Across the public and private sectors, digital communication offers an unprecedented combination of scale and speed that unlocks new possibilities for how organizations interact with their audiences. We have certainly been able to do more and reach more people with government communications than was ever possible in the analog era. But as we continue to explore the capabilities of digital for the public sector, we risk falling into the mindset that digital is an addition to traditional channels.
Digital is more than another outreach channel. Digital is a cultural force, which requires governments adopt a broader engagement approach and mindset.
It is well-known across the private sector that consumers prefer to use different communications channels for different interactions. Survey respondents overwhelmingly chose web self-services as their method for handling transactions and much preferred receiving emails to phone calls, but were split between email and phone calls on how to reach out for customer support.
This is why it has become a necessity for customer-facing organizations to deploy omni-channel communications, integrating every method of outreach and interaction at their disposal (e.g. email, Web, phone, text, social media, in-person), each with its own use. Tailored to the individual, this allows consumers to interact with companies on their own terms.
With the rise of e-commerce, retail companies have been leaders for this omni-channel approach, planning out a customizable buyer journey through online shopping options and mobile apps to supplement the traditional brick and mortar experience.
The public sector has an even greater imperative to map out an omni-channel citizen journey. Government offices are serving broad, diverse constituencies. A clothing store’s efforts might focus on driving online interactions with young women, while public sector institutions must be able to reach and satisfy audiences from every demographic group.
And that means meeting all those people where they are.
Omni-Channel is Coordinated Outreach
Omni-channel communications empower us to do away with a “one size fits all” approach and instead implement a coordinated system of different outreach methods, from traditional mail to mobile apps, that ensures every citizen will have access to two-way communication with their government.
As they become more comfortable integrating every channel of communication into the citizen journey, governments can tailor each one individually to best suit its purpose. That approach looks something like this:
- A city resident starting a small business submits a commercial zoning permit through a Web portal, and in the process, opts in to receive information from the city government on commercial zoning issues.
- A few weeks later, the resident receives an email about an upcoming town hall on proposed changes to commercial building size requirements.
- The resident then attends the town hall and connects with local officials and fellow business owners to gain clarity on the changes and learn best practices in how best to navigate them.
Worth noting in this example is the fact that an in-person interaction is still a crucial part of the citizen journey. There will always be situations, now and in the future, where the personal nature of phone and face-to-face interactions is invaluable for government’s relationship with its constituents. An omni-channel approach can utilize in-person meetings for those instances but turn to digital and automated options when they are appropriate for the most user-friendly, seamless citizen experience.
When service interactions are appropriately directed to the channel that can best handle them, government officials can focus on providing excellent service in the instances when the personal touch is most needed.
Citizen Journey Versus Consumer Journey
The information and services being provided by government are critical – they impact the lives and well-being of citizens – so effective communication that reaches people in the way they want to be reached must be the priority. The technological tools exist. It is up to governments to develop a strategy and the expertise to best deploy these tools when and where they are most effective and to meet citizens where they are. For this system to work, government offices must recognize that a citizen’s journey is more diverse, more broad and more essential to properly map out than a consumer’s journey.
About the Author
Angy Peterson is Vice President of Digital Engagement Services at Granicus. Angy is an experienced digital executive with more than 20 years of content delivery and design expertise. Most recently, Angy served as Senior Vice President for Digital Strategy and Content at GMMB, a political consultancy and brand strategy agency known for its support to Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and numerous government, nonprofit and corporate clients. There, Angy oversaw digital content development and advertising, social media strategy, user experience, and web design and development.
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