10/29/2014 04:37 pm ET Updated Dec 29, 2014

Keeping the Citizen's Journey at the Forefront of Government Services

Every interaction that a citizen has with their government is a journey--and every touch point along the way serves as an opportunity for government to improve its relationship with citizens.

As citizens encounter different life events, the need may arise for them to seek government services, such as a college student applying for Federal Student Aid, newlyweds filing joint taxes with the Internal Revenue Service, or a military veteran seeking benefits from the Veterans Administration.

The success of each of these interactions is ultimately defined by its outcome, be it a financial aid package, a federal tax refund, or a Social Security check. Yet the experience of receiving these benefits can vary wildly. To ensure these experiences meet the expectations of citizens, government and industry are jointly focused on improving the Citizen Journey.

To drive this renewed effort around the importance of the Citizen Journey, President Barack Obama issued an executive order in 2011 requiring federal agencies to improve customer service for citizens. This goal was refreshed in the President's FY 2015 Management Agenda, which focused on four themes: effectiveness, efficiency, economic drivers, and people and culture. The President included a directive for a 21st century government, emphasizing the creation of government-industry partnerships and government-citizen interactions that improve service delivery. Now, as we move into the Affordable Care Act's second open enrollment period, a successful Citizen Journey is more critical than ever.

The memory of's bumpy rollout during last year's open enrollment period is still fresh in our minds as a tough lesson on the importance of meeting consumers' needs and expectations - citizens must have reliable, accurate and effective methods for seeking critical government benefits such as health insurance. One of the greatest takeaways from the rollout is that while technology is an effective tool and enabler for the Citizen Journey, it is not a silver bullet. A technology-first approach has become modus operandi for addressing nearly every citizen service problem, however it should actually be seen as an enabler, rather than a replacement for human interaction. It's human nature for us to want to speak with someone when we have a problem, when presented with complex or seemingly ambiguous information, or when technology fails. The value of human interaction on the Citizen Journey cannot be understated. This human touch must be coupled with better-designed, restructured and more efficient business processes. The glue that holds all of this together is strong government leadership and an effective collaboration with private industry.

In the wake of President Obama's call for change, agencies such as the General Service Administration (GSA), Department of Veterans Affairs, Internal Revenue Service and Social Security Administration (SSA) have stood up offices and initiatives with the mission of providing more effective and easier-to-access information for citizens. We have already seen the promising start of an openness and willingness for the government to solicit, listen to, and incorporate feedback from citizens on their engagement experience. We're also seeing government agencies partner with the private sector to learn and leverage customer service strategies they've successfully implemented. Lastly, as these forward-looking leaders embrace the importance of the Citizen Journey, we know more agencies will soon follow in their footsteps.

In addition to the recent formation of 18F by the GSA to focus on "user-centric digital services", another agency that has taken the lead on enhancing the citizen journey is the SSA, with their Digital Government Strategy (DGS). Recognizing citizens' desire to access government services "anywhere, anytime, on any device", the SSA created and launched its first mobile application and added a mobile-optimized version of their website. We expect that this is the first of many initiatives focused on serving citizens through their preferred delivery channels.

By working alongside the government and by keeping the Citizen Journey at the forefront of all interactions and service delivery, we have the opportunity to improve every citizen's government experience, and effect a fundamental shift in the way people can and will access government services. In the past, many government agencies have used a one-size-fits-all approach when interacting with citizens, but we are now at the start of a major transformation in which government works together with citizens to improve the way services are delivered.