Like it or not, government services face many of the same pressures that companies face. Companies like, USAA, Disney, and raise customer expectations when they deliver stellar service. As they raise the bar, other companies and government agencies risk getting fired when they fail to deliver the value that customers expect, make customers jump through hoops to access it, or begrudgingly deliver it through unengaged employees. Customers and citizens simply choose to take their money elsewhere.

It’s through this lens that I’ve watched the recent battles over state budgets and public employees along with their unions. When citizens don’t perceive they're getting a good value for the buck, they take their money elsewhere, even if that is through the ballot box — no wonder, when the citizen experience is so often sub-par.

Here are a few examples I’ve witnessed just in the past couple weeks: A group of on-duty cops spend an hour drinking coffee in Starbucks when people don’t feel comfortable walking around the streets a few blocks away; DMV workers look bored and move at the pace of sloths while I spend an hour waiting in line, even though they’re likely making way more money than the waitress at a local restaurant who’s super-friendly and efficient; a public transportation worker holds a sign at a street car stop urging people to smile, even when the lines often experience large delays; a gruff postal worker begrudgingly gets off his stool to get my package and then throws it on the counter.

Government agencies and unions trying to protect their embattled budgets need to pay attention and get serious about the citizen experience. Equally as important, a growing body of research including ours shows that customers who perceive their experiences as good drive revenues and loyalty, both of which are good for agencies struggling with budgets. These organizations can borrow from the examples and tools increasingly used by companies and nonprofits, which include:

  • Appointing a chief citizen experience officer. A growing number of companies are turning to a chief customer officer to act as the chief advocate for customers within the company. Take a page from entities like Canada Post, which appointed a chief customer officer in 2009, Louis O’Brien, who is ultimately responsible for the countless customer interactions with the organization. The organization made him one of only three chief corporate officers to report directly to the president and chief executive officer. He oversees efforts like capturing and analyzing feedback on products and services, reputation, perceived value, and overall experience, which the organization uses to generate a customer value index (CVI).
  • Collecting and using voice of the citizen (VoC) feedback to drive improvements. Establish mechanisms to gather citizen perceptions of and feedback on their interactions. Organizations doing this use Net Promoter Scores (NPS), Customer Experience Index (CxPi) scores, or some variation of them as high-level feedback benchmarks to align management and employees, while actively soliciting free-form feedback through websites, call centers, and in-person survey mechanisms to understand where they’re doing well and poorly. As organizations understand interactions that drive great experiences, many move to tie variable compensation like bonuses or informal recognition to employees and teams that do well.  
  • Building a citizen-centric culture. Instilling a shared system of beliefs and behavioral norms that guide employees to consider the citizen experience in their day-to-day actions is the ultimate aim for any organization hoping to improve. Organizations can build a citizen-centric culture by pulling on a number of levers, which include infusing citizen experience elements into hiring and recruiting, socialization programs (training, storytelling and internal communications, rituals, and routines), and rewards programs (compensation, career advancement, awards, and recognition).