Public forums that quickly degenerated into absurdity were a staple of popular American mockumentary Parks and Recreation. Angry citizens would often step up to a microphone to share peculiar grievances, to the bewilderment of the show’s main characters.

Without proper preparation and consideration of certain issues, government agencies that solicit opinion through forums and other engagement channels run the risk of seeing their efforts fail similarly.

Long before people set foot in public forums, agencies should plan for how they will collect feedback and incorporate it into policymaking in the most seamless possible fashion.

Whether people call a government hotline, send an email or submit a feedback form, agencies need to have a centralised means of recording every moment of interaction between themselves and those they serve, says Ng Seng Ping, Regional Vice President of ASEAN Public Sector at Salesforce. This allows civil servants to better understand people’s priorities and respond accordingly.

The city of Toronto, for instance, recently upgraded its non-emergency communications services from a server-based call centre into a “complete contact” centre that allows people to get in touch, using various means, about anything from information on a government service to lodging noise complaints.

Previously, people were able to contact city officials only by calling them. However, since Toronto digitised its services using Salesforce’s Customer 360 Platform, people have been able to reach out by submitting enquiries via social media, messaging agents in live chats, and requesting services through a mobile app. Once they have requested a service, they can track that request using the mobile app or receive real-time updates via email or text message.

City officials have a centralised view of every interaction, enabling them to follow up promptly on requests and keep track of whether issues have been resolved. Also, people no longer have to repeat themselves every time they are in contact with a different official.

The platform hosts up to 5,000 articles that people can use to access general information on services and programmes, and they can view open requests made by others. For instance, they can check if a pothole has already been reported, or if multiple people have made a noise complaint.

Drilling into data

Using a centralised platform, agencies can analyse data across all interactions to gain insights and improve how they communicate with people. When every interaction is recorded on such a platform, agencies can use it to understand resolution rates, how much time is taken to resolve each complaint, and how effective marketing campaigns are.

Another example is the United Kingdom’s Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, which implemented Salesforce’s Service Cloud to establish a single platform for communicating with people. Since deploying its web chat capability, the agency has seen first-contact resolution rates rise from 76 per cent of phone calls to 91 per cent of interactions. Customer satisfaction levels have also climbed to 90 per cent from 85 per cent previously.

Since the agency has a record of each person’s previous interactions with it, it has been able to reduce the time spent on each case – according to Ng, phone calls have been shortened by five-and-a-half minutes.

It has also used the platform to analyse the quality of social media marketing campaigns on sites such as Twitter and Facebook, and understand what kinds of messages gain traction.

Agencies can also use inbuilt data visualisation tools such as Salesforce’s Tableau to gain deeper insights and understand broader trends. These tools can help their staff to anticipate people’s needs and understand where more critical services are needed.

As part of the Waikato Wellbeing Project initiated by the Waikato Regional Council, the data service team has used Tableau to visualise data collected from a random selection of citizens on their quality of life, covering everything from public transport to health. The visualisation was developed by Upa Paragahawewa and Mubashir Mukhtar at Data n Dashboards.

Personal touch

In addition, a centralised platform can be used to develop personalised services for individuals, no matter how many people an agency serves. In a recent survey of more than 20,000 people spanning 36 countries, Boston Consulting Group found that although people are increasingly turning to digital government services, only 12 per cent of them say that those services are meeting their needs.

Even as agencies target large demographic clusters, it’s important to maintain a personal touch. “When messaging is personalised, agencies can engage with people more fully – but you can’t personalise a printed brochure,” Ng says.

Agencies can create different personas based on demographics and develop appropriate styles of interaction for each one, he says. Providing services for a digital native in their 20s, for instance, is likely to differ from doing so for someone of an advanced age.

With different types of interactions mapped out in advance, agencies can “send and deliver the right message to the right person at the right time,” Ng says. For example, someone who has requested information on a particular service may benefit from a text message encouraging them to sign up for it.

With centralised communication platforms, agencies can not only serve people throughout their journeys, but also raise service levels, understand broader trends, and provide targeted assistance to all.