The 9+ philosophy within government organizations: the power of a two-track policy
The 9+ philosophy - in short, the goal of achieving the best possible customer experience throughout the entire customer journey - has gained a foothold in many commercial organizations in recent years.
But can this way of thinking and doing also have value within government organizations? And if so, in what way? Ben van der Hee, partner Public at Boer & Croon and former UWV department head, and Stephan van Slooten, managing partner at Altuïtion, try to answer this question.
Organizations that deliver products or services have been increasingly looking at how customers experience the delivery of those products or services, or what they (emotionally) experience in the total process of orienting, buying, using, updating and even disposing of the product or ending the service - the so-called customer journey or Customer Journey.
This is because it is now known that removing "dips" in the experience, in combination with creating "peaks" in the experience leads to above average satisfied customers. Simply satisfied customers are rarely loyal customers (they quickly leave if a better offer comes along), let alone becoming (unpaid) ambassadors of the organization.
THE INCREASING IMPORTANCE OF CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE
The field of Customer Journey Management has developed enormously, and there is virtually no self-respecting commercial organization that does not invest in this. From telecommunications companies to amusement parks and from airports to online sales platforms: everywhere (tinkering with and optimizing) the "customer experience" has become a KPI that is driven in an attempt to get more and more satisfied customers, reduce costs, create more shareholder value, etc.
In recent years, however, the "customer journey" thinking or 9+ thinking (and doing) is also being discovered by public service providers, such as municipalities and institutions such as UWV and the Tax Department. A frequently heard term in this context is the return of "the human dimension" in their own activities (something that has been strongly revived by the Toeslagen affair).
However, they encounter the fact that in the public sector completely different "drivers" apply than in the commercial sector. Whereas a normal company would like to get more customers, UWV strives for as few clients as possible, to give an example. And while a normal company preferably extends the customer relationship as long as possible, the tax authorities are happy if the customer relationship ends as soon as possible.
There are three complicating factors in making this translation. The first is the interpretation of the concept of "service provider". Providing a public service does have certain similarities with providing a commercial service, but at the same time, it differs fundamentally from it. Government services are almost always "service providers in the name of the law" and that means that they also have a gatekeeper function and also (often) act as enforcers. It is the government service that determines whether or not the citizen will receive a permit, revokes a permit, or fines for non-compliance with the permit conditions. It is the government service that determines whether or not a citizen will receive a benefit or allowance, and how much tax this person pays.
This ambiguity is not entirely unknown in the commercial sector - an insurance company can also decide not to pay out a claim if the conditions are not met - but in the public sector this ambiguity works much more strongly. The experience of the citizen or client can never be fully guided in action, because there are also legal frameworks that must be followed. While commercial organizations can still claim that "the customer is king," in the public domain ultimately the law is king.
Perception of the client
The second complicating factor is related to this and that is the perception of the citizen/client. It is a real "experience classic" that individuals who come into contact with a government service experience it as an extremely asymmetrical relationship, or a relationship of power versus powerlessness. This "Calimero feeling" - "I can think and want all kinds of things as an 'entrepreneur' or 'citizen' or 'client', but you ultimately decide anyway" - is also not completely unknown in the commercial sector, but there the customer still has alternatives to switch to (pension funds excepted perhaps). And it is of course very difficult to design an ideal customer journey for a customer who feels disadvantaged a priori and experiences a lack of transparency.
More erratic and complex
The third complicating factor, finally, is that in the commercial sector customers generally resemble each other quite closely. Of course, there are differences in wishes and requirements, but the majority of customers are looking for convenience when ordering and paying, reliability, a personal approach and speed when delivering, and good service if something has gone wrong. This also means that commercial organizations are satisfied with a customer satisfaction score of around 80 or 90%; those who are not satisfied are welcome at the competitor. In the public sector, on the other hand, every citizen must be helped by definition, also the specifically vulnerable citizens (and there are quite a few in all shapes and sizes). In short, the concept of "customer" is much more erratic and complex in the public sector. An additional difficulty is that the supervisors increasingly require (semi-)government services to be 'customer-oriented" to a certain extent (and also link KPI's to this) without taking into account this complex "customer image'.
Does this mean that the 9+ philosophy is not or poorly applicable in the public sector? We think that it is applicable. Because the foundation of this philosophy - the Kano model - is actually very relevant for the public sector. Japanese professor Noriaki Kano taught us that functional improvements in processes, no matter how far-reaching and costly, never lead to truly distinctive service delivery. Even a completely threshold-free customer journey only results in a rating of 8 at most. It is only when you include emotional experience components in the customer journey that the rating goes into the 9+ range. Only then will the citizen or client feel truly "seen, heard and helped" (to stay in UWV terminology).
Considering the Kano model and the complications described above, organizations in the public sector are best served by a two-track policy, targeted at two main target groups. Namely, the group of citizens who are self-sufficient, and who value contact with the government as short and as easy as possible (also known as straight through processing in technical terms). For this group of citizens, a rating of 7 to 8 is fine, as long as it leads to "time well saved" in the terminology of Joe Pine.
sincere attention to the individual
In addition, the group of citizens who benefit from personal attention, are in a vulnerable position and really need to be supported and/or helped on their way. Here, the 9+ concept can really have an impact, because it is suddenly about sincere attention for the individual, the right tone of voice and showing that you as a public organization are "human" and not just in words, but also in deeds. Here we enter, in the terminology of Joe Pine, the domain of "time well spent" - both citizen and employee experience the time spent together as valuable.
Significant cost savings
Here we touch upon an important point, namely the fact that 9+ thinking and doing also makes the employees experience their work as more relevant (and usually more enjoyable). Since many people choose the government as an employer precisely because they want to be (socially) meaningful, this means that embracing the 9+ philosophy will have a direct positive effect on employee satisfaction. While in the commercial sector the adage "winning outside is starting inside" applies, here "making a difference outside starts with making a difference inside" applies. Our experience is that 9+ thinking and doing can count on a lot of enthusiasm from employees, because they finally get the space to think and do what is needed for the citizen or client (even if it is not in the protocol). The threshold to actually operationalize is often more at the managerial level, because all kinds of familiar steering mechanisms (such as the average handling time of a telephone contact or conversation) have to be relinquished.
Other familiar habits (such as discouraging inbound telephone traffic by hiding the telephone number deep in the website) also have to make way for new rituals, in the realization that every deviation from the normal process and every touchpoint initiated by the citizen or client is in fact a "moment of truth" in the customer journey. And therefore an opportunity to actually do something better (go), which will eventually lead to significant cost savings as a result of first time right, fewer complaints, etc. In that respect, 9+ is also simply a business case, even in the public domain.
Supporting people in basic needs
At its core, it is therefore about supporting people in a basic need as a player in the public domain. It is about making the people you work for feel seen, heard and helped and the feeling of the employees that they have contributed significantly to this. The rest is secondary.