Why treating citizens as customers matters

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Imagine living in a future where governments could proactively and personally meet their citizens’ needs. Where, instead of having to wait in line and being reduced to a number, people could tap into and interact with government services as quickly and easily as if they’re ordering a takeaway meal on their favorite app. Where empowered by digital insights, the public sector – just like companies – puts the customer experience at the heart of everything it does.

Today’s society is changing at a record pace as companies worldwide develop innovative solutions designed to make the world a more efficient and sustainable place for all. Apps provide us with personalized information based on geolocation; we can shop online from the comfort of our couch, and organize our finances on our smartphones.

But innovative products are only half of the story: all successful companies know that putting the client first plays a key role in improving the customer experience and building brand trust. They also know that failure to meet their target audience’s expectations means loss of business.

In a similar way, citizens expect a similar personalized customer experience from what is considered one of the most important companies of all: the government. Yet, in reality, the public sector often fails to meet these expectations, which leads to frustration and a lack of confidence in its services.

Meet the empowered citizen

Let’s fast-forward to the era of digitized governments and what a day in the life of an empowered citizen would look like. For the sake of the story, let’s call her Sarah. Sarah has recently bought her own apartment and would like some information regarding renovations. As she leaves the house, a notification pops up informing Sarah of the most efficient public transport options based on an analysis of her previous travel patterns and on the fact it’s a rainy day.

As she enters the city hall, a chatbot initiates a conversation with her. Within minutes, Sarah knows exactly what sort of permit she needs. Even more interesting, she discovers that she’s eligible for an energy renovation subsidy. By the time it’s Sarah’s turn, the caseworker already has all the information he needs to help her. The appointment’s over within 15 minutes, and Sarah can start making plans for her renovation.

Back at home, she turns on the news. There’s a news item on a foodborne issue regarding a specific batch of eggs. She remembers she bought fresh ones yesterday and hurries to the kitchen to scan the box: thanks to the blockchain-enabled app she can easily track and trace the origin of her eggs. Phew, all is well!

Citizen experience as a core function

It may read like a fun story, but there’s much more to it. If there’s one key element you should remember, it’s this: citizens no longer wish to feel as if they’re just another number in the queue.

They don’t want to have to make time to spend hours racing from one agency to another, trying to figure out which documents they need – or worse, trying to figure out what the documents actually mean. They don’t have the patience to repeat themselves over and over again because different IT systems do not communicate with one another. Surely but slowly, this frustration grows and turns into a lack of confidence in the government’s efficiency.

However, by seamlessly integrating digital technologies into everyday life, governments worldwide are able to focus increasingly on the citizen experience as the core function of the public sector.

Why it’s time for a digital reinvention

Up until recently, the public sector was quite limited in its attempts to raise customer satisfaction. It was mostly a matter of raising or diverting resources; something that has often been met with resistance.

Rather than re-engineering existing systems by, for example, making websites mobile-friendly, it’s time to rethink and reinvent public sector services in order to be able to meet the needs of the citizens of today and tomorrow. Moreover, by improving the interaction between government and citizen, a digital reinvention helps build trust in the public sector as a brand: the government has your back.

How IBM drives AI-enabled social innovation

At IBM, we’re there to guide you through the current age of digital reinvention. That’s one of the reasons why we have developed IBM Garage™, a place where IBM solution architects sit shoulder-to-shoulder with our clients’ experts to develop new ideas and instantly test, discard or advance those ideas.  As such, we’re able to drive innovation at the speed typical for a start-up and the scale-up potential of an enterprise.

To show you what this could like, we’d like to take you to the London Borough of Redbridge, one of the greenest regions of the Greater London area.

The chatbot that loves talking trash

Every year, the community contact center would experience a spike in call volumes related to garbage collection. Can you guess when? That’s right, the week following the Holidays. It may be the season to be jolly, but it’s often a nightmare after Christmas when it comes to figuring out when your bins will be picked up.

In order to be of better service to its residents, the borough of Redbridge joined forces with IBM to develop an AI-powered chatbot (Binbot) that can answer straightforward questions regarding the collection schedule. Equipped with IBM® Watson® Tone Analyzer technology, Binbot is also able to monitor its conversations and escalate them to a human if necessary.

Next, the chatbot was expanded with a visual analysis tool and trained to recognize and identify commonly dumped items. Instead of uploading a picture of those loose bins or that rogue mattress through their social media network (frustrated emojis included), citizens can now easily report dumped trash by sending it to Binbot.

The chatbot certainly did not waste its talents: the London borough noted a 25% reduction in calls compared to the same period last year, while the chatbot handled about 1,600 conversations daily. Most importantly, the citizens welcomed Binbot with open arms as 95% of them rated their user experience as ‘excellent’.

Curious to find out more about how IBM Garage™ can help you improve the citizen experience and empower communities? Join our webinar!

BeLux Enterprise Unit Leader Public, Life Sciences, Telco & Utilities, IBM

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