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New Survey Data Says: In the Age of Digital Interactions, Citizens Expect More from Government Agencies

If you held a funeral for paper checks and fax machines, would anyone shed a tear? For generations raised on computers, digital transactions are the easiest way to get things done. The convenience of smartphones has expanded the digital realm even further.

People who use an app to order a pizza now expect that same level of convenience when they pay their taxes, register a car, or file for unemployment insurance. Citizens who live in a world of always-on, user-friendly technology quickly lose patience when faced with cumbersome interfaces, signs of bureaucracy, or information that’s hard to find.

As a digital interactions company making life easier for our clients’ end users, we think of these new expectations through a framework of three “I’s” — seeing a widespread demand for interactions that are more individual, immediate and intelligent than ever before.

To gain greater insight into what this means for the public sector, we recently commissioned the Center for Digital Government to conduct a national survey asking citizens to share their perspectives on government service delivery. A new report, Innovation, Ease of Use and Trust: Improving the citizen experience with digital government services, combines this research with additional context to illuminate the new demands on governments. This valuable research is available as a free download from Conduent.

With this new survey data in mind, we’ve distilled three of the most powerful trends impacting public services today.

1. Citizens want to interact with their government the way they interact with businesses.

The mobile age has transformed consumer interactions. Want to save money at a store? Check for sales on your smartphone while you shop. Annoyed about a late flight? Complain to your airline with a tweet. Time to pay rent? Send money from your bank account with an app.

Fast, convenient and intuitive services have transformed consumer expectations. A similar trend has led to a reinvention of enterprise software. Some of today’s most popular apps gained users by bringing consumer-like usability to business tools, as highlighted in the Internet Trends Report 2018.1

Now this wave is rolling over the public sector. Customers conditioned to expect consumer-like app experiences for every transaction expect the same from their government services.

The Center for Digital Government survey found that 40% of citizens prefer to do business with state government online, with another 18% preferring phones and 12% preferring email. Respondents also overwhelmingly approve of state governments experimenting with new technologies. It’s time for governments to embrace consumer-friendly apps, if they haven’t already.

2. Citizens really do care about data security.

After the recent wave of high-profile data breaches, surprisingly little evidence has emerged of users abandoning social networks or reducing their digital footprints in a major way. It’s tempting to assume most people simply don’t think much about security and privacy.

When asked, however, citizens say security is among their top considerations when interacting with government online services — second only to ease of use. The CDG survey found 91% of respondents have concerns about submitting personal information to state government websites, and over half say they are concerned that hackers like to target government sites.

Adding to those concerns, a third of citizens say they worry that the government may use their information in ways they don’t agree with.

Public agencies that roll out new digital services need to balance the public’s support for new technologies with today’s very real security threats. And as digital interactions become more prevalent, they face the ongoing challenge of maintaining citizens’ trust.

3. Mobile interactions could deliver dramatic benefits for the citizens who most need government services.

By now virtually everyone has a cell phone, and for 77% of American adults, that means a smartphone. What’s more, personal computer ownership is stagnant or in decline. For many people, smartphones are their primary way to get online.

In particular, low-income citizens, young adults and people of color increasingly depend on smartphones as their main source of online access, according to the latest data from the Pew Research Center.2 

In 2018, the percentage of adults with less than $30,000 in income who own a smartphone but don’t have broadband internet access at home reached a new high of 31%. For comparison, among adults with incomes above $75,000, that rate is only 9%.

When developing new digital services, governments need to consider who uses these services and how they’ll get access. The older generation of websites designed before the rise of smartphones may be insufficient to meet everyone’s needs. Because citizens most in need of government services could also be the ones most likely to connect via smartphone, attention to these questions is vital.

Download the full report.

These are just a few of the key insights from the Center for Digital Government survey conducted on behalf of Conduent. Read the full report now for more insights into how government organizations can improve their citizen interactions.