Building Trust with Citizens Through Better CX

Local Municipalities Must Learn from Their Commercial Counterparts

CX for local governments

Local governments have been tasked with managing more services and information than ever before, while also being subject to increased scrutiny by watchdog groups and regular citizens. Amid this increased scrutiny, a Deloitte survey published in March 2021 found that only 26% of respondents rated their local governments as trustworthy (with trust being calculated as the percentage of respondents who responded 8, 9, or 10 on a 10-point scale).

A low level of trust in government agencies and services can also impact those agencies’ ability to fulfill their mission, and can negatively impact a city, town, or community’s reputation as a good place to live or work. To reverse this trend, local governments must increase the efficiency and effectiveness of their governance, and to communicate those changes and improvements to their communities. At the heart of this approach is taking a customer-centric approach to providing information and services.

Focus on Citizens, Not Government

Ultimately, government services are designed for the people who live and work in the municipality. As other organizations have learned, processes and interactions should be designed so that friction is minimized, with as much efficiency as possible. This may require a significant overhaul of various back-end systems and processes, such as making municipal regulations, bylaws, and other pertinent data available digitally. It may also require revamping the way and frequency with which information is provided to the public, often by embracing digital channels such as YouTube, Twitter, or other social media, as these sites increasingly are the first destinations for news and information.

Most importantly, municipal governments need to reframe how they deal with their residents, in terms of staff interactions. This can be addressed through training to take a more customer-centric approach in terms of increased responsiveness to inquiries, providing status updates of outstanding items, and by closing the loop on specific complaints or issues.

Workers can be aided by deploying a journey mapping solution, which captures information about each constituent or citizen who interacts with the government. By tracking their interactions, more personalized interactions can be supported, such as understanding the contractor who often does work in town, and is constantly pulling permits, or the new homeowner who needs a variety of information, from property tax data, to school registration details, and other municipal services. Capturing this information can make it easier for workers to provide relevant or related information to the constituent, based on their unique situation.

Capture Feedback

B2C and B2B companies in the private sector have realized the value in capturing feedback immediately after each interaction with a customer, as well as periodically throughout the year, to further understand customers’ needs, perception, and issues with an organization. The same approach should be taken by local governments, which often have a far greater impact on peoples’ daily lives, compared with the federal government.

Local governments should set up community sites, which can capture further feedback and sentiment that can be used to identify gaps in service, as well as “take the pulse” of residents or workers in the community, without the filters often imposed by conducting a specific survey.

Increase Employee Engagement

Municipal government employees are often the only face of government for citizens. More engaged workers tend to work better and provide better services to citizens, improving CX and thereby increasing public trust. Aligning employee skills with the government’s mission can also make a huge impact on employee engagement and public trust.

Local government agencies should provide employees the specific training and tools to improve CX, including customer segmentation, journey mapping, human-centered service design, and personalization to improve employee engagement. This approach lets employees see what matters to customers and, therefore, ways to improve the customer experience and public trust.

Build Trust Through Accountability, Transparency, and Empathy

Trust is essential to successful government as it provides the necessary foundation for effective policymaking, community safety, and the success of public health responses. Any breakdown in trust can impact constituent services, and make governing more difficult. Local government leaders must identify trust gaps and enact measures to improve their transparency and accountability.

Trust is ultimately based around citizens’ belief about a government’s competence and intent. But transparency, with respect to the processes and decisions made by the government, can help local officials show that they have the best interests of their constituents in mind. Further, transparency can alleviate concerns about controversial decisions, such as the bidding processes used to award government contracts, or changes to the town or village code.

Meanwhile, accountability is rooted in the willingness for government officials to acknowledge when mistakes are made, and then detail the steps that will be taken to remedy the situation or prevent a similar situation from occurring again.

Trust in government is also built through the repeated successful interactions between constituents and a government agency. Empathy can be demonstrated by training workers to not only express compassion with the person or situation via their words, e.g., “I’m sorry this permit process is so difficult,” but to also solicit the person’s thoughts or ideas on how the process might be improved (and then ensuring the feedback is captured and analyzed). This demonstrates that the government agency is truly trying to make processes easier, rather than harder, and is listening to its constituents.

Spread the Word

Government agencies, whether local, regional, or federal, are often ridiculed for being slow, inefficient, tone-deaf, and ineffective. But when something goes right, it makes sense to let constituents know about the success story, which can counteract the negative stereotypes about government ineffectiveness. Using social media, traditional media, and even advertising to spread the word about local government working well with its constituents can engender greater trust and improve the reputation of a municipality as a good place to live and work.  

Author Information

Keith has over 25 years of experience in research, marketing, and consulting-based fields.

He has authored in-depth reports and market forecast studies covering artificial intelligence, biometrics, data analytics, robotics, high performance computing, and quantum computing, with a specific focus on the use of these technologies within large enterprise organizations and SMBs. He has also established strong working relationships with the international technology vendor community and is a frequent speaker at industry conferences and events.

In his career as a financial and technology journalist he has written for national and trade publications, including BusinessWeek,, Investment Dealers’ Digest, The Red Herring, The Communications of the ACM, and Mobile Computing & Communications, among others.

He is a member of the Association of Independent Information Professionals (AIIP).

Keith holds dual Bachelor of Arts degrees in Magazine Journalism and Sociology from Syracuse University.


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