Aside from offering great customer experience, governments are being held to the highest standards of data privacy, accountability and non-paternalistic agendas.

With more governments going digital, what constitutes “good customer service” when the public uses their online services?

How about this: A great online government-service customer experience may be one that is easy to use, has transactional processes that are quick to complete, and provides all the pertinent information in prominent sections to help users to make better decisions.

Conversely, a poor customer experience on a government online portal would be one where users encounter technical difficulties, cannot complete the entire interaction online, and cannot get personalized and useful help when needed.

As ordinary people get used to the fast pace of rising standards in private sector e-innovation, the benchmark for government service delivery is getting higher too. According to the Boston Consulting Group (BCG)’s Global Trust Imperative report, the quality of customer experience directly influences the level of trust in governments by customers. Across 36 countries surveyed, 87% of respondents had indicated that a great digital government customer experience would increase their degree of trust.

Conversely, 81% of respondents had indicated that a negative experience would decrease the degree of trust that they have in that government. As such, governments are expected to find a way to get on to their own exponential trajectory to maintain pace with expectations.

Some shining examples

Early in the pandemic, the US Department of Defense (DoD) had struggled to accommodate a massive surge in teleworkers. But within two weeks, the DoD had set up 900,000 employees with remote user accounts as part of its Commercial Virtual Remote Environment — 250,000 of whom joined in just a single day. The DoD’s Chief Information Officer, Dana Deasy, commented: “This is the largest rollout ever implemented in this short amount of time.”

In India, the Aarogya Setu contact-tracing app was downloaded by over 150 million users, making it the most downloaded app of its kind in the world, helping to achieve incredible feats of volunteer training and keeping frontline medical workers safer in a vast country with limited digital reach.

Australia’s ‘COVIDSafe’ app was downloaded more than 2 million times in 24 hours, with more than 7 million Australians (around 40% of all smartphone users there) downloading the app.

Around the globe, QR code functionality has enabled people to check-in instantly for contact tracing purposes at public places using their mobile phones.

The depth and pace of this transformation demonstrated the feasibility of moving large parts of government service portfolios online. And the rate at which customers embraced digital services has made it clear that digital services will be an essential part of the global digital economy.

The APAC ‘Government Trust’ landscape

In the Asia Pacific region, the global report by BCG in collaboration with Salesforce showed that, at the start of the pandemic, 52% of customers accessed digital government services at least once per week. This was second only to the average of 57% in more developed regions.

Also, most APAC respondents in the study had indicated expectations of their government to meet the standard of leading online services provided in the public and private sector.

In that regard, the APAC governments that had earned good perceptions were Singapore (54%), China (53%) and New Zealand (52%), followed by India (45%) and Australia (40%).

While a good experience using a governmental online service had a positive impact on trust in that government, four countries showed an opposing trend. In Japan, Hong Kong, Nigeria and South Africa, a negative experience on government online services had a greater (negative) impact on trust.

Gobally, a recent Salesforce consumer study showed that only 12% of respondents felt that digital government services met all their needs. Some 51% wanted the websites and apps to be easier to use. Countries with the biggest gaps between expectations and needs met by current service delivery, and where respondents indicated an experience would have a moderate to high impact on trust (both positive and negative) were Chile, Hong Kong, Japan, Morocco, Nigeria and South Africa.

Government e-services: the big picture

According to the Edelman Trust Barometer 2021, a strong correlation exists between governments’ ability to clearly communicate the benefits of sharing data, and overall trust in government. Specifically, the countries where more customers believed that government was doing a good job of communicating these benefits outperformed those which did not.

To reimagine customer service delivery, governments can take note of the trends and combine the best of in-person human, and technology capabilities. This can radically change relationships and business processes, placing the customer at the heart of service delivery and operations, improving outcomes and reducing the cost of providing excellent digital service.

The studies on the global trust imperative for governments show that governments will need to have bold leadership and embrace new ways of working. They will need to invest in resilient, flexible and modern technologies that unlock the power of data to create a personalized approach to service delivery. This mandates clear, open and transparent dialog with all users on the benefits of digital and data, and the onus in on governments to be fully accountable if things go wrong.

According to Paul Tatum, Senior Vice President, Solution Engineering, Salesforce, personalization does matter: “We as members of society do want to be known, and remembered. We don’t want to tell our story again and again. Personalization and remembering builds trust and a relationship with government.”

However, governments also need to draw the line between personalization and paternalism when leveraging the digital realm. An unnamed Australian government official noted: “I feel the same way about proactive government as I do about personalization. I think there’s a way to do it that lands really positively and there’s a way to do it that feels really creepy and Big Brother-like.”