William Murphy PSM is Deputy Secretary, Customer, Delivery and Transformation at the New South Wales Department of Customer Service. William was awarded a Public Service Medal for his leadership of his 500-strong team’s ground-breaking work during the pandemic.
“Trust and the customer experience are inseparable. It comes down to service quality - how well we have serviced or interacted with customers and customer delivery - everything from privacy management to transparency and security. If you perform well across these two areas you get a great customer experience, and this builds trust.”
Many of us may not be familiar with the Department of Customer Service in the New South Wales government. Not only is it the department of its kind in any state or territory in Australia, it’s also a world-first.
More than that, it represents an evolution in the relationship between citizens and government services. A shift from citizen to customer, community to stakeholder, a single interaction to multiple opportunities to build trust.
If we are to achieve our desired public policy goals, we must build and maintain trust because that directly flows through to engagement with our services.
With experiences so varied, from renewing a driver’s licence to buying a pass for a National Park, you need a clear articulation of the factors that can engender trust.
“There are several factors that we believe are critical. That customers perceive that the person they are dealing with is acting with empathy for their situation. We design our processes and our mechanisms of engagement to respect their time. We explain upfront what people can expect from their interactions with us. There is an expectation that the person they're dealing with will work to resolve their situation, rather than hand them off. And then the big one, and this is the one that many governments struggle with: the community expects government to genuinely engage with them on policy, strategy, service, design and delivery.”
Customer engagement is not your typical government metric. And William Murphy and his team’s ‘Have your Say’ program is not your typical customer feedback tool.
Rather than informing people about what you’re doing then asking what people think, we go to the community and say ‘here is an issue that’s been raised, we'd love to hear your ideas’. We create an open discussion forum. Others in the community chip in and they can vote for ideas they like.
‘Have your say’ is getting people talking. Conversion rates of people coming to the website and participating is around 40% or more.
“We took inspiration from some of the best global practitioners in customer service, the likes of Apple, Google, Amazon and Sony among others. They know their customers through great data and insights, where they are, what's important to them. Secondly, they have really clear mechanisms for prioritising the things that have the most impact on their customers, and using high quality channels to deliver.”
The ‘handoff’ – a common complaint with large siloed organisations – is replaced with a commitment to a seamless end-to-end engagement for customers. This is further enhanced with a specific stream of investment to build customer focus in their teams. So they specifically invest in that idea of customer in their teams.
Customer data is more complex when it can involve personal information, such as location, age, gender … even fines. After ensuring privacy management and security, the opportunity is to leverage data to frame the content around the needs of each customer (rather than making the customer navigate the structure of Government).
“In the very recent past, and still today, there are between 500 and 700 different government websites. And every one of them has a different navigation; it has a different look and feel; they sometimes cover the same information – but in a slightly different way. It is a confusing and frustrating experience.”
Migrating all the content onto nsw.gov.au. while tailoring to the customer enables the government to serve the information that customers need, based on their needs. “With over 5 million citizens on our mailing list … if something happens, like a new grant program around floods, we're able to get that message out to customers straight away. It’s about contacting the right customers at the right time.”
But sometimes those customers prefer a physical presence. Access to smartphones, network coverage, language barriers or simply a lack of digital knowledge means that having a physical presence remains a critical channel. “Governments can be guilty of focusing on the tech, rather than focusing on what the outcome is. The digital and real-world experience must work together.”
Recent messaging for ‘COVID-19 safety' revealed the importance of listening to customers to recognise and quickly adapt messaging that is missing the mark. This is particularly critical to effective communication where there are cultural differences.
“Some communities appeared slow to adopt COVID-safe messages during the 2021 lockdown. We were asking people to stay home with family but for some this meant engaging with three or four households. We worked closely with community leaders to adapt our communications and the affects were immediate.”
Another challenge was connecting with young people in Western Sydney, which took some ‘out of the box’ thinking. “Our COVID-19 safety messaging wasn’t resonating with some younger cohorts. We worked with community influencers - religious and community leaders, sports identities, musicians – people who were respected voices in their communities. This improved trust in these messages immediately and was a massive success in breaking down the barriers.”
Understanding a breakdown in information is more critical than ever in the era of social media.
“Government does not have a monopoly on providing advice to the community. Social media is often the go-to channel for many groups in society. That’s why this trust equation is so important – because if we're going to get the right outcome for people, we need them to trust these messages, advice and support.”
After spending a short time with William Murphy, it’s very clear he loves his job. He describes it as the sweet spot between strategy, data and insights that enables customer satisfaction to help shape public policy and deliver community outcomes that build long-term trust. A very satisfying result for everyone.