One key element of the President’s Management Agenda – perhaps the top priority, since it is listed first among the areas ripe for transformation – is “improving customer experience with federal services.”
One major element of improving customer experience is transforming contact centers.
At the 930gov Conference, several government contact centers, from city-level to federal, discussed how digital transformation is being applied to improve the experience for users of their services.
At the Department of Veterans Affairs, for instance, the challenge is vast. Rosetta Lue, the VA Senior Advisor, Contact Center Modernization, said the department originally thought it had 275 contact centers, with more than a thousand phone numbers veterans and their families might call. “We did an analysis,” she said. “We actually had over 1,800 contact centers [handling] over four million calls a year.”
Lue said the department is focusing this year on rolling out technology and employee engagement initiatives. “We were not very engaged, not only with vets but also with employees,” she explained. “We [have] to start looking at it from the veteran’s experience viewpoint.”
VA is working on how to make better use of all its data to provide a better experience to veterans and their families, Lue said, but that means the first goal has to be capturing accurate information.
“If you can’t collect accurate data, [artificial intelligence] and machine learning and all these fancy terms, they won’t matter,” she said. “It’s making sure it’s accurate to get to operationalized decisions.”
The use of contact centers has evolved, said Russ Jensen, director of 311 and 211 services for the city of Knoxville, Tenn. The city’s 311 service is the non-emergency toll-free number, originally intended to take pressure off the use of 911; it has “morphed into municipal services,” he said. “We also started doing 211 [a couple of years ago], which is toll-free, but more social services related.”
Jensen said the nature of citizen interactions has changed over the past decade or so. “Senior citizens are 60+ percent of the tablet market,” he said, so the city has started a pilot program using Apple’s FaceTime video app, where seniors “can hit an icon and talk face-to-face” with a municipal or social services provider.
Sometimes contact centers have the challenge of serving both internal and external customers, said Vince Rotell, Director, Defense Imagery Management Operations Center (DIMOC).
“Stars and Stripes, the Armed Forces Network … all these different stove-piped organizations – we can communicate really well with the outside world, but we have a hard time communicating inside … What we’re struggling with [is that] when you deal with media personnel, they each have their own way of doing things.” Rotell said. “I have agents who have to deal with CNN or Fox News, then a colonel saying they need [some specific image]. And we have to document it going back and forth – everything we capture is a historical record.”
As a military agency, DIMOC has the added complication of classification. “Each image, each video, has specific compliance [requirements], if it’s FOUO [“For Official Use Only”] or classified or in the public domain,” he said. So the agency is struggling to find ways to store and organize terabytes upon terabytes of images.
This makes it imperative that agencies “educate your senior leaders on technology,” Rotell said.
In this instance new technologies including AI and intelligent contact center platforms are the key to delivering on the core principles of customer the core principle of customer service remains the same – that it puts the customer first and it simplifies the path they need to follow to get an issue taken care of a need fulfilled.
“When you tell a customer to contact you to resolve a problem you don’t want to add to their burden, especially when it comes to providing the types of essential citizen services that government agencies provide,” said Jason Adolf, Industry Practice Manager at Appian. “Being able to remove obstacles to communication, to find the quickest path to a successful resolution and to be able to deliver that reliably regardless of whether they’re on the phone, on a mobile platform, or a traditional website is how agencies build trust and mission success.”