Building Better Digital Experiences in the Public Sector

How to help citizens find what they need with Yext.

By Yext

Dec 15, 2023

8 min
Building Better Digital Experiences in the Public Sector: How to Help Citizens Find What They Need with Yext

Providing better and more equitable access to government services has long been a goal of public sector organizations at the federal, state, and local levels. Now, government agencies finally have access to the tools they need to make this goal a reality: the growth of artificial intelligence, natural language processing (NLP), and other innovative technologies can help agencies deliver accurate information to everyone, regardless of race, language, physical ability, or broadband internet access.

But there's still much work to be done. Many organizations are continually plagued by what legal scholar Cass Sunstein calls "sludge": the bureaucratic red tape that keeps them from being able to advance their digital services objectives. Sludge happens when agencies attempt to modernize legacy technology systems, migrate from old to new websites, and engage in other important (yet daunting) initiatives to improve their digital service delivery.

A 2021 survey from Deloitte revealed that delivering a great digital experience is a core element for providing equitable access and building trust with constituents. Per Deloitte, "digital services make distant services more proximate, creating a direct interaction." Services that are easy to use and allow citizens to quickly find information cultivate trust and satisfaction.

At Yext, we believe there are several ways your agency can build a great and complete digital citizen experience. It starts with helping citizens find what they need, enabling equitable self-service, answering their questions succinctly and accurately, and listening to citizen feedback.

Let's look at the different ways Yext can help you accomplish all of these things.

1. Helping citizens find what they need

Not so long ago, people would lug out their copies of the Yellow Pages to flip through until they found the contact information for their local DMV, post office, or other government offices.

Then Google came along and made local search much easier. But not everyone uses Google all the time to search for local listings. A citizen might happen to be looking for answers on Facebook, Yelp, or any of hundreds of other websites with a search bar. Your agency needs to be able to connect with those citizens – wherever they're searching.

What's more, the information those citizens receive must be 100 percent accurate and up-to-date. One wrong address or phone number can risk eroding that crucial trust you're striving to build.

For instance, imagine someone Googles "find a post office near me." They drive all the way to the post office – only to realize that location doesn't offer the exact service they were looking for. Missing or inaccurate information can make it more complicated for citizens to find what they need.

This is why we created Listings. With the help of Yext, the search for a post office would have turned up both locations and what services are provided at each one. Listings is powered by a network of more than 200 directly integrated publishers, large and small, all serving to get your agency's information to your users. Your organization's data, including phone numbers, website URLs, and addresses, are immediately pushed out to the network and show up consistently and accurately across hundreds of sites, so citizens can reach you from wherever they are.

2. Enabling equitable self-service

Although government agencies rallied to make digital services more accessible during the COVID-19 pandemic, many services must still be completed in person. For example, many states require citizens applying for welfare benefits to appear in person at their local Department of Social Services office. However, citizens could have simple questions like how to apply, or where is the nearest office. In some cases, their state may allow online applications, but, with unclear instructions, people are left with questions about how to fill out the necessary forms.

Citizens may call their agencies for answers to their questions, but this route can still pose difficulties. Call center representatives may not always have the answers available or could find it difficult to understand the caller if there is a language barrier. Some people may not have the ability to call in at all.

Creating an equitable self-service experience helps circumvent these challenges. There are a few ways to do this:

  • Online search tools that understand natural language that make it easy for citizens to find answers in any language. A user who navigates to your agency's website can type a query into a search bar, no matter its complexity, and receive immediate and accurate answers. For example, a person typing "How can I apply for unemployment benefits?" will receive a succinct answer, plus links to relevant forms and resources. Complementing the tool with voice search capabilities makes it easier for people with varying visual abilities to get the answers they need.

  • Interactive voice response solutions that provide immediate and correct responses to callers' questions. Citizens can ask their questions to be processed through natural language and receive information verbally instead of going through an automated voice system phone tree and ultimately being put through to a call center representative. This is a great option for individuals with limited internet access and is great for alleviating call center volume so that representatives can focus on other tasks requiring human interaction.

  • Responsive agent desktop software that provides call center representatives with immediate answers to citizens' questions. Representatives can leverage an intelligent internal search tool to access accurate information. This allows people who may not have online access to call in and still get rapid and accurate responses and makes it easier for the representative to get the information to the citizen in seconds.

  • Conversational AI chat that creates a dialogue with citizens. Chat interfaces like Yext's delineate meaning from a person's query to give them a response based on intent, not keywords. Yext Chat derives its ability to deliver fast and accurate responses through Large Language Models built from information in your databases. Whenever a citizen interacts with your agency, they'll get a real-time response that they know is correct because it's based on your current content. If it doesn't know the answer, Chat will be honest and tell the citizen before directing them elsewhere to find their answers.

Yext Search makes each of these scenarios achievable. Rather than relying on keyword terms, Search is powered by AI, machine learning, and NLP. It allows users to type in or say questions and still get an accurate response with relevant and timely resources. Often relevant results take the form of structured information in FAQs or resources sections.

For instance, imagine someone visits the State Department website and types, "lost my passport." An ideal experience would return relevant results easily understood by anyone – say, articles on, "What do I do if my passport is stolen?" or "What happens when my passport expires?" Results should correlate very clearly to the user's needs and provide helpful information.

3. Answering questions succinctly and accurately

Citizens don't reach out to government agencies with questions just for fun. Whenever someone needs an answer, it's usually for something important and time-sensitive. No one wants to spend an afternoon on the phone trying to hunt down the right person to talk to or hours scouring a website for what should be a quick response. Government employees desperately want to help, but overloaded call centers can create stress and cost inefficiencies.

It's better to give users a direct and immediate answer to their questions before they pick up the phone or start typing an email. Many agencies try to do this through traditional keyword search technology that parses terms and phrases from the questions citizens ask on agencies' sites. Unfortunately, traditional search engines tend to break down after the first few keywords, so a lengthy and precise question like "Where can I go to get a vaccine near me?" might result in a list of irrelevant links, rather than the address of the nearest health center.

Yext's Search capability doesn't rely on keyword search. Instead, it's powered by AI, machine learning, and natural language processing, all wrapped up in a sophisticated knowledge graph. When a citizen searches on a Yext-powered site, the knowledge graph understands their intent, reads information from the agency's unstructured database, and provides a succinct, direct, and accurate response to the query.

So, instead of returning a list of unhelpful links, "Where can I go to get a vaccine near me?" will return specific addresses and information about government locations in that person's area. It will even provide a convenient call to action ("Click to schedule an appointment."), giving citizens a one-stop location for everything they asked about, plus a little bit more. A great example of this is the work that Yext did with the State of New Jersey to build a COVID-19 information hub.

4. Listening to citizen feedback

We've all heard companies talk about "building a brand" that connects with their customers. That's because building a great brand often equates to building recognition, loyalty, and trust.

One of the ways companies like Five Guys and Premier Inn build their brands is through listening to customers' feedback, including reviews of their products. They know that it's not enough to get people to their locations; they need to know how their customers feel after they arrive, and if their needs are met.

The same holds for your agency. You need to understand what's working and, more importantly, what isn't to continually deliver your citizens the experiences they crave and deserve.

Reviews help you do just that. Reviews are a great tool for garnering feedback about your agency and offer another way to interact with constituencies. With Yext, you can monitor and analyze your reviews, respond using intelligent response methods, and more. It's another effective tool for building trust – and the ultimate citizen experience.

Citizen feedback can also come in the form of zero-party data, or data users voluntarily provide when interacting with a site. For instance, say a state agency tracks what questions are being asked through their site search with Yext Analytics. That data can reveal patterns around common questions, which in turn can help that state generate new information to post in their FAQ section.

Serve and exceed public users' expectations with Yext Search Solutions for Public Sector

Learn more about how Yext can help provide seamless online experiences at the civilian, state, or federal level.

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