In typical customer service interactions, unhappy customers with unresolved issues can—and often do—take their business elsewhere. That’s not really an option when people are unsatisfied with the outcomes of their interactions with their local, state, or federal governments. After all, it’s not like they can get police protection, public library services, or income tax refunds from another provider.
But sadly, too many Americans are unsatisfied with their government customer service interactions. In the latest Government Contact Center Satisfaction Index, an annual undertaking of the CFI Group, citizens rated their satisfaction with government contact centers at a modest 67 on a 100-point scale. Despite recent efforts—and even a few federal mandates—to improve customer service, the score was unchanged from last year.
Among the main reasons for the lackluster results was the poor performance and widespread ineffectiveness of most interactive voice response (IVR) systems, CFI found.
More than half of all respondents who reached government IVRs immediately tried to exit the automated systems and speak with live agents. Of those who encountered IVRs, 50 percent rated their experiences with the systems much lower than any other aspect of their interactions. Even worse, only 4 percent of respondents who dealt with the IVRs said the systems provided them with the information they needed without having to speak to a representative.
Sheri Petras, CEO of CFI, points out that for most Americans, government IVR systems are seen more as a “barrier to information rather than [as] a helpful resource.”
They’re also inevitable, according to CFI’s research. On average, 62 percent of people who called government contact centers got an IVR, while just 38 percent spoke to live agents.
While a complete phase-out of automated answering systems would be impractical, there are several ways public-sector agencies can enhance the efficiency of their IVRs and reduce the burden for citizens. Improving the clarity of the menu options, providing a clear path to live agents, and offering a call-back feature to avoid excessive hold times are all options many private-sector companies have adopted to eliminate frustration for callers, according to Petras.
Abby Herriman, chief strategy officer at HighPoint Global, an Indianapolis-based contact center optimization services provider to government agencies, has recently seen a push for better IVR technology in the public sector. “There’s money being invested in customer service, upgrading IVRs, adding natural language, and improving call flows,” she says.
NEED FOR BETTER FCR
The government also needs to increase first-contact resolution (FCR) rates, another contributor to its low customer satisfaction scores. The CFI index noted that just 47 percent of all issues presented to government contact centers were resolved on the first attempt, at least 11 percent lower than in the private sector.
Additionally, 19 percent of all issues required two calls, and 23 percent required three or more attempts. Eleven percent of all people never got their issues resolved at all.
Illustrating the importance of FCR, the satisfaction score among those who resolved their issues with just a single call was a very healthy 79, but it fell into the 60s when multiple contacts were required; it plummeted to 29 for those who never attained resolution.
That’s a dangerous trend for the government, according to Herriman. “Often, the folks most in need of service are the most likely to disengage,” she says. “If they can’t get access to the services they need, or if the service is so bad, they just disengage completely.”
Among the worst offenders is the Internal Revenue Service, according to Herriman. The IRS, she says, was able to answer only about 40 percent of calls coming in at tax time.
Other agencies have much better track records. Among them are the Post Office, the Social Security Administration, the U.S. Department of Education, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, and the National Parks Service, Herriman maintains.
David Trzupek, director of CRM solutions at eLoyalty, a division of TeleTech, also singles out the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Department of Labor, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as providers of good customer service.
Another example is the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which last year rolled out the Consumer Help Center to replace a 15-year-old on-premises legacy consumer complaints system and 18 outdated complaint forms.
Original plans called for the FCC to build its own on-premises system at a price tag near $3.2 million, with a timeline of up to two years. Then Dustin Laun, an independent contractor hired as the FCC’s senior adviser of innovation and technology, suggested using Zendesk’s customer service platform to build the Consumer Help Center and to provide ticketing support via email and Web form. At an 85 percent savings to taxpayers, Zendesk took just six months to implement.