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How to give citizens a great customer experience: part two

Giving people the digital content and experiences they want: how to create content that’s relevant, useful, and useable.

Jen Travis | February 3, 2016

First things first: learn why it’s important for public sector organizations to align their websites around a user-friendly taxonomy in How to give citizens a great customer experience: part one.

Because public sector organizations have an obligation to citizens to maintain public records for many, many years, government websites are often used as a veritable vault of information. The average citizen doesn’t typically care too much about that information, but from the government's perspective, it’s there, it’s mostly accurate, and the obligation is fulfilled. Phew.

This mindset has prevented public sector organizations from creating content that is relevant, useful, and engaging (which is what most web users expect websites to provide these days).

Thinking like your customers

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Public sector at Slalom

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Lately, public sector organizations have been rallying around the plain language movement. While it’s a great first step, it doesn’t go far enough. People want content that clearly communicates why it’s relevant and valuable. Essentially, everyone wants to know “what it means for me.”

For instance, a public utility may publish its water-rate chart, but when customers looks at it online, they can’t interpret it because it uses pipe diameter and cubic feet to measure rates.

What if instead, the public utility published rates as an expression of how many showers someone takes or how much they water their lawn on average? Would that make it more relevant and get the message across? Through our research, we learned that it would. And it might also educate people about water conservation and influence their behavior.

Creating content that customers actually want means thinking like the customer. Would a customer rather watch a video that explains how the new parking meters work than reading a pamphlet or a long, verbose web page? Probably. Would they want that video to be concise, easy to understand, and entertaining? Definitely.

To evaluate the effectiveness of content on our clients’ sites, we conduct content audits. Then, we develop content strategies to help guide their content creation efforts, all with the customer smack dab in the center. We also provide content training for content creators across departments to empower and equip them with the tools to think like their customers—and outside of the 6,000-word-per-page box that is the current norm.

That’s certainly helpful, but what if your content isn’t accessible to non-English speaking or sight-impaired populations? Or what if you can’t view the content on a mobile device?

Making content accessible for all users

A big problem in digital content for the public sector is accessibility: enabling people of all languages and abilities to access the content on your website. There are W3C standards for accessibility compliance that most organizations adhere to, at least in part. However, we believe accessibility also means making content easy to consume or for people of all ages, abilities, languages—regardless of what device they’re using.

By helping our municipal clients look at their content from multiple angles— leveraging their existing race and social justice teams or customer equity panels and mobile devices—they are able to see not only which content is not fully accessible, but also what accessibility really means to users.

We help clients develop content standards to drive accessible content creation across departments. We also provide recommendations for content metrics that measure accessibility across devices, languages, ages, and abilities. Accessibility is always at the forefront.

Don't set it and forget it—test and refine

One of the most common things we see in the public sector is a waterfall approach to digital. It’s the default setting for many of our clients, carried over from years of approaching IT and infrastructure development in a traditional manner. This approach often means that projects take months and years to complete, and when they are “done,” they're dropped cold while people move on to the next project.

Adopting an agile methodology enables public sector organizations to develop digital experiences much more fluidly. What this requires, however, is a shift to continuous learning and improvement—which often means a significant shift in processes, with research, development, measurement, and refinement all happening in concert.

It starts by outlining the processes and capabilities needed to drive an agile development process and ends with governance: policies and standards to ensure customer experience goals are met.

The takeaway

Paying a parking ticket or finding a local park or public swimming pool nearby shouldn’t be a painful experience. People expect these tasks to be easy and helpful (and occasionally educational). With a few shifts in culture, processes, and skills, public sector organizations can provide the kind of content and digital experiences that the public wants—and better position themselves to deliver on what’s next.

Learn more about our latest work with public sector organizations, and contact us to talk about how we can help you develop a digital strategy or create a great user experience for your customers.

Jen Travis

Jen Travis is a brand and digital strategy consultant in Slalom Seattle's Customer Engagement practice. Jen is passionate about helping companies create brand-defining customer experiences across their organizations. Follow her on Twitter: @travisjen.