This morning I joined a webinar on Public Sector Chatbots which highlighted the awkwardness of the relationship between the “Free” (there’s really no such thing) Market and the Public Sector. The speaker began by confidently talking about “improving customer experience” in the public sector, and I realised pretty soon, I already had a completely different viewpoint.
The ‘customer’ is seeking value based on price, quality, availability, and other intangibles in order to conduct a transaction. The ‘citizen’ is part of a wider social contract between the public and publicly funded services. The citizen pays taxes to fund those services and abides by laws, in return for the protection under those same laws and regulations, and free access (at point of delivery) to services offered to the citizen for her/his health and betterment.
The Conversation Consultancy is happy to work with people-first companies looking to improve “Customer Experience”, but we’re primarily interested in matching improvements in “Citizen Experience” with improvements in Public sector responsiveness, efficiency and productivity that can result from intelligent use of automation.
Boris Johnson’s Government has an uneasy relationship with the Public Sector. Heavily stocked with ideologues to whom a successful Public Sector is a backwards step by definition, and led by a PM who spurned the opportunity (offered by the breach of the “Red Wall” of Northern traditionally Labour constituencies) to reinvigorate the Public Sector with a modernised “One Nation” approach, the Public Sector is awkwardly more important than ever, for one simple reason. Covid. With the UK private sector reeling, the Public Sector’s third of the economy is more important than ever.
In other words, the People are depending on the Public Sector at the same time as ideologues wish to gut it.
As to who will win that tug-of-war, the answer is the voter. Slashing already weakened safety nets during a Pandemic is a bad idea. The question is, whether the government can find ways to boost the Public Sector without spending more. Even at a time of record low borrowing rates, that old ideology refuses to flame out.
I would suggest the Government take a good look at Conversational Technology, and in particular Empathic Technology, as the centrepiece of a UK V2.0 digital transformation. The Conversational Consultancy can advise on creating and implementing single or multi-app strategies, with effective formats, with the aim of creating a stronger bond between citizen and public Sector. At a time of dangerously diminished trust between citizens and government, users could really benefit from empathic and personalised digital conversations, that make users feel like connected citizens with individual needs rather than pods with a number.
These Conversational Strategies include a “Vanguard App” that can be built and deployed in six months to lead the strategy and get something done. But most importantly, they are a win-win for both sides of the conversation. Users get more engaging and informative interfaces to the Public Sector while the Government side gets efficiencies and productivity improvements that could help the Public Sector save real money. Something for everyone to like, without anyone losing out.
Can the Government rely on Conversational Technology to continue under-funding Public Services? Of course not. Conversational Tech can only do so much in terms of efficiency and productivity improvements. But it’s not window-dressing either, because the Government’s trust deficit is unlikely to be erased by money alone. To rebuild trust takes better communication. And Chatbots built with empathy can connect with users in ways that can make the Public Sector more responsive to its Public.