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Turning around trust levels in the US government – a CX guide
by Steve Foley

Trust in the US government is at nearly historic lows, according to Pew research, with fewer than one in five people stating that they trust the government always or most of the time. This isn’t just a recent trend; trust has been in freefall since October 2001 - from 60% in the first year of Bush’s tenure, down to 23% in 2010, during the Obama administration, and falling to 19% in 2017 during the Trump administration[1].

If you were unemployed due to Covid-19, then you have extra reason to not trust the government. Americans who lost their jobs in April have had to rely on $1,200 stimulus checks for most of the year, with just a $600 supplement check at the end of last year. The second stimulus package also wasn’t signed until after the previous unemployment benefits expired, resulting in a reduction of subsidies to only $300 per week, for only 10 weeks.      

Americans know they deserve better. Red and blue aside, for trust and confidence in the US government to be restored, then the level of service citizens receive must no longer be so capricious. 68% of adults say it is very important that the US improves the level of confidence Americans have in it their government[2], and a whopping 84% of Americans believe it is actually possible[3].

Presidents from John F. Kennedy to Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama have invoked the imagery of the US, its people, culture and government as a “shining city on a hill”. Though we live in a different world, it’s worth reminding ourselves that the US government plays a critical global leadership role. Scientists at the National Institutes of Health were behind the sequencing of the human genome, FEMA expertly coordinates support for victims of more than 130 declared disasters each year and The Federal Aviation Administration is responsible for the safest air traffic control system in the world.

More recently, the Small Business Administration approved nearly 5 million loans in response to the coronavirus pandemic to keep local businesses running and keep people employed, proving that when the pressure is on, government can still quickly move money around to help the people that need it the most. Though we can’t expect government to fire on all cylinders like this all the time, it’s important that we recognize its ability to do so and plan for how it can do this seamlessly in the future.

Put simply, the federal government’s role in ensuring the stability of the most powerful country in the world – and therefore dozens of countries overseas – cannot be overstated. But if trust continues to dwindle, this will have a devastating long-term effect on the American way of life. Rebuilding this trust begins with its treatment of those hardest hit by the pandemic, including those who have lost their jobs.

Focusing on how Labor and Workforce Departments can improve their customer experience

The American Council for Technology – Industry Advisory Council (ACT-IAC), a non-profit educational organization established to unite government and industry executives in a bid to create a more effective government, has published a report to explain how federal agencies can work better together to win back this trust[4].

The report calls for an end to silos, more partnerships between the private and public sector and an increased focus on data and intelligent automation. The challenge is that the service that citizens receive from government is increasingly sub-par compared to their experiences with a more technologically advanced private sector. For example, for those dealing with applying for unemployment benefits, the customer experience hasn’t changed all that much in recent years, with static forms, busy phone lines and slow processing still the norm.

Drawing on this report, here are our five recommendations for how Labor and Workforce Departments can better serve citizens in need:

  • Sharing data between departments. Citizens shouldn’t need to fill out a multitude of forms for different departments. If one area of government has data on a specific person then it needs to be shared between them. This will give government a clearer picture of the individuals it serves while limiting the need for repeated bureaucracy.
  • Using proactive service. In the private sector, companies are increasingly opting for proactive models to serve their customers. By using AI and natural language processing, they can carry out automated conversations with customers before issues even arise. If benefits were handled this way, it would mean that citizens receive help from their governments at exactly the right time. It could change the whole framing of the way benefits are understood. No longer would they be seen as something you have to ‘apply’ and be approved for; they would simply be available automatically when the government detects you need them.
  • Right time, right medium. Paper forms and apps do not work for everyone. If the US government is serious about improving CX, then it must speak to individuals in the way they prefer, using all forms of communication in the right way, at the right time and in the right format to reach their customers.
  • Fostering computer-human relationships. Benefits are an emotional subject and there will be times when AI communication simply doesn’t cut it. In a world where computers are answering the bulk of the basic questions, call center staff are freed up to have more in-depth, compassionate conversations with those that really need it. The overall result will be happier staff members and happier citizens.
  • Reducing contact. Labor and workforce departments should not have to be told when someone is out of work or has found a new job. That information should be easily accessed by the tax office. The point here is that by sharing more data internally, citizens can out bureaucracy and cut down on how often they need to contact you. Use the mantra: “Your customers should never have to ask.”

In an increasingly connected world, it’s easier for people from different countries to compare their experiences. You see this play out on social media all the time when someone from Sweden blanches at the cost of an ambulance call out in the US, or when an American hears about free national healthcare. The US government is a global leader and resilient in many ways, but there is fierce competition from abroad. Governments around the world are already using many of the strategies above to improve their service. It’s time for the US to up its game and show the world how great service is really done. A renewed focus on customer experience is essential for rebuilding trust in a way that will last beyond whichever party is in power.

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