Individuals facing a crisis, making a significant life change or simply trying to manage a planned event like a change of address do not start with the question of “what government agency can help, and what’s the best way to reach it?” They start with their needs. Agencies can better address those needs by better integrating customer engagement with separate channels within individual services, such as applying for benefits in person, online or over the phone. They can also improve how customers work with intersecting programs they may encounter, particularly during priority life events3—both those that are planned, such as retirement, and those that are not, such as food insecurity.
During the pandemic, agencies made gains in broadening the number of channels customers can use to access services. These channels can range from in-person consultations, mobile applications and contact center phone calls to automated online chat, social media, web-based self-service and more. Multichannel or omnichannel approaches, done well, are a critical element of consistent, equitable and accessible service delivery, and OMB encourages them in its latest A-11 guidance.
Still, some agencies continue to struggle to deliver consistent and personalized services across channels, due to programmatic siloing or lack of access to digital programs and modern technology. Different channels may offer disparate levels of service or inconsistent information—for example, an online self-service application may use more formal terminology than a contact center employee who can gauge a person’s mindset during a conversation. Or they may present different capabilities, such as when application statuses can be determined only over the phone. If customers struggle to connect with agencies for services, it can lead to reduced trust in government, particularly if physical, emotional, social, psychological or economic concerns led them to seek assistance.
This potential disconnect grows more complex when customers navigate across several programs within an agency, or even across agencies and levels of government. To a customer, a “priority life event”4 does not come with a federal organizational chart or a roadmap.
Regardless of an agency’s strategy for engaging with customers, it may find that customers’ trust can vary by different customer groups and the channels they choose, as well as their experiences with government to date. Although the pandemic led agencies to increase investments in online service, agencies’ customer feedback data reported to OMB for the first half of 2021 shows people have less trust and confidence in government’s digital and self-service options than they do when connecting directly with an agency representative.5
Customer experience feedback
Average trust ratings by channel type, Oct 2020 to March 2021.