The private sector has embraced for decades what the public sector is only now realising: that customer experience is king. Citizens are increasingly expecting the same level of personalised, intuitive, and seamless service from their own governments.
Public sector officials around the world have to rethink how they engage with people - redesigning service moments to make them increasingly citizen-centric. At the Innovation Labs World Summit organised by GovInsider, service design experts from public and private sector shared four key tips to improve citizen experiences and make service moments count.
1. Define the problem area
First, governments should take the time to understand a problem from multiple angles.
Daniel Santos, Service Designer at LabX, the innovation unit of Portugal’s Administration Modernisation Agency, believes that simply accepting a project brief can lead to a biased view from the outset. Such briefs often cover only one siloed perspective, he pointed out.
And results-based approaches place too much emphasis on delivering a product, instead of finding the right solution, he noted. “Oftentimes, we go over a loop like this for very long until we have something out, and when it's delivered, it doesn’t solve the problem anymore,” Santos explained during a breakout session presented in partnership with NCS Digital.
Instead, the government should spend time getting a more holistic understanding of the situation from different perspectives. For instance, Santos and the team at LabX had recently worked with several private and public services to design a Death and Bereavement services desk. The team conducted in-depth interviews with citizens who had lost loved ones, conducted a web analysis of searches on the topic, as well as a statistical analysis of the most popular services.
This 360-degree look at the problem led to a more integrated and humane experience for family members, Santos said. “We know if we use one method only, we will get biased by that tool,” he remarked.
2. Don’t reinvent the wheel
Mohammed Hardi, Deputy Director of the Programmes Division at the Municipal Services Office (MSO), Ministry of National Development of Singapore, advised building on top of tried-and-tested solutions, instead of starting from scratch.
“Don’t change your base feature - improve upon it, use what you have before. And I can tell you one thing - that’s never going to change,” he said.
The new Parking.sg app designed by MSO helps people find and pay for parking. Before, the map on the app wasn’t accurate enough to pinpoint specific parking spaces. Instead, the team looked at maps used by ridesharing service Grab, that allows the user to manually drop pins on specific spots. “So what we did, we looked at Grab, we said, ‘Hey, let’s drop the pin on the spot, let’s move the map’,” he added.
The app also integrated information from road experts in Singapore to identify 25 of the most difficult car parks to navigate in the city to help first-time visitors, Hardi remarked. The team also recognised the hassle of needing to type on the app while driving, and instead uses keywords to identify locations.
3. Make service design inclusive
Mark Wee, Executive Director at the DesignSingapore Council, emphasised the importance of including all stakeholders in designing solutions. Wee used the example of the Home and Community Masterplan, developed to reinvent caregiving in Singapore: “We wanted to transform the caregiving experience in Singapore by first understanding caregivers’ issues,” he explained.
The plan includes rebranding caregiving - removing negative attitudes attached to the job, such as feelings of isolation, fatigue and loss, with positive experiences of trust and compassion. The project involved caregivers, healthcare professionals, and social workers coming together and sharing their experiences. These were summarised into nine key insights.
Solutions compiled from the caregivers included a virtual CareHub to help train caregivers and create a community to engage with, as well as a comprehensive toolkit with a resource guide and tools designed to facilitate meaningful conversations with caregivers, he shared.
“The result was a comprehensive proposal to actually build an ecosystem to support a rising number of caregivers in anticipation of our ageing population, through design thinking with different levels of impact - from policy to personal,” explained Wee.
4. Use data to personalise experiences
Kuai Ser Leng, Associate Director at NCS Digital, identified the importance of using data to personalise user experiences. Citizen-centric services, Kuai said, does not only cater to a group - it caters to the individual. With data, organisations can respond in real time to users to improve their experience. “With technology today you're able to always be sensing what is going on, you're always ready. And you're always learning so that you can be better,” he added.
Take the example of a zoo, Kuai continued: with real-time data, managers can see which enclosures are the most crowded. They can then redirect visitors away from the crowded spots - with a special discount on ice cream.
“You get customer satisfaction potentially, at the same time you might actually make money from the sales of ice cream,” he pointed out. Over time, with more data, a knowledge base can be built to refine user experiences further.
As an ex-prison officer, Kuai recounted how he faced problems getting information on the education backgrounds of his inmates. But today, with all these data at their fingertips, prison officers can better design rehabilitation programmes for inmates. The previous Commissioner of Prisons and current CEO of Singapore Polytechnic is gamifying services through available data, explained Kuai.
Gamification entices users to learn and interact with the system better. At Singapore Polytechnic, it can help students prepare by assigning lessons and classes based on their results. “All this could be done because you have gamification in the algorithm, all built in within the systems that are talking to another,” he added.
As the world goes digital and an era of mass customisation caters to every individual’s unique needs, the public sector needs to keep up to make every service moment experience for citizens a good one.