The internet has become the go-to source for everything, including when citizens need to access critical information about federal services. An online resource is often the first place citizens access when looking for answers to their most pressing questions. This is typically an agency’s website, but citizens are increasingly turning to social media channels as well.

However, sometimes what they find is an abundance of complex information that doesn’t always provide them with a clear answer.

When citizens can’t find the answers they’re looking for online, reaching out to a government contact center is typically their plan B. However, this process can be cumbersome and time-consuming. Some agencies use complex IVRs with confusing phone trees that make it a challenge just to get to an operator.

When the direction provided for obtaining the right information is inconsistent with what an agency has on its website and other channels, this leaves citizens feeling disoriented, frustrated and hinder their ability to quickly access the right information they need. As agencies place a greater emphasis on bolstering the citizen experience and reducing inefficiencies across the federal landscape, it’s imperative that all information channels provide consistent information and that it’s easy to find.

Consistent, concise and comprehensive

Spanning websites, social media and even contact centers, there is no shortage of resources for citizens to access information. However, conflicting messages on these channels remain a major impediment for citizens looking to obtain the right information about government services. To ensure better delivery of citizen services, agencies should employ the three Cs – consistent, concise and comprehensive – for information sharing across all channels.

This starts with ensuring that agencies have current and concise information on their websites, as this is one of the primary resources citizens will access. For many agency websites, citizens can easily get lost in a tidal wave of information on them – from press releases to lengthy reports and studies to legislative and legal postings. It’s important that agencies design their websites so that citizens can easily find the information they need, without having to dig through pages and pages of bureaucratic information and non-essential content.

It’s also critical that agencies keep information simplified and uniform across all channels, yet ensure it is comprehensive. For example, if someone were to look up how to obtain health benefits, there should be a designated resource page that provides step-by-step instructions for the citizen to enroll and accesses the proper benefits – as well as any options, rather than including copious amounts of policy data and confusing jargon.

Leveraging digital tools

An intelligent virtual assistant can also be an important self-service resource for government contact centers. The intelligent virtual assistant is “trained” – through machine learning – to provide accurate information for a wide array of requests. It delivers the information the same way every time and even provides the ability to send out texts and emails with links to the information the citizen is seeking. This helps to eliminate misstatements or a misinterpretation by live agents that could ultimately lead to misinformation.

Lastly, agencies should leverage tools that citizens commonly use to find information quickly. These tools should include website search engines that deliver results in a manner that helps citizen get what they need, rather than having to sift through more reports and policy documents. This also means that each web page needs to include meta tags, so search engines can accurately catalog content and generate better search results. It’s also very effective for agencies to use hashtags (#) on the relevant social media tools. This can help citizens sort through the millions of postings to get right to the relevant information. Additionally, creating a unique hashtag and sharing it across all online channels can help further connect citizens to resources.

The future of the citizen experience

Improving citizen service has been a high priority area for the federal government and we are starting to see real advancements in how agencies design and manage their overall digital experience and information. Citizen service will remain a major policy focus moving forward, as we learned in the President’s Management Agenda, which proposed “creating a support and accountability network to ensure sustainable customer experience improvement across government.” By developing a unified, multi-channel approach to information, agencies can mirror the successes and citizen demands of a commercial experience to help meet this goal.

Kathleen Lear is senior director of business development and strategic partnerships at Maximus.