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How can government serve you better?

25 Nov 2015

We in NSW like to think we’re the most progressive state but I know that you have recently decided to legalise ridesharing here in ACT – that’s a debate we’re still having in NSW.

In fact, one of the things I learned recently about Canberra is that car ownership rates here are higher than in most other states – and based on current population growth rates, another 124,000 cars will be required by 2040.  That’s enough to fill a parking lot the size of the entire Parliamentary triangle.

While there are many benefits of owning a car, one of the pain points is definitely the annual service.

We’ve all been through the hassle.  Dropping off the car early in the morning, having to take public transport, the inconvenience of picking it up later during work hours and then sometimes the additional cost of the repair.

Recently one of my good friends related a story of his experience of getting his car serviced for a CTP check.  And surprisingly it was very positive.

Firstly, he was able to book online and choose a time for the service that suited him. The next day he received a follow up phone call confirming his appointment.

This repair shop also offered 24/7 drop off and pick up, so he could do it outside business hours if he wanted. When he arrived on site, he was then offered a courtesy loan car for the day as a replacement.

But it didn’t stop there.

A few days after the service, he received a letter in the mail from the repair shop. That’s a bit 1990s, but there was a reason. They thanked him for his business, asked him to contact them if he was having any problems and said they hoped he would continue to be a customer of theirs.

But also included in the letter was a lotto scratchie ticket, and this friend – who tells me he had never won anything in his life – scratched it and managed to win a jackpot of a whole $2.  Now he won’t shut up about it.

So why am I telling you this story?  Because this is a great example of a business going above and beyond when it comes to customer service.

Understanding what the pain points are for their customers, making things as easy as possible and delivering a positive experience.

We are all from different backgrounds here today – from government, business and technology. But I’ll bet there is one thing we all have in common – we love great customer service. From buying your coffee in the morning, dropping your kids at daycare or transacting with your bank, a positive experience can quite literally make your day.

Even as we sit here now, millions of people all over the world are expressing their views on Facebook and Twitter about a customer service experience they’ve had – both positive and negative.  A positive experience can make a world of difference. And as many business owners would know, a negative customer review can have serious impacts to the bottom line.

But I’m sure not many of us here in this room have ever been surprised or delighted by service from government departments.

People interact with the brands they like mainly because they have positive experiences. People interact with government mainly because they have no other choice.

But simply because there is no is alternative that doesn’t mean government shouldn’t take the opportunity to provide positive customer service. As taxpayers, we are all customers and deserve no less. Government may not have a profit motive, but it certainly has a service motive.

In my short experience of government so far, one of the biggest barriers that I have seen to offering that kind of experience are the silos that exist in government.

Today we are at a technology conference, so no doubt many people here would point to technology as the solution for breaking down silos.

Over the past few days you will have heard speeches on disruption, on the power of the cloud and on big data. Make no mistake – these are all important things. But technology is not an outcome. It is simply a vehicle to take us to where we want to go.

The real way to change government is to start by asking the right questions.

So today I want to share with you what I think the most important question is that politicians and public servants should asking each and every day – and how we have used that question to drive change in NSW.

The Service NSW Story

In 2011, when interacting and transacting with government our citizens in NSW had to navigate a network of over 100 call centres, 400 physical shopfronts, 1000 websites and over 8000 phone numbers.

Services were siloed away in agencies, with each agency specifically dealing with their own transactions and functions.

If you wanted to renew your driver’s licence, you had to go to Motor Registry.

If you wanted a copy of your birth certificate, you had to go to Births, Deaths and Marriages.

If you wanted to apply for a Builder’s Permit, you had to go to a Fair Trading Office

To get anything done meant visiting a variety of government departments that never seemed to talk to each other or know what the others were doing.

This was hardly a unique situation. In fact, the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi once remarked that in his country “each government department seems to be a government unto itself.”

This is not to mention the overly bureaucratic processes – the endless queues, the paperwork, the fax machines and paper forms and the nine to five operating hours that inconvenience pretty much everybody.

This was a system built around what was best for us in government, not built around what was best for our citizens.

So with the guidance of our Customer Service Commissioner Mike Pratt, we asked ourselves and our citizens one simple question.

The question was not about technology. It was a question about people.  And it was simply this: “How can government serve you better?”

This one simple question has been the driving force for a series of reforms in NSW that have completely changed the way we serve our customers – the citizens of our state.

We listened to the answers to that question and built a solution around it.

In 2013 we launched Service NSW – an organisation with a customer centric DNA.

The team took more than 800 transactions from 15 agencies and put them all in one place, with one digital service, one phone number and one shop front.

This includes delivering services as diverse as driver’s testing to positive parenting, and from registering a car to getting a working with children’s check.  It is the full suite of life events – all under the one roof – and moving more digital by the day.

Our one-stop-shops have completely changed the way we approach customer service.

For a start, many of them are open between 7am and 7pm – not just 9 to 5 – because we recognise people have to go to work.

They have an average wait time of under 7 minutes, so you can be in and out the door quickly.

In fact, I can personally monitor the waiting time at any service centre in NSW via a screen in my office.

And to date Service NSW has served nearly 7 million customers.

One of the most important achievements is that instead of travelling all around the state to do different things, Service NSW has expanded access to more services for more people in more locations.

For example, we used to have 4 Birth, Deaths and Marriages Office, 24 Fair Trading offices and 3 Multicultural NSW sites scattered across NSW – now the majority of these services are available at all 50 Service centres across the state.

We have also improved processes, and let me give you an example: to obtain a Seniors Card in NSW involved a process that used to take you 8 days. It now takes 3 minutes online.

We also knew that Australians love digital services – we currently have one of the highest smartphone adoption rates in the world ahead of even the US and the UK.

In fact, the Australian Mobile Phone Lifestyle Index notes that back in 2005, 7 in every 10 of Australians used their mobile phones solely for the purpose for voice and SMS.

By 2014, under 10 years, this had reduced to just 1 in 10, which tells us people are using their phones today for a whole lot more.

And that’s why it was important for us to invest in getting the digital experience right.

Overall, the Service NSW online experience is something has been increasing rapidly.

It in the first 18 months we had 10 million page views on our website. The next 10 million only took us 6 months. And the next 10 million after that only took us 5

We’ve also seen the use of digital self service in our service centres increase by a factor of ten over the past year alone and downloads of our mobile app are also on the rise.

Payments is another area that we are reforming, with Service NSW aiming to be amongst the first government agencies in Australia to accept newer payment systems, such as PayPal, Master Pass, Visa Checkout and Apple Pay.

Our whole of government payments platform is currently under construction and when complete, will be made available to all other agencies as a service, reducing multiple payment systems and streamlining the collection of money to cut down further bureaucratic red tape.

Over-the-counter payments such as cash, cheque or cards will continue to be supported, along with emerging forms of payment such as tap and go.

While technology – and cloud technology – has been an important factor in the Service NSW story, ultimately our success comes down to our people and culture.

Over 90% of Service NSW staff work in the front line serving customers.

The majority of our staff come from existing government agencies, just proving that when you empower people with the right tools and processes, they will respond.

For example, over 250 ideas have been implemented over the past year from staff sharing their ideas. This is done through a program called ‘The Circle of Service’ and I’ve heard first hand from staff how much they appreciate having buy in to an organisation, something which they did not have in their previous roles in the public service.

In fact, just a few weeks ago while officially opening the Service NSW centre in eastern sydney, I met Chen.

Chen was so impressed by the service she received when renewing her licence, that she actually applied for a job and now works for Service NSW.

Service NSW is a concrete example of what we have done to answer that question of how can the government serve you better.

But our journey does not stop there.

The next stage of the Service NSW story will focus on the personalisation of government services and there are two ways that we are planning to do this.

MyServiceNSW Account

The first is to replicate the offline experience in the online world – by having everything in one place.

Earlier this year, we announced that our citizens would have access to their own personalised account for interacting with government online.

The MyServiceNSW account will be the single profile for online services and transactions.

Whether it’s updating your drivers licence, paying a fine, administering your toll tags – customers will be able to link their account to multiple NSW Government agencies for a range of different transactions.

We want our citizens to have a similar experience to online banking – they can log in and all their products and services are available on the one screen.

We also want citizens to be able to tell us once and then re-use those details multiple times across different departments.

This will eventually eliminate the need for separate accounts for different NSW Government agencies and is another important step in breaking down those silos that exist across government.

A beta version of the MyAccount functionality is currently available on our website, but a fully featured model will be released by March next year.

Digital Licenses

The second area where we are making things better for our citizens is in the area of digital licences.

Each year in NSW we issue more than 23 million licences, including 2.8 million plastic cards,  covering more than 750 different licence types.

Currently it’s common place for our citizens to have multiple government cards in their wallets – from drivers licences, fishing licences or competency cards.

All these different cards have different applications, renewals and expiration processes, with many requiring a new photo each time they’re renewed. No wonder so many people dread getting a new licence.

Once again, this is a process built around what makes thing easier for government, not citizens.

As we announced in the election campaign this year, the NSW Government is committed to developing digital licences for those who want them.

And I should just stress that point – this is a matter of choice for people who want to take up this option.

This will go well beyond just displaying an image of a licence on smartphone.

In an Australian first, our citizens will be able to display, apply for, receive, update and renew their licences using using a secure app on their smarpthone and eliminating the need for a physical card. This will allow us to provide real time information on various licence types and as well push renewal reminders before expiry.

It will also have licence verification capabilities that draw on the most up-to-date information available, which will significantly reduce the likelihood of fraud or misuse. All licence information will have a commercial level of encryption, similar to that of online banking.

This platform will work across web and mobile systems, providing our citizens with a single digital wallet where multiple licences can be stored.

Digital licences will be available on an opt in basis and customers will be able to choose to get their licence digitally, as a card, or in both forms.

The first licences migrating to the new platform will be the Recreational Fishing Licence, the Responsible Service of Alcohol Card, and the Responsible Conduct of Gambling Competency Cards, all of which will be available as a NSW Digital Licence by mid next year.

These licences will significantly improve the customer experience. For example, it currently takes 3 weeks to obtain a recreational fishing permit after you have applied, but with a digital system, this will be available instantly.

We’ll be looking to add another five licences by 2017, with more being progressively added over the coming years.

We have set a target for the team to have the most popular licence type, the driver’s licence, available in digital format from 2018.

Digital licences will be a game changer for customers and will require ongoing transformation in the way that government operates


Ladies and Gentlemen, our technology achievements are laying the foundation for the future.

But one of the statistics I’m most proud of has nothing to do with technology.

After every transaction at Service NSW, people are asked to rate their experience. Today we are currently running with a 98% customer satisfaction rating.

That means the vast majority of people are leaving our centres happy with the experience they have had dealing with government.

Of course, there will always be things that go wrong and despite our best efforts, some people will have negative experiences.

That is why this statistic is not a cause for complacency, but a constant reminder that we need to do better.

As I visit the Service centres in NSW, I think this is a message that is being lived and breathed by our staff.

One of my agencies received a letter in late October that I want to share with you about a customer who was having trouble with her CTP insurer and so had issues getting her car registered:

“I would like to inform you of the outstanding customer service I received from Patricia at the Service NSW centre.

I can’t honestly express how appreciative I am that due to her persistence … going above and beyond by giving me her direct email address and also transferring me to the correct departments … the car is finally registered.  I no longer have to wake my babies at 11pm to go pick up my husband from work as he now has a registered car to drive.

Patricia’s compassion and understanding really warmed my heart and it really made my difficult day much easier to bear.”

That is an example of what I call fantastic customer service.

What I like about it most is that because Patricia went above and beyond, this family was spared a real inconvenience that occurred every day – waking up the children at 11pm to pick up her husband is now a thing of the past.

It’s all the more meaningful because as we know, people are much more likely to provide feedback on bad experiences than good ones. And this customer was so moved she took the time and trouble to write in.

In fact, I called Patricia yesterday to acknowledge her great work and I asked her what she felt like when she receive the feedback.

She told me that the fact someone took the time to write in made her day as well – but in reality she said, this is what her job is – making things easier for other people.

This is the kind of service experience that is happening more often in NSW.

Each and every day, we are receiving numerous letters, emails, tweets and phone calls  saying very much the same things.

I am positive and hopeful that we can continue this great work.

Ladies and gentlemen, I encourage you all here today, as you go through your day to day work of improving people’s lives through technology, to ask that very same question: how can government serve you better?

I am confident that question – and the answers it generates – will point you in the right direction.

This is the transcript of an address given to the 4th Annual GovInnovate Summit on 25 November 2015 at the National Convention Centre, Canberra

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