Within seconds, TikTok can deduce if you’re interested in technology or gardening, movies or cooking, music or animals. The social media app can curate the perfect content to hook anyone by capturing data on what someone watches, replays, and scrolls away from.

TikTok is a prime example of how personalising the user experience is key to serving them. This is a core principle in design thinking: designing products with the user at the forefront and constantly refining the product to better serve them.

As citizens become used to personalised platforms like TikTok, they expect the same from government agencies. Jonathan Quah, Digital Manager, Xtremax and Saurabh Pandit, Regional Vice President, Asia, Sitecore share three ways design thinking can help governments provide better online services.

Provide a personalised experience

Over the years, tech companies such as TikTok, Netflix, and Amazon have become adept at curating recommendations for users across entertainment and online shopping. Governments may adopt similar techniques to meet citizen needs better.

Personalised digital services can identify the kind of citizens browsing a website and provide targeted content to guide them. This ensures they have a positive and useful experience.

For example, websites can provide articles on early childhood education to a new parent. If a citizen frequently visits these articles, the website can recommend the next best action, such as submitting an online preschool application.

Citizens can immediately get the information that is relevant to them at the right time, rather than spending hours crawling through pages and pages of irrelevant information.

But this is only possible if governments understand citizen needs well. “If the end goal is having the website work for citizens, it first needs a good idea of the citizens’ personalities,” shares Quah.

Machine learning can provide targeted information for specific citizen groups and identify where citizens are in a decision making process, Pandit explains.

AI can also track citizens’ last activity and help them continue from where they left off, shares Pandit. If a parent was midway through a form, AI can help them return to it. Citizens want to save time, so it is critical that services address their needs promptly.

Deliver consistent, targeted information

A government agency can serve citizens’ needs better and meet the changing expectations of the citizen by delivering consistent and targeted information across all channels.

Government channels that are not in sync risk losing the citizen’s trust in digital services, notes Quah. “For a citizen, If one tool fails, all fails. If I’ve had a bad experience with the CPF online portal for instance, I am less likely to explore the new HDB online portal,” he explains.

Government portals can also provide targeted services across the board.

If an education portal has identified a citizen as a new parent, a healthcare portal could also suggest similar services, such as providing reminders for childhood immunisations. This saves time for citizens and ensures a smooth experience across the agencies they interact with.

“If citizens have to complete information online, then repeat it over the phone and in person, they will become frustrated,” Pandit shares. “It is important that agencies deliver the right message consistently across all channels,” he explains.

Adapt swiftly

Governments can fulfill citizen needs even during a crisis by designing flexible systems that can quickly respond to new challenges. Citizens rely on governments to share reliable and updated information during public crises, and agencies need to be able to keep up with change.

Singapore’s GovTech turned to WhatsApp, Singapore’s most popular messaging app, to provide updates on Covid-19 in 2020. “The right messages to the right people at the right time over the right channel can save, change, and improve lives,” highlights Pandit.

Agencies can also use data to refine existing services. A government website can analyse which pages get the most clicks, like an interactive Frequently Asked Questions page, to create similar content that will serve citizens’ needs.

TikTok may seem frivolous compared to the critical government work of providing timely information to the public. Yet, its focus on personalising user experiences and constant improvement may hold lessons for the mission of providing the best online public services.