Governments must lead the way in tailoring services to meet customers' needs if they want citizens to embrace the new generation of multi-channel government services.
E-government and related policy initiatives are designed to reduce the cost of customer service and compliance while at the same time improving service quality and delivering a more personalized experience to citizens. Today, the basic drive to put services online is approaching its limits. A recent Accenture report into egovernment leadership, "Leadership in Customer Service: New Expectations, New Experiences", found in Australia 96 percent of the services covered by the Accenture survey are available online.
The challenge for governments today is to achieve "leadership in customer service", which includes the ability to deliver services to citizens in a manner that is tailored to their needs and circumstances, coordinated across the various channels of interaction to deliver a timely and cost effective result for the citizen, and consistent with the government's policy objectives.
This year's report sought to assess how governments currently fare in light of this new vision of leadership in customer service. The study comprised two major components. The first was a leadership assessment of the overall service maturity of 22 national governments in North America, Europe and Asia based on the breadth and depth of the e-government services they offer, as well as leadership assessments along several key categories. For the second component, Accenture surveyed 9000 adults in the same 22 countries to uncover their perceptions and customer experiences interacting with their government online, in person and via telephone.
The report found that future leadership will be defined by strength in all areas of customer service. Governments are putting the foundations in place for multi-channel, inter-connected government and they are starting to adopt many leading-edge customer service capabilities.
A second key finding is that citizens' willingness to embrace a new generation of services outpaces governments' current ability to deliver them. Citizens want more from government in terms of cross-governmental collaboration and outreach. In fact, most are willing to make available a wide range of personal data to receive better service. Despite this willingness on the part of citizens, the vast majority of governments are less than 50 percent of the way to realizing cross-governmental and citizen-centred service.
Thirdly, governments are making service investment decisions without always having a clear view of the outcomes they affect. In Accenture's view, a fundamental measure of service delivery success is the actual adoption of service and how governments turn that adoption into value. The report found that governments' current measurements of service usage are haphazard. While some services are measured, others are not, or are measured inconsistently across agencies and departments. Those governments that take the time to form a clear picture of citizens' channel preferences and usage patterns can significantly expand their ability to generate real value.
Australia: Global Challenger
The Australian government reached its specific target for placing services online in 2001. The Strategic Framework for the Information Economy 2004-2006 policy, launched in July 2004, identified further specific strategies to increase cooperation and coordination among government bodies and illustrated Australia's commitment to the improvement of multi-channel coordination across the whole of government.
The framework's emphasis on cross government, multi-channel delivery looks set to have a dramatic impact on Australia's future leadership in customer service, as it is in the area of cross-government interaction that the Accenture survey identified that Australia most needs improvement. Our citizens' survey particularly underlines this as a key issue. Australian citizens' perceptions of how effective the government is working together are quite poor - only 37 percent of Australian respondents rated their government as effective in this regard.
One of the Australian government's most notable achievements over the past year was the launch of the new www.australia.gov.au Web site in June 2004. Proactive communication and education to citizens about the breadth of e-government services are a key component of Accenture's vision of leadership in customer service. However, it remains to be seen whether this induces greater usage of the Internet as a preferred method of government interactions. Today, the telephone is clearly Australians' preferred method of interacting with the government; 47 percent prefer the telephone, compared to 19 percent who prefer the Internet or e-mail.
Moving forward, the Australian government has begun to lay the groundwork for true leadership in customer service. Steadily increasing collaboration between agencies and delivery of more integrated and interactive information and services online are marks of the progress achieved and of the type of continued collaboration that will be essential to building the more seamless experience that Australian citizens desire.
A New Vision for E-government Service Delivery
In Australia e-government is well advanced and should now be an integral component of a much broader service delivery agenda. There are four key elements to Accenture's vision for the future delivery of e-government services:
- A citizen centred perspective: A "citizens-first" point of view, in which all necessary information is organized around the citizen. Interactions are tailored to each citizen's needs and circumstances.
- Cohesive multi-channel service: Services that are fast, efficient and hassle free, regardless of the chosen channel, and in which interactions that involve more than one channel are properly coordinated.
- Fluid cross-government services: Government agencies working together at the local, regional and national levels to provide integrated services to the citizens.
- Proactive communications and education: Active outreach and communication, which ensure citizens are well-informed about government services and provided with information and education designed to increase the adoption of government services through appropriate channels.
- Governments that embrace these four facets of leadership in customer service will be well on their way to delivering the outcomes their stakeholders desire and to achieving high performance through greater public-sector value.
A full copy of the Accenture report, "Leadership in Customer Service: New Expectations, New Experiences" is available at www.accenture.com.
Jack Percy is Accenture's managing partner for government in Australia and Southeast Asia
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