Government agencies need to engage with citizens in new ways that offer them a comparable experience to the services they receive from everyday digital experiences. In my first two blogs in this series, Putting the citizen and their intent first and Beyond the chatbot: mastering the art of AI conversation, I looked at how those expectations are being shaped and the steps that agencies can take to understand citizen needs and then deliver accordingly.  But what do citizens think of the experiences that they actually get today?

Most are not impressed with their government interactions. Just two fifths said that they were satisfied with their experiences. That’s one of the main findings of extensive Accenture research that surveyed the views of 6501 respondents in 11 countries.

But the research also brings some better news. The overwhelming majority of citizens say that they would be willing to share their personally identifiable information in exchange for a more personalized customer experience. And that’s a tremendous opportunity for every agency. Why? Because citizens’ data is the fundamental building block of the next generation of virtual assistants that can start to meet some of the expectations that citizens now bring to their interactions with agencies.

Most of all, citizens say that they want easier access to their personal information and a quick answer to their queries. They are also willing to use virtual agents to achieve those outcomes. The challenge for governments and the public sector is that regulatory and legal restrictions often make it hard to harness citizen data. But with the willingness to share so evident among citizens, it should be possible to develop an opt-in approach that enables agencies to ask citizens for their consent to use personal data.

With that in hand, agencies could start to redirect their investments in virtual agents in order to re-engage citizens with the experiences that they will value, as well as rethink the services and activities that a virtual agent is able to support. Citizens see the potential. Over three-quarters perceive benefits in interacting with virtual agents, and over half would like to complete transactions using them. What’s more, time and availability advantages are also attractive. Over half the citizens we surveyed believe that virtual agents would decrease the time it takes to resolve issues and a similar proportion said that 24/7 access would be advantageous.

However, most to date have not had the opportunity to take advantage. Only 16% have used a virtual agent in any dealing with government services.  And of those, under half said it met their needs effectively and only two-fifths expressed satisfaction with their experience.

It’s clear that early investments in virtual agents have fallen short of delivering the transformational outcomes that agencies anticipated. But citizens’ generally overwhelming endorsement of their use should be taken as a positive sign of the opportunity to harness virtual agents to support every agency’s mission.

Agencies must take advantage now of the invitation that citizens are extending, and in response offer them the digital tools that will enable citizens to get the most out of their interactions. The key to moving forward? Being willing to experiment, trial, test and learn. To help get started with that, take a look at the videos that I have made that offer agencies some quick tips about the issues they need to address that will help them really reap the promise of virtual agents. Citizens around the world are ready. Now’s the time to deliver.

Eyal Darmon

Managing Director – Strategy & Consulting, Public Service

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