Mobile apps, choice, and customer experience

We believe that effective service delivery is about meeting users where they are and providing efficient service delivery across multiple channels.

That might include an in-person meeting to help someone face-to-face, a call center, postal mail, or a web-based digital service. Over a person’s lifetime, they will likely use a combination of all of these (and more) methods when interacting with a government agency. This kind of omni-channel service delivery is not a novel concept — the private sector has been doing this for years, and the federal government has its own tradition of omni-channel delivery from faxes to in-person offices across the country to an increasing number of online options.

Effective services are built around choice. Just as we consider websites, call centers, and in-person experiences for service delivery, we should also consider native mobile apps as another channel to deliver government services in ways that meet people where they are.

Join us on July 31 for a virtual event: Mobile Success: Lessons for improving CX with native mobile apps

Native mobile apps are an untapped opportunity to provide people with a choice in accessing government services. Learn from an ongoing mobile success story at the VA.

Join us

Building on current momentum

In its recent Executive Order on Customer Experience, the White House placed a great deal of emphasis on understanding people’s preferences and needs when it comes to service delivery:

...the Federal Government’s management of its customer experience and service delivery should be driven fundamentally by the voice of the customer through human-centered design methodologies; empirical customer research; an understanding of behavioral science and user testing, especially for digital services; and other mechanisms of engagement.

Performance.gov and the identification of High Impact Service Providers across the federal government has been instrumental in challenging the government technology community to come together around improved solutions that go beyond just providing a great website. The administration is prioritizing the broader picture of service delivery between the government and the people it serves, including native mobile applications.

Government benefits and services are available to you through self-serve channels of your choice, like websites, text and chat, mobile apps, and automated phone systems.

Performance.gov: Federal Customer Experience

Consider your organization’s digital maturity

An agency’s strategy for effectively providing high-quality digital services should always be considered in the context of its overall digital maturity. Agencies with well-developed digital services capabilities can more easily expand a citizen’s experience across a range of different options. But it’s important to get the basics right first.

OMB Memo M-23-22 directs agencies to focus first on making their websites accessible, highly usable, and mobile-optimized, and this is an important precursor to beginning work on expanding choices across channels, including developing a native mobile application. Agencies also need to have experience applying product management, user research, and human-centered design to take on a native mobile app project successfully.

If an agency has already met those fundamentals, we believe it should explore whether native mobile applications are a good fit within an agency’s broader customer experience efforts. Mobile devices are increasingly being used to access government digital services, and agencies with mature user research and product thinking teams should use those skills to investigate whether their users would benefit from a native mobile app. In short, it’s important to start with the basics, but if we’re truly focused on improving service delivery, agencies should be looking forward to how they can expand their digital services ecosystem to offer more choices to their users.

Criteria to consider

Native mobile applications can provide access to mobile device functionality that is more tightly integrated, and more responsive than mobile-optimized web applications, but they aren’t the right choice in all situations. In general, when you have user experiences that meet one or more of the following criteria, there may be a case for considering using a native mobile application:

  • The interaction with the user would benefit from native mobile app functionality such as seamless camera integration, offline access, or push notifications
  • A native mobile application would more easily enable a frequently repeated user task
  • The interaction requires a low barrier to entry, facilitated by an authenticated or otherwise private and secure experience

There are sometimes instances where agencies have existing native mobile applications that do not meet these criteria. Native apps that are infrequently used, poorly targeted, and not based on solid user research are not uncommon. Where these apps exist, agencies should take steps to decommission them and evaluate other options for providing the service included in such apps. In these cases, the cost of maintaining a mobile app may outweigh the potential benefits of an improved experience.

Efficiency, scale, and cost

OMB Memo M-23-22 directs agencies to consider the potential cost of native mobile applications, and there are aspects of mobile application development and management that are different from web applications, including cost. But for agencies that are at a digital maturity level that can support effective mobile app development, the cost difference between building a mobile application and a mobile-optimized web application can be more than offset by an improvement in the overall experience of users. Fortunately, there are several ways to address the cost and scalability of mobile apps responsibly:

  1. Build a platform It’s important to build with the future in mind. Specifically, think about how best to create the infrastructure to support where you might go with an app in the future. Build using cloud services when possible, build with APIs, and use DevSecOps best practices, as well as other proven technologies when planning your mobile app.
  2. Use a design system Wherever possible, share components, patterns, and brand standards from your web-based digital services. Not only will this help provide a more cohesive and consistent user experience across delivery channels, it will also help reduce development costs.
  3. Use cross-platform technologies Frameworks like React Native provide cost-efficient ways to deliver native apps to both iOS and Android users, providing a shared code base to deploy to both platforms. While there will certainly be UX and UI considerations that will necessarily be tailored to each platform, a shared code base can significantly reduce the burden of deploying and maintaining a mobile app.

Improving trust

In the commercial sector, companies face competition for customers. This competition creates a powerful incentive for these firms to listen to their customers and to offer high-quality services. Those that don’t will lose customers, face diminishing revenues, and perhaps even go out of business.

Generally speaking, governments do not face competition for their services. But the cost of providing poor service and not listening to users is no less dire for public sector entities. Poor quality public services don’t manifest as diminished revenues, but rather as diminished levels of trust. According to a recent survey by the Partnership for Public Service, the level of trust the public has in governments (already low) continues to erode.

The connection between high-quality public services and the public’s trust in government was at the heart of the President’s Executive Order on Customer Experience. This Executive Order and OMB Memo M-23-22 underscore the connection between how people feel about their government and the quality of the interactions those people have with the agencies that serve them.

The best way to improve customer experience with government digital services is to listen to users and let their preferences and expectations guide the decisions on what agencies prioritize for improvement. Understanding how users want to interact with agencies, and the nature of those interactions, can help agencies identify instances where a native mobile application might make sense.

It’s never been more important for agencies to focus on improving the experience customers have with digital services, across a multitude of delivery mechanisms. Evaluating the potential benefits of a native mobile application is an important part of rebuilding the trust people have in the agencies that service them.

Join us on July 31 for a virtual event: Mobile Success: Lessons for improving CX with native mobile apps

Native mobile apps are an untapped opportunity to provide people with a choice in accessing government services. Learn from an ongoing mobile success story at the VA.

Join us