Think back to the last question you had related to a public agency.
How do I file for disability?
When does my driving license expire?
Can I apply for a PPP loan?
To find answers to questions like these, you have a lot of different research options. You could use a search engine like Google or a Q&A site like Quora. You could ask a family member for advice or search through third-party blogs. Or you could go directly to the authority in charge: Social Security for disability applications, your local DMV for license queries, and the Small Business Administration for pandemic support.
Although you have lots of options, not all are created equal.
People trust answers from public bodies far more than search engines or third-party blogs. Our new survey shows that 81% of people are likely to trust answers from a governmental site. Compare that to the 63% of people who are likely to trust results from search engines and 25% who trust third-party blogs.
The gulf widens when you look at the strength of trust, too. Search engines (25%) and third-party blogs (6%) lag well behind public agencies (41%) when it comes to sources people are very likely to trust.
But there's a disconnect between confidence and delivery.
Although people trust information and answers from government bodies, often their websites stand in the way. We've covered how siloed systems and inaccessible portals lock away information. For example, guidance on tax filing extensions exists on the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) website, but the search "how do I request an extension for filing my taxes?" returns no results.
This is incredibly frustrating. People want answers and the answers are there. But there's no way to put them together. While I don't want to underestimate the challenge—connecting the dots to extract accurate information from large, legacy databases is a monumental challenge — it can be done.
Proven technology. New application
For years, the private sector has enjoyed the benefits of search innovation and invention. For example, search engines like Google leverage artificial intelligence-powered searches to deliver fast, accurate answers to natural language questions. A search for "best 24-hour gyms near me" delivers a smorgasbord of highly rated gyms, health clubs, and studios in the local area. It's fast, efficient, and accurate. There is absolutely no reason why public bodies can't adopt AI search for their own websites.
We've previously predicted what enhanced search could look like at large, legacy agencies. Consider the IRS, which still uses a legacy search system. If the tax agency used AI-powered search, user queries would receive real answers, not blank pages.
- **How do I get a new refund check? "**Call us at 800-829-1954 (toll-free) and either use the automated system or speak with an agent."
- Can I request an extension on my taxes? "You can file an extension for your taxes by submitting Form 4868 with the IRS online or by mail."
- How quickly will I get my refund? "We issue most refunds in less than 21 calendar days."
This technology isn't new and untested. Private sector companies have been using it for years. It feels that we're at an inflection point for the public sector. If federal, state, and local bodies don't innovate, they risk creating a flywheel driving negative outcomes.
If people fail to find what they need when searching on a government website, they typically choose a more cost-intensive way of contacting that institution. The difference between self-service and agent-driven interactions is immense. The IRS estimated that support calls to public bodies cost up to $60 per incident—272 times more than self-service.
With higher opex costs, greater demands on employees, and worsening customer experience, the flywheel will turn and turn, locking organizations into a downward spiral. The alternative is to set the flywheel spinning in a positive direction.
Across the board, people want to handle things themselves. Our survey shows that three-quarters of people want to find their own information when they have a question for a civil or government body. Indeed, the desire to self-serve public sector queries is 20% higher than normal. And although search engines (28%) and governmental sites (23%) were evenly matched first ports of call for research, respondents claimed they would default to the latter if they knew they could find information.
This is a monumental opportunity for the public sector. If governmental agencies can consistently deliver reliable answers, it will build trust, reduce spending, and improve customer experience. We're on the threshold of a new era of empowered citizenry and public institutions.
Learn more here.