Minding its customers – a new paradigm for government

Published May 24, 2022, 12:05 AM

by Monchito B. Ibrahim


Monchito Ibrahim

The smoke has finally cleared. After seeing one of the most divisive campaigns in our nation’s election history, the results came out as clear as summer blue skies. For the first time, the Philippines will have its first-ever majority government. It has been said many times in the last two weeks, and I will say it again, it’s time for all of us to gather around our new leaders to help them make this country much better than how it is today.

The coming in of a new administration offers a window of new beginnings and opportunities. We need to take stock of these opportunities that would really matter most for the next six years. We certainly see a myriad of issues we need to prioritize in finding solutions, especially the state of our national coffers. But we also see a lot of prospects that we can focus on to bring the Philippines back into a more competitive economy globally. The chance of starting with a clean sheet of paper and the right dose of political will are critical elements that could bring profound changes in the way the government is run. My ask of the incoming administration: let us start changing the image of our government starting with transforming our government processes digitally. 

It should be a whole-of-government digital transformation program that includes the local governments. What we are seeing today are projects that basically are just automating the existing inefficient processes. In effect, they just automated inefficiency. Honest to goodness digital transformation should result not just in increased efficiencies and productivity but, more importantly, in making government more citizen-centric. Citizen centricity can happen only when the government is able to provide a delightful and convenient customer experience every time a citizen transacts with the government. 

Governments today face higher expectations than ever before when it comes to serving their citizens. The kind of customer experience that people get from the private sector is usually the benchmark. If they do not get it from one vendor, they can easily shift to another one. With the government, citizens usually do not have other options. And that probably is the reason why the public sector has lagged behind. Today, every government leader must champion customer experience as a powerful tool to achieve mission outcomes, and a positive image and build overall trust in the government. Local government leaders should see improved customer service delivery as a way to boost the living standards of their constituents and competitiveness.

What are the critical factors that should be considered for digital transformation to result in a better customer experience for citizens every time they transact with the government?

First, the government should have a clear understanding of who it actually serves.  Unlike in the private sector, the government cannot just ignore undesirable customers. They must aim to serve everyone within their mandated mission. They have to know what matters most to their customers which is essential to improving their experience. It is not uncommon to see gaps between what public sector leaders believe people want and what is actually important to them as customers. And it is not usually a case of one-size-fits-all which usually ends up fitting no one very well. 

Second, the government should strive to understand its customers’ transaction journey from beginning to end. Customer journeys are the set of end-to-end experiences throughout the transaction process defined from the customer’s perspective. And the only way for the agency to see the service gaps is to have its people put themselves in the shoes of their customers. Mapping these journeys and understanding their importance is crucial to any effort designed to improve customer experience. It can also help agencies prioritize where to focus their efforts.

Thirdly, agencies should try to identify the “experienced drivers.” Citizens usually would have specific preferences across the customer journeys that can have a significant impact on overall satisfaction or no impact at all depending on the context. These drivers can be related to questions on reliability, transparency, or convenience. Agencies have to remember that bad incidents can profoundly impact the public’s impression of the agency. These bad events have more power than good ones in defining customer experiences.

Lastly, agencies collect a significant amount of operational data but end up not properly utilized as a source of insights into the customer experiences. Linking these data to priority customer journeys should be done because they usually provide actionable insights to improve the overall experience.

Positive customer experiences resulting from a whole-of-government digital transformation program can go a long way as far as citizens’ impression of how the government has improved. It will also put out the message to everyone that the Philippines has moved up to be a world-class economy. Building these will not be easy as we have to consider deep-rooted cultural, procedural, competency, and budgetary issues that usually come into play in change initiatives such as this. But living with how the government provides service today is just not an acceptable option.

(The author is the lead convenor of the Alliance for Technology Innovators for the Nation (ATIN), vice president of the Analytics Association of the Philippines, and vice president, of the UP System Information Technology Foundation.)

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