Alex Stein is founder and Chief Strategy Office of Eccentex.
In 2011, President Obama issued an Executive Order urging government agencies to improve their customer service–to hurry into the digital services age by optimizing communications and service delivery through all available public-facing channels, including email and other mobile apps. The order specifically called on government to learn from private sector best practices, including: "popular lower-cost, self-service options accessed by the Internet or mobile phone and improved processes that deliver services faster and more responsively, reducing the overall need for customer inquiries and complaints." These edicts aren't unique to the Obama Administration; formal calls to improve customer service are issued every few years.
This time, however, the customers are putting fuel to the fire. Most American adults (58 percent and climbing) own smartphones, and many use tablets (42 percent). Citizens increasingly expect to interact with government entities through these devices rather than a phone call. They are beginning to expect the same streamlined processes and access to digital records they offered by consumer businesses and services. The consumerization of IT has infiltrated even the most plodding government offices, and public-facing agencies have little choice but to play catch-up. The process of upgrading government systems and processes isn't always pretty. Painful lessons learned from the Healthcare.gov web site launch debacle linger overhead, and egregious service issues in the VA have prompted highly scrutinized reforms there.
In recent news, the IRS preemptively announced the poor customer service they will be administering this tax season. An annual report released in January 2015 by the National Taxpayer's Advocate warns that this year taxpayers will receive the worst levels of service since at least 2001; it is predicted less than half of calls received will be answered, and hold times will be 30 minutes on average. Reduced funding, increased tax code complexity (due in part to ACA), and public distrust of government have all been cited as reasons for the inability to serve taxpayers efficiently. The IRS has three times more interaction with the public than any other federal agency (200 million Americans each year). The failure to serve has wide-ranging implications, including further erosion of public goodwill, and widespread non-compliance resulting in significant loss of tax revenue. Honest taxpayers will suffer, too: delayed refunds, costly errors, and scarce resources spent figuring forms out on their own.
Much pontificating and legislating has been focused on government customer service issues over the years, apparently to little avail. Thanks to great advances in customer relationship technology that have been successfully implemented by many enterprises, we know that vast improvements on the status quo are possible. We also know that broad technology overhauls of federal agencies take too long and are rife with obstacles and wasted resources.
One promising solution for agencies like the IRS is to take a case management approach. Federal CIOs can use case-centric methods and technologies to optimize their agencies' customer-facing services despite outdated systems and limited budgets. With this approach, agencies adopt the citizen's perspective: the citizen should be treated as a valued customer, and the government's role is to be a service provider, much like a bank or cable company. Obviously, a case-centric approach requires more than an attitude change. It requires a more holistic and integrated mechanism than the traditional systems currently used by most federal agencies.
In traditional customer relationship and business process management, data ends up in silos, making it difficult for knowledge workers to gather and process customer information with complete context. Proprietary systems and applications don't integrate well with each other or external sources, creating barriers to collaboration and slowing down improvements. Given that agencies are already behind the curve, these are serious shortcomings in an environment that is constantly in flux due to political, economic, and demographic pressures. It's as true for government today as it is for business—change happens fast and adaptability is key. You either improve continuously or fall farther behind. The current state of the IRS unfortunately makes a perfect cautionary tale.
Dynamic Case Management solutions combine core BPM and ECM capabilities with analytics, business rules, and social collaboration tools, empowering knowledge workers to improve case outcomes more efficiently and consistently. As cloud deployments gain momentum, it becomes easier and more cost effective for agencies to implement these resources. With cloud-based platforms and customizable applications, they can modernize their case management infrastructure without a complete overhaul.
A case-centric approach to customer service, powered by DCM technology, brings together in one mechanism the human expertise, content, and data analysis needed to answer inquiries, process complaints, resolve claims, investigate fraud, and much more. Tracking information, archiving documentation, automating decisions, routing casework, promoting collaboration, and communicating consistently across channels—it's obvious how combining these capabilities into an integrated framework could streamline workflows, mitigate risks, and vastly improve productivity. In turn, the customer is better served by knowledge workers who can readily access the required data and tools, as well as by online self-service options they can utilize at their convenience. Agencies and those they serve will save money, time, and labor, paving the way for further improvements.