‘Customer service’ probably isn’t the first phrase that anyone associates with government or public services. Indeed, we are almost certainly more used to thinking of public services as the complete opposite of customer-focused. That, however, needs to change.
The rise of the demanding customer
We are becoming more demanding and more discerning as customers in all our interactions. We expect businesses to pull information together about us from diverse contacts, and we want a seamless experience when we interact with companies via multiple channels. Slowly but surely, we are coming to expect no less from government and public services. How could it be otherwise? We are, after all, in a very real sense, far more than simply customers of public services. As taxpayers, we are also the public sector’s owners and paymasters, and we expect that to be reflected in how we are treated by government agencies.
The fact that we, the public, are at the same time target, customer, owner and bank creates some interesting dynamics. We are customers of different public services in different ways. For example, as users of healthcare systems, we want the very best services and facilities, and the best possible outcomes. As the funders, however, we want to see waste reduced, and money spent wisely. As taxpayers, we expect to be chased if we do not pay our taxes on time—but we also expect to see the tax office pursuing the likes of Google and Amazon for taxes on their profits, and not cutting them ‘sweetheart deals’ because they are too big to risk angering.
Addressing the expectations
How can public services meet and manage these expectations and challenges? The best, if not the only, answer to this question lies in analytics. Just as in the private sector, governments are starting to use analytics to improve their decision-making. In the UK, for example, the government is using analytics to identify heavy users of health services, and then work out what combinations of conditions lead to high healthcare use. This enables healthcare providers to identify the patients most likely to need more healthcare in future. This information, in turn, is being used to improve outcomes for this group of patients.
Proactive healthcare management powered by analytics is another high potential area. Around the world, healthcare data are being used to examine readmissions, and to start some case-mix-index patient forecasting to improve the predictability and future readiness of healthcare providers. Analytics can also help to improve scheduling of nurses and therapists, and support predictive medical screening.
These types of project are analytics use at its best. All these are improving health and healthcare outcomes for individual patients, by making sure that they get the care that they need, when they need it. At the same time, they also lead to better use of scarce resources, which means staff are less stretched, and better able to cope. As a result, the overall experience is better for patients and families.
In financial matters, too, analytics has huge potential in government. From unpaid taxes through to reducing fraud in payments, governments around the world are aware that they could well be haemorrhaging money. Most are actively looking for ways to resolve these problems, and analytics offers help with targeting. Just as in healthcare, the key is that it can improve decision-making, particularly by enabling attention to be targeted when it is most needed. And that, too, improves the customer experience for those who pay their taxes on time, and who do not like to be treated as potential criminals and threatened if they choose not to pay until the day before the deadline, but who do want to know that the system is fair, and that nobody else is getting away with non-payment.
The potential application areas are virtually limitless. In the age of data abundancy, analytics can be applied to any public sector business problem from predicting where the next fire will break out to which container at customs should be inspected for undervalued items. Agriculture can benefit from it by making sure the grants are utilized properly to devise better farming and breeding strategies. Roads & transportation can benefit from it by making sure public service providers on the ground are equipped with predictions that will help them ensure road safety. Emergency services can benefit from it by knowing where the next place they need to be beforehand. Child services can ensure no child abuse ever takes place. Narcotics & Health departments can better fight drug addiction.
A wide range of uses and users
The public sector has a wide range of responsibilities, from crime detection and prevention, through education, healthcare, utilities and transport, to tax and fraud. Many are cross-functional and cross-agency. Most, if not all, are now becoming increasingly data-driven, as governments and public agencies realize that analytics can improve their targeting, support better decisions, and help them to use resources more effectively.
The public sector has a wide range of responsibilities, from crime detection and prevention, through education, healthcare, utilities and transport, to tax and fraud.
As taxpayers, we should, and do, care about the way that resources are used. As customers of government services, we are also seeing the benefits of analytical decision-making in government, in terms of better customer experience, and better outcomes from services. From healthcare to education to justice, few governments can afford to do without analytics any longer. It is becoming clear that their customers demand the use of analytics to improve services - and so do their paymasters and taxpayers.