Somewhat surprisingly in light of ongoing budget constraints at all levels of government, the latest iteration of the Citizens First research shows that Canadians are rating government services highly. Delivery timeliness and issue resolution emerge as the key drivers of customer satisfaction, and improving service quality on these key dimensions will be particularly important as citizen expectations continue to rise. One of the main opportunities to meet those expectations will be in getting more public sector clients to go online to access government services.
Over the past decade and a half, the Citizens First series has gained international attention and recognition as the “gold standard” in research on public sector service delivery. Managed by the Institute for Citizen-Centred Service (ICCS), the series has been designed to collect insights on Canadians’ views of the quality of services offered by the public sector at all levels of government. It examines the key facets of the citizen-government interface, including the drivers of satisfaction, citizen expectations, and the challenges associated with creating a seamless, multi-channel experience.
Delivered by the ICCS in collaboration with Ipsos Reid Public Affairs, Citizens First 7 (CF7) is the latest iteration of the study. It builds on the learning from previous waves of the research and provides public sector service managers with new, actionable insights and practical recommendations on how to improve service delivery and continue the drive toward citizen-centred service. The study also examines the question of getting more Canadians to access government services online. This topic has been near the top of the public sector agenda and, as evidence shows, may be key to raising the quality of services and meeting client expectations.
Service reputation and experience
Looking at the overall performance of the public sector, Citizens First 7 brings with it a good news story. The data tells us that service reputation scores are trending upward for governments at all levels in Canada. In fact, they are at an all-time high for municipal, regional and provincial/territorial governments. Canadians provide higher ratings for service experience even though service providers continue to be faced with significant budget constraints.
For the 21 baseline services tracked as part of the National Basket of Services, the overall satisfaction has stayed at the same level since the previous iteration of the study.
The service reputation scores tell only a part of the story. In order to examine satisfaction with service provision in greater detail, Citizens First 7 introduces the new Client Satisfaction Model that includes a multi-item composite known as the Client Satisfaction Index (CSI). The CSI incorporates both the individual service experience and the broader “cultural” environment in which the service experience takes place. This analytical framework connects service quality, client satisfaction, reputation, and trust and confidence in an integrated model that allows for the analysis of data to shed light on these relationships. It is worth noting that Citizens First 7 is the first study in the series that measures the impact of service provision on confidence in public service.
The CSI scores vary between different participating jurisdictions but all of them have received moderately good ratings, with the average CSI score of 67 out of 100. Healthcare/counselling services and permits/certificates/licensing services achieved the highest satisfaction scores among all service categories with scores of 74 and 71, respectively. On average, only 12 percent of clients accessing government services were dissatisfied with their recent service experience.
The new model focuses on five drivers of satisfaction: service design, delivery timeliness, staff interaction, channel functionality, and issue resolution. Multivariate analysis conducted as part of the study has identified delivery timeliness and issue resolution as having the most impact on the CSI. These two dimensions are the key areas for governments to focus on. They are, to a large extent, within the control of service providers, and any improvements in these areas should result in a noticeable impact on overall satisfaction.
While satisfaction with the quality of government services is on the rise, the study also tells us that the public sector is not performing at the level expected by its clients. Service expectations are rising across all channels of service delivery and, particularly when accessing services delivered by telephone and online, clients increasingly expect to receive a near-instant service. This presents a significant challenge to government service providers whose role is to meet those rising expectations.
Many service expectations centre on timeliness of service delivery, which has been identified as one of the key drivers of service satisfaction throughout all iterations of the Citizens First research. Citizens First 7 shows that expectations in this regard vary greatly across different channels.
The greatest gap between actual experience and service expectations occurs with the online channel. Clients expect to spend no more than 6.5 minutes looking for information or accessing a service on a government website, but it takes them on average 19 minutes to do so. This presents one of the biggest opportunities for service improvement, and one of the ways to address it is to reduce online search time by improving findability of information.
Similarly to the online channel, the average time spent on the phone is also 19 minutes, but the expectation is that it will take only 15 minutes. The service gap here is not as conspicuous but still presents an opportunity for improvement.
The only mode of service delivery where wait times are essentially on a par with expectations is the in-person channel. For clients who show up at a government office, timeliness is not necessarily the key driver of satisfaction. They are prepared to wait a little longer for service if it means that they will able to ask questions and get instant confirmation that the transaction has been completed accurately. However, a slight majority of respondents would still like the in-person experience optimized through more flexible hours of operation.
Moving services online
One of the main ways of addressing the need to better respond to the evolving service environment is greater utilization of the online channel. Given its potential convenience and speed of service, accessing services online is well placed to become the “new normal” for government services. The demand for it is already apparent among Canadians as their use of online channels is constantly increasing. Seventy-nine percent of the respondents surveyed as part of Citizens First 7 declared that they were likely to use the web to access government services in the near future.
In order to get even more Canadians to migrate to online channels, service providers will need to address a number of critical issues. One of them is the need to optimize online experiences to match the rising service expectations. By increasing the speed and convenience of online service experience, governments will be able to attract more and more users to the channel that allows them to lower costs and increase efficiency.
The other key requirement is to communicate effectively with the users of government services and make them aware of the benefits of accessing services online. While it may require some effort to change perceptions of some clients that government websites are slow and hard to navigate, the benefits of doing it can potentially greatly outweigh the costs and effort involved.
It is also important to design service access so that the online channel supports other channels and so that other channels drive traffic to and support online service provision.
Last but not least, governments need to increase awareness that certain services can be accessed online. While for some services, such as filing income taxes, this awareness is already high at 84 percent, it is not necessarily the case for a broad range of other services. For instance, a significantly smaller proportion of Citizens First 7 respondents knew that they had the option to go online to pay for a parking ticket, change their address, or renew their license plate sticker.
In order to get more people to migrate online, government service providers will also need to address concerns about online security and privacy. This can be done by ensuring that clients are aware of the measures that have been taken to provide for security of information, particularly when it comes to sensitive data such as personal or financial information. It should be noted that, while important, these considerations may not be playing as big a role as previously thought. Only 12 percent of those who chose not to use the online channel cited privacy and confidentiality concerns as the main reason for doing so.
In conclusion, Citizens First 7 tells us that, while there is a good news story to tell with increased satisfaction ratings across all levels of government, there are also significant challenges ahead for government service providers in the face of rising service expectations. To assist them with overcoming those challenges, the study outlines key focus areas for service managers, such as timeliness and issue resolution, and provides actionable insights on how performance on those key drivers can be improved.
One of the key takeaways is that offering better and more secure services online and making the public more aware of their availability has the potential to go a long way toward meeting the increased expectations of Canadians as far as the quality of government services is concerned.
The Citizens First 7 Report can be ordered at www.iccs-isac.org.