a single view for agents is the most important. Less than a fifth (14%) prioritised increasing the adoption and usage of self-service and AI-powered bots. Equally, 14% of them thought leveraging analytics to personalised customer interactions is their number one priority. Only 8% prioritised implementing messaging as part of their communication channels.

The next question focused on the key areas that delegates are seeking to improve through enhancing their citizen engagement or services platform capabilities. Almost half (43%) are focused on providing more personalised interactions. Equally, 43% of them are looking at faster time to resolution. Less than a fifth (14%) are concentrating on making the platform easy and convenient for people to access.

When asked about the greatest challenges for their support team to perform in a highly demanding and diverse environment, 43% of the delegates thought adapting to and/or streamlining processes is the top challenge. A third (33%) chose the ability to collaborate across teams internally while 15% indicated a lack of the right support tools. Only 8% felt that providing a supportive work environment is their biggest challenge.

On being asked about what their customer experience (CX) investment look like in 2021, more than two-thirds said that their budget has increased while 8% said it has decreased. Steph Owen said that her budget is constantly changing and has not been stable due to the pandemic.

On the issue of overall benefits that they are seeking to achieve, three quarters (75%) said that they are seeking to improve citizen satisfaction level (CSAT). A quarter (25%) are striving to reduce the strain on resources and budgets.

The last question was measuring the success of their CX efforts. Almost three quarters (71%) said that they are still looking for ways to measure it effectively while 29% said they have specific qualitative and quantitative methods in place.

Conclusion

The OpenGovLive! Virtual Breakfast Insight ended with the closing remarks from Malcolm Koh and Steph Owen.

Steph, looking to question existing paradigms, said technology is not the most important thing; what matters is the opinions and a wide perspective. Technology only needs to serve the goal that they are trying to achieve. Steph is eager to connect with all the delegates to further discuss the topic.

Malcolm emphasised the point about trust as it is crucial in this ever-changing world. Governments need to understand their citizens and stakeholders. Before signing off, he thanked everyone for their participation and valuable contributions. Malcolm encouraged the delegates to connect with him and his team to explore ways to take their omnichannel vision and plans ahead.

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