COVID-19 directly impacted the way government agencies serve citizens. Because many employees are now working remotely, agencies struggle to support constituents through traditional, in-person methods of customer service. Yet now more than ever, the public needs government services – including information about closures and travel restrictions, access to benefit programs and more. The result is often overloaded call centers, frustrated citizens and overwhelmed government staff.

Government agencies need to think creatively about ways to use technology to provide effective customer experience (CX) during this moment of crisis. But CX solutions can do more than provide short-term emergency response.

“The right CX technologies can also help organizations get on the right footing for the future,” says Peter Still, senior principal product strategy manager for customer experience at Oracle.

Still outlined a three-pronged approach government agencies can take to provide effective customer support to constituents while also preparing for the long-term future of government service:

Step One: Digital Response

Before COVID, many government agencies relied on forms of customer experience that required both employees and citizens to be on-site, including in-person appointments. During COVID, when citizens are sheltering in place or less inclined to visit physical sites, face-to-face CX is often impossible.

Physical call centers can allow citizens to retrieve information from home, but the centers often cannot handle the influx of calls many departments face during the pandemic.

“We heard a deluge of stories from clients where traditional government services were breaking down. Unemployment call centers were getting a million calls in a week and only answering a fraction of them. People were unsure of whether they had to shelter in place, or what that even meant,” says Still.

One of the first steps government agencies can take toward improving CX during COVID is to turn to digital tools, including smart self-service portals. These allow agencies to manage frequent communication and share knowledge quickly and widely at a moment when timely information is critical. Smart portals can provide interactive, personalized, up-to-date advice to fit each citizen’s circumstances. Users can call in to quickly understand if they are eligible for a particular program, or what travel restrictions are in place.

By providing smart content for citizens across a variety of digital channels, agencies can lessen the burden on call centers and empower citizens to get the information they need quickly and efficiently.

Step Two: Government Continuity

When providing services to citizens, government leaders need to think not only about the public, but also about their employees. Many government employees are now working remotely, which means they can no longer collaborate with one another via in-person meetings and conversations. Despite this, agency employees need to work just as effectively from home as they did in person.

To successfully continue government service in this work-from-home era, agencies need to provide staff with remote access to their networks. More than that, they also need to provide digital tools that enable virtual collaboration among employees, as well as the assignment, tracking and execution of various workstreams.

Agencies also need digital solutions that allow employees to assign and schedule service tasks, track service completion and manage outstanding payments. These kinds of end-to-end solutions will allow employees to continue to deliver effective customer service safely from home, while enabling them to problem-solve with colleagues across departments.

Step Three: Recovery in the Long Term

While steps one and two focus on deploying solutions for immediate issues, step three involves preparing for the medium- and long-term impacts of COVID-19. Government agencies will likely see an increased need for services over an extended period of time. Along with an increase in unemployment benefits, there may also be an expansion of needs for other supplemental programs, including SNAP benefits, cash programs, Medicaid assistance for families and more.

“It’s an irony of government: when the economy is under strain, spending goes down, but demand for government services goes up,” says Still. Agencies need to prepare to meet that demand for an indefinite period.

Moreover, there may be changes to the regulations around many of these services, as local governments put in emergency assistance programs or rules for various benefit programs.

The increased need for benefits and potential regulatory changes mean governments need to develop an agile CX framework. This framework might include a variety of technologies, such as applicant data verification programs to reduce fraud and error with the influx of new cases within an agency. It might also include outcome analysis programs to track the success of various new recovery programs. Implementing various digital tools can help agencies track data and quickly adjust to change.

Effective CX Now and in the Future

In a time of crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic, there is an immediate need to serve citizens, but there is also a need to prepare for the future. This need to respond and prepare does not require a complete shift in e-government strategy.

“The pandemic hasn’t really changed the fundamentals of the vision of e-government,” Still maintains. “But as our normal way of working has been taken away from us, COVID-19 has accelerated the urgency to change and adopt things that were not a top priority previously.”

By adopting digital CX solutions, governments can ensure a long-term, successful customer service experience for both employees and citizens.

For nearly 30 years, DLT Solutions, a Tech Data Company, in partnership with Oracle, has been dedicated to solving public sector IT challenges. DLT has knowledge and experience helping public sector customers acquire the Oracle technology solutions they need, a vast contract portfolio, including OMNIA Partners and other state-specific contracts, and a robust collection of technology solutions across six strategic solution sets — DLT makes it easy to find, select, and buy the solutions you need.