Computers and artificial intelligence have come along at an exponential rate over the past few decades, from being regarded as oversized adding machines to the point where they have played integral roles in some legitimately creative endeavours.
For any marketer that has ever doubted the experience they give to their customers, there has always been one benchmark they would have felt comfortable clearing: No matter how complex their interactions, how tedious their forms, or how long their queues, their experience could never be as bad as dealing with government.
But as the commercial sector has improved its standards of customer service, it has in turn raised customers’ expectations. Those rising expectations have also been noted within several public sector agencies.
For the Government of New South Wales, a desire to raise standards of customer experience across not just one agency or department, but across government as a whole is now leading to outcomes that would make many commercial organisations jealous.
Service NSW seeks to combine all interactions with the NSW government into a unified call centre, online experience and service centre model. Starting three years ago, more than 850 transactions across 40 agencies have now been brought under the Service NSW umbrella, with more than 30 million customer visits since launch.
Service NSW’s director of technology operations, Colin Jones, says the mission slogan adopted is ‘tell us once’.
“Where we started was recognising that there needed to be at the very least a single point of contact for the citizens or businesses for all services across the state, and across agencies,” he says.
Rather than just consolidating existing clunky and tedious services, Service NSW has provided an opportunity for complete service redesign.
According to its director of business architecture, Glenn Einsiedel, this is resulting in a design process that actively involves customer feedback from the outset, through the proof-of-concept stage and into the delivered service.
In the case of Web pages for instance, Einsiedel says service designers will constantly note customer reactions to the placement of elements on a page, down to specific colours and even to specific words that might be causing customers to disengage or escalate their query to a call centre or service centre.
“And through those insights we can do some quick changes that reinforce the approach we want to provide,” he says.
New services are constantly being brought into the fold, and Jones says much of the focus now is on those transactions which customers struggle to complete in a single interaction or through a single channel, particularly online.
“We have still got a lot of work to do in making those transactions flow from beginning to end consistent, and be able to operate in the digital world in particular,” Jones says. “If we use some clever design in the front-end at service centres, we can give the customer experience of an integrated process, even if we are doing some of that work ourselves. On the digital channel you can’t give that appearance, it has to be actually integrated.”
Director of technology architecture and risk management, Ben McMullen, said that critical to Service NSW meeting this agenda has been the ability to tie different processes together, and for that Service NSW has turned to integration technology specialists, MuleSoft.
“We need a service which exposes system of records, the registries where the information is kept, with the appropriate security controls to ensure protection of both privacy and security around the various elements, so that that can be delivered across any of the three channels that we operate on,” McMullen says.
Most importantly, Service NSW is demonstrating the uplift in customer service that its creators originally sought. Jones says over the last three years, Service NSW has collected more than 4 million survey responses particularly through the automated customer flow management system in the service centres and through the contact centre to gauge the quality of customer experience, and the response has been gratifying.
“On a five-star scale we have come in consistently higher than 4.8 out of 5,” Jones says.
And while it is possible that the strong response is partly due to expectations having been so low to begin with, Jones says even after multiple interactions customers are continuing to rate Service NSW highly.
“Even though people are coming in for the second, third or fourth visit to the same service centre, and they have already had their expectation set high, we are still rating consistently high,” he says. “There is no longer that view that it is ‘just government’ – people are no longer expecting it to be bad.
“They are expecting it to be good, but still rating us high.”