Changing the landscape of CX in the public sector – In conversation with Sari Alomaim

By Mira El-Haj

Governments around the globe are making efforts to improve citizens’ perceptions of public sector services and to meet the increasing expectations of citizens who demand seamless experiences, transparent processes, and accessible services and information. 

Effective customer-centric transformation is challenging in any sector and particularly difficult for the public sector due to the vast scale and complexity of the processes and operating constraints. The Ministry of Municipalities and Rural Affairs in Saudi Arabia is one of the few government agencies that have managed to deliver an exceptional citizen experience. 

In his conversation with our colleague, Mira El-Haj, Mr. Sari Alomaim – the General Manager of Customer Experience at the Ministry of Municipalities and Rural Affairs in Saudi Arabia shares how continuously redesigning, personalizing, and optimizing customer journeys, providing unified digital services, and effectively utilizing the leading VOC technology have taken them ahead. 

“The CX initiative includes the plan that the Ministry put in place to provide positive experiences at each customer touchpoint along the customer journey.”

Mira El-Haj: How do you view the changing landscape of CX in the public sector? Is it still far behind the private sector?

Sari Alomaim: Being more customer-centric can be challenging for the public sector as, traditionally, it has mainly concerned itself with legislation, policy, and procedures, and frankly speaking, our customers don’t have a choice when it comes to obtaining government services, as we are their only option. It also means that we have an even greater responsibility than the private sector to provide an excellent experience for our customers. We aim to improve people’s confidence in dealing with local issues, build bridges between citizens and the government, and foster more engagement.

Mira El-Haj: Has the pandemic forced you to think CX differently?

Sari Alomaim: The pandemic forced everyone to think differently and made us rely more on technology in everything we do. The Appointment Booking initiative is a direct response to the pandemic. It has helped us adapt to align with one of the main objectives of Saudi Vision 2030 to become an e-society by reducing the number of physical visits and focusing more on utilizing digital platforms.

Mira El-Haj: How has technology played a role in delivering a stellar customer experience to the citizens?

Sari Alomaim: Technology helps prioritize the critical aspects of customer experience by unifying overall digital experiences. There is not yet an Omni-channel platform, but we have seen how technology can track and measure the customer’s ‘online footprints’ to highlight precious insights into what the customer wants, what motivates them, and the products/services they’re interested in. However, the most crucial role of technology in customer service is to help increase the speed of customer interactions. Adopting Medallia is one area where we have seen incredible success in improving efficiency and diverting routine requests to an online channel. The platform has allowed the Ministry to build and distribute surveys and showcase real-time customer insights through customized configurations of dashboards.

Mira El-Haj: Can you tell us about any successful initiative that has remarkably improved the customer experience of the Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs?

Sari Alomaim: The CX initiative includes the plan that the Ministry put in place to provide positive experiences at each customer touchpoint along the customer journey and the purposeful ways to measure those experiences. The Ministry has been successful in implementing change and prioritizing innovation. In 2013, the COMI Data Center was designated Tier 3 by the Uptime Institute, which signifies that the data center does not require shutting down for maintenance and ensures continuity of service. This was followed by recognition from the Middle East Excellence Recognition Institute in Dubai in 2014 for the best e-transition achievements, initiatives, and practices and the 2018 Outstanding Government Achievement Award for the interactive platform.

Mira El-Haj: What is the hardest challenge in working in CX? How do you plan to overcome it?

Sari Alomaim: First and foremost, we must be able to deliver demonstrable and measurable experience improvements. When working with the Ministry, we must consider the customer experience and business drivers and see how well they align with each other. By doing this and creating a deep enough customer understanding, we can develop a strategy to satisfy both customer needs and business objectives.

To do this, we must prioritize communication with proper effectiveness. To make the process even more effective, we delve into customer understanding tools, including personas, audiences, and customer intelligence strategies that showcase how different personas interact to complete a journey. This helps us systematize customer research and better understand the customer.

However, one of the most frequent challenges is creating internal and external awareness about CX, how it differs from customer service and the benefit of investing in a great CX. Therefore, the Ministry has initiated several initiatives to spread awareness internally (Amana level) and is currently working on an external initiative (citizen level), where CX’s role and importance are communicated clearly.

Mira El-Haj: How are your CX initiatives aligned with the Saudi Vision 2030 plan? 

Sari Alomaim: The initiative focuses on customer experience across all the services the Ministry provides to achieve the best experience across the country. We have adopted short and long-term goals to score some quick wins early in the process, foster customer relationships, build trust, and see the long-term effects, which takes time. One of the significant reasons that CX initiatives aren’t recognized as worthwhile –and therefore, aren’t funded– is that companies are chasing the short-term. We aim to avoid this by aligning with the longer-term goals of Saudi Vision 2030.

Mira El-Haj: And finally, looking ahead a decade to 2030, what would CX in the public sector look like?

Sari AlomaimBetween now and 2030, the focus should be on CX strategy, developing that strategy over time and proving value for both the company and customers. By doing this, we would have established modern and sustainable communities with an improved overall quality of life. By developing a quality assurance framework and management system for municipal monitoring work, the quality of municipal services throughout the public sector will also be enhanced. 

All of these advancements focus on improving the quality of life at an individual and family level. By providing the necessary environment to create new alternatives, improving the participation of citizens, expatriates, and visitors in cultural activities, and enhancing the overall quality of life, CX can be vital in diversifying the economy and positioning Saudi cities in the world’s best and most efficient.

Mira El-Haj: Thank you, Mr. Alomaim. This conversation has been enlightening, and the points you raised can easily be replicated by businesses and departments across the public and private sectors.