Government Needs to Adapt to Meet User Experience Expectations

by Eyragon Eidam


Government has long been the butt of jokes that center on the processes and systems on which they rely. Whether it’s filing relatively simple forms or more complicated operations, the stereotype of being slow has stuck, leaving those tasked with improving things facing an uphill battle.  During the California Technology Forum Sept. 12, officials with two of the state’s largest agencies and industry discussed what is required to move beyond simply offering services and into meeting customers where they live digitally.

One of the more notable state agencies to make this leap was Covered California, the state’s heath benefit exchange, which was tasked with bridging the insurance gap throughout the state. As CIO Karen Ruiz explained, improving the services that citizens are after doesn’t always require advanced technology. Sometimes the simpler the solution, the better.

To date, the agency has implemented changes that directly impact user experience.

In addition to a customer relationship management platform, the agency also uses live chat and a very simple plug-in box that allows representatives to play a pre-recorded disclosure message to incoming callers.

“What it allowed us to do was to take a script that service center reps had to manually talk thorough with every consumer applying for insurance, it took them three to four minutes to read through that script, and we were able to record it,” she said. “Now reps can play the message saving a huge amount of time.”

During open enrollment periods, representatives can field more than 100,000 calls a day.

The agency is also turning toward tools like Help On-Demand, which leverages technology similar to that of the ride-sharing networks Lyft and Uber. Available through the website, customers can fill out a short questionnaire, which is then forwarded to the first available agent.

“If an agent or certified application counselor is available to help folks, they will make themselves available and when the customer fills out the form, it immediately goes out, and one of those certified application specialists will pick up that referral and contact the consumer,” Ruiz said. “The great thing about this is the results.”

In the first year of use, the tool received roughly 75,000 visits and 34,411 referrals resulting in 10,624 effectuated members.

As Department of General Services CIO Rebecca Skarr explained during the session, the issue is not always about buying new technologies as much as it is about using what already exists more deliberately.

One undertaking for the agency is focused on building a smarter search feature into the website that allows customer agencies to find the products and services they need more intuitively.

“We don’t want people to need a Ph.D. in government to be able to access our services and our service offerings,” Skarr said. “Changing that user experience, facilitating ease of use.”

Similarly the agency is focused on providing online solutions to certifications. In the past, the CIO explained, certification opportunities were limited by time and geography, and often required employees to travel to other parts of the state. Through the recent purchase of the Blackboard learning management tool, employees can complete and track their progress online.

“Before we had this, you had to go travel to classes,” she said. “It was pretty old-school, this is moving us to new-school.”

For Kofax Inc.’s Mark Richey, the modern user experience boils down to meeting customers where they are via “any channel.” Regardless of the platform or service they seek, Richey said the new expectation is that there is “no wrong door.”

Customers may begin an application on their desktop computer, move to their tablet and finish on their cellphone. Government, he said, should adapt to that expectation.