Private companies have long focused on ‘customer experience’ as central to success, especially as digitalisation has accelerated.
Although they have very different goals, cities are starting to use some of the same tactics to improve services and meet residents’ rising expectations. And they’re appointing senior leaders to get the job done.
A new wave of public servants
Masha Gindler, New York City
Masha Gindler is New York City’s first Director of Customer Experience.
She told capitaltribunenews.com: “In my opinion, the public sector is experiencing an exciting new wave of public servants and political leaders who are raising the standard for how government operates. The titles may vary, but the mission is the same: make government work better.”
Gindler is part of Mayor Eric Adams’ new Office of Efficiency, which will be working with over 60 assigned Chief Performance Officers who are responsible for delivering improvements in their respective agencies.
“The Director of Customer Experience role is important at this time because technology upgrades have ushered in new standards for service delivery at breakneck speeds,” said Gindler. “Publicly funded institutions have a duty to keep up with the latest technology and to be responsive to the needs and expectations of the people we serve.”
Previously, Gindler worked as the Director of Digital Services for New York City and recently helped lead NYC’s COVID-19 Test & Trace Corps.
“This sharpened my skills in terms of building up and leading programmes and showed me what government can really do going at 100 miles per hour,” Gindler said.
Her office will be working with agencies that provide a public service, as well as those with an information-sharing, coordinating, or internal operations role.
“It is about nurturing a culture change in all of government,” she said. This includes digital and offline interactions.
Gindler commented: “Many people prefer to interact with government online on their own time and there are excellent technologists throughout our city government that have been working on improving that experience. That being said, we cannot forget that some people will always feel more comfortable interacting with government in-person.”
The work will begin with looking at how agencies measure success publicly and starting to incorporate metrics specifically on customer experience. The team will also seek feedback from staff on programme improvement.
Using the term ‘customer’ rather than ‘citizen’ in the public sector can provoke debate but Gindler said: “[Residents] are both, but encouraging the mentality that New Yorkers are our customers, and that we’re here to cater to them, is a small way to signal our commitment to improving services the city provides.”
From services to journeys in Milan
Luca Curioni was recently named as Milan’s first Citizen Experience Officer, marking an evolution of the Chief Digital Officer role which he held previously.
The realignment is part of Mayor Giuseppe Sala’s new administration after he was re-elected for five years in October.
The Citizen Experience Officer combines digital upgrades with a direct focus on users – for example, improving the range of services and speeding up the time to complete requests and procedures, such as paying taxes or fines and applying for permits.
“It’s a matter of designing citizen ‘journeys’ instead of designing municipal services,” said Curioni. “A major effort will be putting together all the different channels controlled by the back-office system and the customer operations and literally driving the citizen experience through all the stages until the end.”
Moving from reactive to proactive is also part of the new approach. This includes sending alerts and notifications to remind residents about deadlines or changes in status.
“During the pandemic, we have improved the digital response to citizens’ requests, but also received suggestions to move on towards a more complete and modern system,” said Curioni.
He said one of the municipality’s biggest successes was the introduction of the digital citizen folder which acts as a single point of access for certificates, information and data for each resident.
Another aspect of Curioni’s role will be building relationships with organisations that contribute to the citizen experience, such as public transport providers and private mobility companies.
He will work closely with the IT team, who will manage technical architecture, as well as data and interoperability experts to align services with those of other Italian cities and at a national level where possible.
“[We] will also measure the new experience offered to our service users, trying to measure it right after the interaction with a specific channel and a specific service to improve it if needed,” said Curioni.
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