Enhancing the Citizen Experience on the Front Lines

Riadh Barkat

Digital is now front and centre for government organisations. Customer expectations have expanded with the recent shift to digital, as everyone became more accustomed to prioritising contactless interactions and finding answers to issues online. To meet developing citizen needs, government organisations have scrapped multi-year digital transformation plans and accelerated the development of apps and self-service programmes in order to deliver a more convenient and frictionless experience.

As has unfortunately been the case across industries, the government’s attempts to accelerate digital transformation schemes mean that new points of friction have inevitably cropped up in the citizen’s online journey that negatively impact their experience. Such teething problems are to be expected, but the issue now is that digital is no longer simply a channel; forming a large part of a citizens’ interactions with the government, digital is to a large extent responsible for an organisation’s reputation.

While the public sector continues to work to transform its digital processes, citizens who are frustrated with bumpy or inconsistent experiences or who simply still prefer a more personal interaction when dealing with public bodies, will in the meantime continue to turn to one place for that human touch: the contact centre.

Contact centres are a valuable lifeline for citizens – if run well

The contact centre is an invaluable tool for government organisations and central to experience management, as it’s generally where the most complex problems go to get resolved. Although digital advances and the proliferation of self-service processes – such as password resets and account updates – have resulted in fewer overall inbound calls, they haven’t made the job of contact centre agents much easier. Because the majority of calls now concern more complex problems, citizens have a much higher average expectation for the level of service they receive.

Add to this siloed systems for capturing and acting on feedback, including inconsistent agent flagging systems and post-call surveys and a lack of service recovery, and it’s easy to see how difficult contact centres are to manage for government organisations – even before the pandemic arrived. For example, it’s extremely difficult to understand at scale why citizens are calling up, but the answers to reducing call volume are locked up in these patterns. The problem is, manual sampled analysis means that often less than 1 percent of calls are manually sampled, providing an incomplete perspective of the bigger picture. With these siloed systems, running effective quality assurance is a complex and costly endeavour for government departments, and one that has proven to be ineffective at driving better outcomes for citizens.

Plus, even before the pandemic, contact centres have traditionally had problems with high turnover. Now, with physical branches closed – just as call volume rocketed and consequently average waiting and handling times became instantly longer and more complex – understanding employees’ needs and implementing effective coaching practices or training new personnel, all at a time when inbound calls concern a higher number of complex problems, has become even more difficult. Employee satisfaction in government contact centres has been more at risk recently than ever before.

How can contact centres deliver superlative experiences to customers in this new normal?

The good news is, contact centres are a goldmine of information. Government organisations can use insights gleaned from the contact centre to not only revolutionise the contact centre itself – effectively supporting citizen outreach and driving first-call resolution and case closure – but also to massively reduce digital frustrations in the first place, squashing negative experiences before they even happen. What’s required is a new approach to collecting, understanding, and acting on these insights.

Luckily, there is an automated way of answering contact centre challenges and successfully leveraging insights. We can break this down into three steps:

1)    Expand signal capture to every interaction and map it to the right individual

Instead of sampling a small percentage of random calls – an approach which risks missing blind spots – government organisations can leverage sophisticated speech technology to transcribe every single call with extremely high accuracy. This means they can record and analyse every voice interaction in real-time for metrics regarding talk time, silence time, overtalk and tone. These insights which can then be turned into actions to drive rapid improvements in the contact centre and beyond.

It’s then crucial to be able to match each specific interaction to the relevant individual within the government organisation. For example agents need to be able to see and access customer feedback, while team managers should have a detailed view of how the agents interact with the customers in order to provide valuable coaching and make sure they are closing the loop wherever possible.

2)     Leverage AI to understand big data

Tapping into the insights from every single call in turn leads to an exponential growth in datapoints per customer – volumes only artificial intelligence can handle efficiently. Applying machine learning algorithms such as natural language processing to speech acoustics can reveal and group together customer sentiment, call topics and themes. What’s more, artificial intelligence can analyse text in structured formats such as citizen survey feedback as well as unstructured formats like chat transcripts, emails or agent notes, and combine all this information to provide a holistic picture.

This enables managers to pinpoint recurring issues and root causes, allowing them to implement change and resolve problems occurring across digital, web, product and customer support channels as well as reduce the number of inbound calls to the contact centre. What’s more, as all AI-led analysis occurs in real-time, agents can harness the power of predictive insights and automatically receive relevant prompts, information or suggestions while they’re on the phone to communicate the best advice to citizens in the best possible way.

3)     Enhance the agent experience

Mapping interactions back to the right individual not only means citizens benefit from speaking with well-coached agents, it means agents will feel more empowered to do their job well, while team leaders can recognise and celebrate their successes when a positive experience is delivered in real time - something many organisations fail to do because the technology they have in place cannot handle the complexity.

Furthermore, AI can help with in-the-moment coaching, which can make life a lot easier for contact centre agents and management alike. But engaging the agents and improving their experience is about more than just making sure they know how to do the job and serve citizens well. Listening to every single contact centre agent provides a holistic view of what the citizens are thinking and feeling – and in turn, makes employees feel more valued.

Idea crowdsourcing is an ideal way to ask for employee suggestions and at the same time continually communicate back to make them feel part of the solution. This isn’t just an exercise in employee engagement; agents’ knowledge and suggestions can create an innovation feedback loop, where their insights inform actions that drive real impact and change and strengthen cross-team and organisation-wide collaboration.

Break down the silos between digital and the contact centre for truly customer-centric operations

Leveraging speech, voice and text analysis in the contact centre can help government organisations to understand what citizens are thinking and feeling. Enabling these capabilities will unlock a much richer set of insights that the organisation can leverage to drive real time actions and drive inner and outer loop improvements, helping teams to help citizens by identifying where the digital experience falls short and how contact centre frustrations can be avoided in the first place.

By making the contact centre the epicentre of experience operations and enabling seamless collaboration between digital and the contact centre, government organisations can mobilise the whole organisation around citizen data and drive new innovation to improve their experience.