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  • Writer's pictureStephanie Thum, Ph.D., CCXP

How Auckland Council Scored a Win for Government Customer Experience

Updated: Dec 12, 2020

Here’s the thing about customer experience wins in government: They’re rare.

And when they do happen, they’re usually not as sexy as customer experience wins in other sectors like automotive, healthcare, or retail. You usually won’t see images of happy citizens splashed across social media or in beautiful prime time television advertisements.

But government does get a win from time to time. And when it does, it’s a pretty big deal.

That's because that win belongs to everyone. Because government belongs to everyone.

My colleague, Wendy Beban at Auckland Council in Auckland, New Zealand, recently led a team that scored a win for government CX. I met Wendy in Sydney, Australia last year at a global government customer experience conference where we were both doing keynote speeches.

Recently, Wendy’s team moved a process where citizens interacted with Auckland Council via phone, e-mail, or face-to-face, to an online format. Along the way, that 55-step manual process was whittled down to 10 mostly automated steps. The idea was to simplify the experiences of customers, the Auckland Council, contact center operators, and employees.

A 55-step manual process whittled down to 10 automated steps, simplifying the experiences of citizens and government employees.

Reducing Red Tape

The process that Wendy’s team tackled resembles one that other local governments have in place. Citizens, through the normal course of being out-and-about, see city-owned park benches, drinking fountains, and trash cans, for example, that are broken or need attention. They reach out to their local government to say something. Eventually, the asset gets fixed (hopefully).

For Auckland Council, we're talking about 150,000 citizen requests per year for 200,000 city-owned assets.

Previously, the reporting scenario went a little bit like this. The citizen sees a problem with the city-owned asset and calls Auckland Council to report it. The contact center then takes down the citizen-reported information and passes it along to a contractor.

That was just the start of a 55-step, mostly manual process that was near impossible for citizens to check the status of. Now, it’s a 10-step automated process. Citizens can report a problem by using a smartphone app on the spot, upload a photo, note their location, provide their contact information if they want, and then check the status of their report online or through the app.

“One of Auckland Council’s core roles is to keep the city’s assets clean, in good repair, working, and safe. This is about Aucklanders letting us know about something that they can see needs attention. They are acting as responsible Aucklanders and doing us a favor in letting us know. But we had made the act of letting us know about these things difficult for them,” Wendy says.

How They Did It: Planning, Tenacity, and Team Effort

Auckland Council didn't just choose to focus on this part of the citizen experience out of thin air. Simplification and digitalization weren't exactly "quick wins," either.

Auckland Council tackled property maintenance because citizens frequently give feedback on city assets. Employees also demanded that the cumbersome process be re-engineered.

It was complex work that took time. Over 18 months, a team of 50 people from inside Auckland Council dug in to plan and work. Maintenance employees, SAP, e-Commerce, functional testers, designers, and project delivery people were involved. There was a lot of work to do to clean out the city’s asset database, co-design, and do extensive testing before launching.

It helped that business subject matter experts from across Auckland Council pitched in.

“They provided good insight during the design and build of the project, and they carried ownership back into their respective business units,” Wendy says. “They became advocates for the project, coaches to their peers, and a good source of continuous improvement ideas.”

Continuing the Build

Wendy says online uptake is now at 40%. Thanks to the efficiencies gained through digitalization, Auckland Council’s team has been able to absorb an additional 15% of work.

“Those measurements are great, but the result that means the most is direct feedback from customers. When people take the time to leave us comments like ‘so easy to use when out and about,’ I know we’ve done our job.”

Wendy’s team is now at work on an expansion of the project. Next up: making it easier for citizens to request new trash bins and report missed trash pick-ups.

The Big Benefit to Citizens and Employees

Auckland Council’s success so far is a classic example of the planning, work, and tenacity that goes into creating government customer experience wins. It is about reducing red tape for the entire value chain involved in citizen experiences.

The New Zealand Society of Local Government Managers (SOLGM) saw it as a big win when they recently awarded Wendy’s team with the Local Government Funding Agency (LGFA) award for transforming service delivery.

When red tape goes away, customer wait times improve, processes become simpler, communication is easier, and government employees are happier.

When red tape goes away, customer wait times improve, processes become simpler, communication is easier, and government employees are happier.

The Business Case

And let’s be honest. Focusing on the citizen experience just makes good business sense.

Yes, providing citizens with a low-effort experience is just the right thing to do for a government agency. But it is important to remember that there is a business side to running every government agency that mirrors the for-profit world.

Just like experience management practices like voice of the customer, strategy, governance, and human-centered design can help private sector businesses be more efficient, the same is true in government. The nuances of politics, law, policy, and regulation sometimes can make it more complicated to get the work done, but the business benefits of these proven practices cannot be denied. And that is why we should all press for and celebrate the wins.

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Copyright 2020, by Stephanie Thum, CCXP.

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