The Call to Improve Customer Experience in Government Is Coming from Within the Building

Like a bad horror movie where the heroine realizes that the call is coming from somewhere within the house, the call for innovation in customer experience is coming from an unsuspected source within Town and City Hall.

The formerly conservative and paper-bound permitting, licensing, and code enforcement functions are now driving the action. The sense of urgency around improving workflows to serve customers is higher for these functions amidst COVID, and they are leading their local governments in adopting a customer experience mindset.

On the second day of OpenGov Transform 2020 the spectre of change raised four lessons for meeting the evolving needs of stakeholders and the community with permitting, licensing, and code enforcement workflows that are virtual, elegant, and efficient.


1. COVID-19 is accelerating a virtual reality for permitting, licensing, and code enforcement

Fall, COVID-19, and change are in the air, creating a potent mix. Pumpkin spice latte? Check. Face mask? Check. Workflow technology to keep your government open for business and improve customer experience? Check?

Three long-time OpenGov customers and innovation leaders shared thoughts and ideas about deploying virtual inspections and permitting and digital plan reviews. All three are seeing revenues and service levels rising, and they are building new virtual inspection types that will last beyond the pandemic era.

“The pandemic has driven real change with the way our employees work and in the things our customers expect,” explains Tim Monea, Chief Building Official for Wooster, OH. “We use OpenGov + Zoom for electrical, re-inspections, and some commercial inspections, and we are expanding the number of inspections we are doing virtually,” he continues.

Lori Fox, CIO for South Kingstown, RI and Bharat Gami, Chief Building Official for Stamford CT noted that in addition to virtual inspections, moving to fully-digital plan reviews is lowering costs and reducing timelines for applicants. None are seeing any signs of diminished quality of inspections; in fact, Wooster, OH inspectors are spending more time on critical steps like code reviews.

Watch: Virtual Is Reality: How COVID-19 Is Transforming Inspections and Planning
Featuring: Tim Monea, Head of Building Services, Wooster, OH; Bharat Gami, Chief Building Official, Stamford, CT; and Lori Ann Fox, IT Director, South Kingstown, RI


2. Customer experience is the new customer service

“Customer experience is the sum total of every contact that a customer has with your organization, from billing statements that are accurate and clear… to online experiences,” explains Amy Pressman, Co-Founder of Medallia and OpenGov board member. It follows that local governments need to think about all the ways they serve constituents and how to improve those experiences.

As governments move more of their services online, approaching this task with a focus on customer experience is key. “It’s not enough to put up a website, you have to make it simple to navigate and simple for helping people complete tasks,” Pressman adds.

“CARES Act funding is really enabling this for our customers, to help them set up permit types using a fully digital experience,” describes Angela Langston, SVP of Professional Services for OpenGov.

There is no time like the pandemic to commit your government to customer experience.

Watch: A New Customer Experience Mandate for Local Government
Featuring: Amy Pressman, Co-Founder of Medallia and OpenGov Board Member; Angela Langston, Senior Vice President of Professional Services for OpenGov


3. Show your work to build alignment and share economic development impact

Grantmaking in St. Petersburg, FL was just as much an ambulatory undertaking as a manual process — with team members walking documents to different buildings as part of their workflow. End-to-end it took roughly six weeks for a grant recipient to receive a check.


“Everything that makes a process harder [for our businesses and residents] turns into a criticism of the overarching program.”
Jessica Eilerman, Small Business Liaison, City of St. Petersburg, FL


By transforming their existing processes with concurrent workflows and sharing metrics in ways that everyone can understand, St. Petersburg is actually building trust with residents and Council, and getting checks out the door in days instead of weeks.

In the vein of trust-building, Gilpin County, CO has truly made virtual experiences engaging. Using a unique engagement methodology with online surveys and forums, the County is collecting public input into its comprehensive plan and reopening plans, reaching a nearly 20% engagement level. For its innovative approach, Gilpin County was recently named a Government Experience Award winner (2020) by the Center for Digital Government.

Watch: Show Your Work: Build Alignment and Share Economic Development Impact
Featuring: Jessica Eilerman, Small Business Liaison, St. Petersburg, FL; Jaime Tirado, Business Analyst, Gilpin County, CO


4. Do more together by finding efficiencies with a single solution and approach

There are different approaches to adopting a better, shared model for improving customer experience across your government’s departments.

One recommendation, from Luke Rainey, Deputy City Manager for Desert Hot Springs, CA is to start with a single process that is widely viewed as lagging and make that better first. “We replaced a solution that was administratively problematic… and we adopted one that helped us meet an array of needs easily,” he adds, including cannabis licensing.

Also, creating better workflows across departments frees teams up to focus on incremental process improvements that result in better customer experiences. Dan Ralley, City Manager for Upper Arlington, OH shares how internal process improvements are resulting in external efficiencies and better experiences for their community.

Sometimes the need for change comes from above. A law was passed in the State of RI instructing their 39 different municipalities (instead of counties), which were using 39 different forms for building permits, to get onto an electronic system. “For us, it was a desire to connect municipalities to the state government to process permits if they require state approval, seamlessly… and next we are expanding it to our clerks’ offices,” describes Elizabeth Tanner, Director, Department of Business Regulation for the State Rhode Island.

Watch: Do More Together: Finding Efficiencies with a Single Solution
Featuring: Dan Ralley, Assistant City Manager, Upper Arlington, OH; Luke Rainey, Deputy City Manager, Desert Hot Springs, CA ; Elizabeth Tanner, Director, Department of Business Regulation, State Rhode Island


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