Sheets of paper with a cup, a mouse and a pen.

Improving citizen experience: Customer journey mapping for government services

June 30, 2021

When was the last time you used a government service? Sometimes it can be hard to bring a particular service to mind because they often play such a background role in our lives, only standing out during moments when they inconvenience us. However, in people's everyday lives they benefit from a vast range of different government services that support the way that they, as well as their communities, are able to function.

In this article we'll discuss

What is citizen experience?

Government services are vast. They can include many everyday services like how you access books at a library, how you apply for a passport, or how you engage with employment services. But they can also include bigger, more foundational and invisible pieces such as how a government knows you are you (identity), how it tells you when you need to know something, and how you pay for things that require payments.

The services delivered by government are broad and can involve an enormous range of different customers, stakeholders and journeys. In this article we will explore how service design approaches can be helpful in understanding this complexity, developing a strong customer focus and enhancing how government services are delivered and received.  

Table with information on what services the government of New Zealand provides

The relevance of customer journey mapping in government: citizen experience

Customer/citizen journey mapping is an important method that can help government teams establish internal buy-in for new service pathways, iterate the service, and map critical front- and backstage processes.

As an example, let's look at digital government.

While government services need to be available in multiple channels, digital is emerging as critical to governments’ success. Digital service delivery is both faster and less expensive to deliver, and aligns more with customers’ modern expectations. The challenge is that much needs to change for the government to effectively deliver digital services to meet these elevated expectations.

Traditional ways of working in government often lead to long, big-budget projects that are outsourced to organizations who understand technology well but don’t always understand their users. This means that redeveloping something as simple as paying a parking ticket online can quickly become unwieldy, expensive, and still not meet the needs of the user. On top of this, “new” services often feel out-of-date by the time they launch, as key technology decisions can be made years before a service goes live.

The governments that are making the best step towards delivering services that work efficiently for everyone are applying the principles of service design. They work to develop a deep understanding of the challenges faced by their users, and engage in iterative and agile ways of working that reduce financial risk and focus on developing services that meet user needs.

Call to action: Time to visualize your citizens' experiences!

Key questions faced in government services

There are a number of important questions that may be asked by government service providers as they look to implement service design approaches in their way of working.

  • Who is the customer?
  • How do we engage stakeholders to help make government services more customer centric and inclusive?
  • How is technology changing the customer experience of government services?
  • How can we set up an environment for service design in government?

Who is the customer – the citizen?

In service design we often use the word customer to describe a person who directly benefits from a service. Within the world of government services the range of different services, as well as the range of different customers are incredibly broad. For the purposes of this discussion, the customer will be any person who is directly engaged with a particular service.

In the government context, we often use the word “user” instead of customer; allowing us to consider not only the individual citizens who are using our service, but also creating space to consider a broader set of stakeholders and internal users whose lives can improve greatly with a well-designed service.

When it comes to delivering services that support a range of customers, regardless of socioeconomic status, physical or mental ability, there needs to be a high level of empathy that underpins service development. Being inclusive means designing for the people who might have particular needs or challenges, or characteristics that prevent them from engaging in a service in assumed ways.  

Take for example a library run by the local government. A community library will have customers of a wide range of ages, with different abilities, needs and expectations for the service. On one hand you might be dealing with parents with young children who need childrens books and a space suitable for caring for youngsters. On the other hand there may be senior citizens who want to come and read the local newspaper in peace and quiet, or people who want to use a public bathroom, access the internet or just have a chilled out place to rest for a moment.

In addition to the diversity found within the main customer group, complex government services often have a host of other users that we need to consider as well. When identifying other users and stakeholders, consider other organizations that help and advocate for citizens, and who might be directly using the service on the customers’ behalf, as well as other government agencies whose services may be interwoven with your own.

Once you have identified the different types of people that interact with your service, you can clarify your understanding of them through the development of personas.

Personas are a great way to define different user groups, what their particular needs are and the different characteristics that define how they engage with a service. Personas provide a practical representation of different groups of people that engage with a service, and are of value because they are grounded in research and customer understanding. Rather than making assumptions about customers and the needs they might have, service design drives you to research and uncover real insights about your users and their needs.  

Personas can also help to build empathy with a range of internal stakeholders, whether it's managers, service strategists, community organizations, designers or front line staff. Engagement with a shared vision and people's lived experience can result in much higher levels of collaboration and unity between a diverse range of stakeholders. As a tool they allow for the conception of novel service delivery methods that break free from a one-size-fits-all approach and are more inclusive and adaptive to people's real needs.

Here are two examples of different personas who could engage with government services.

Persona of an old woman who is not tech savvy and wants to sort out her taxes in person or via phone.h
Persona of a young student who feels like it's a waste of time to do governmental services in person, he would rather do everything online.

Say we were taking an in depth look at the way that someone would apply for a passport through a government agency. What are some key questions that you could ask from these personas that would help shape what that service would look like?

  • How could we design the journey of getting a passport accessible for both people who wish to use digital and people who cannot use digital?
  • What channels of communication do we need, and when are they most appropriate?
  • How can we innovate aspects of the process in safe and secure ways so that information can be sent digitally, as well as physically?
  • How do we retain the ability to speak face-to-face to those who need to engage with us in that way

How do we engage stakeholders to help make government services more customer-centric and inclusive?

Equally important to defining our customers is properly engaging our stakeholders. Because of the often bureaucratic nature of governments and the number of people involved in decision making, it can be easy to lose sight of the customer experience. Strategic policy development and corresponding service delivery are often made high up in the hierarchy, far removed from the staff that deliver the service and the citizens who need to use it. When this is the norm, assumptions can drive decision making, hurting the ability of services to meet people's needs.

People working on the front line of service delivery are exposed to the everyday reality of what citizens are experiencing, but often are not included in the design or improvement of services. They have no formal means of communicating what they know to the people who are able to make decisions and influence change. This disconnection between upper level strategy and customer experience can be frustrating for both those who are delivering, or receiving government services. Changes are decided at the top, and front line staff are “change managed” into working in new ways that don’t meet their needs as internal users.

It can be an eye-opening experience for everyone when we bring decision makers and service delivery staff together to learn about and empathize with the receivers of services.  

Re-igniting this connection with people has a powerful effect to stimulate purpose, to increase awareness about what changes need to be made, whether these are on the ground with service delivery, or higher up at a policy level. This should be done within departments, but also across, bringing together different siloes who may all hold responsibility for different parts of the customer journey.

This can help:

  • Connect the dots on journeys that require interacting with multiple government agencies
  • Service delivery agents understand and empathize with clients
  • Ensure Service delivery methods that can adapt to the needs of a wide range of different people
  • Reduce inefficiencies within government so that taxpayer money is well spent
  • Provide customers with a pain free experience interacting with government services
Journey map visualizing the experience of a non-tech savvy person who needs to do her tax declaration.
Maude's experience with her tax declaration.

How is technology shaping the citizen experience of government services?

Many governments are still facing challenges as they transition to digital methods of service delivery. With long histories of being designed for a paper-based world, being able to manage and untangle legislative and other barriers for digital transformation are challenging. There are many examples of where this legacy of paper-based processes still linger, whether this is with forms that require physical signatures, paper forms that need physical sightings to be completed, and channels of communication that are non-digital.

Through creating journey maps, we are able to identify potential touchpoints and struggles that people face when they engage with our services, identifying friction created by a paper-based world, particularly when it collides with early digital efforts. The insights that these maps produce can help us spot opportunities and develop inclusive and efficient digital services.

Perhaps you discover that clients are finding it difficult to engage with submitting their tax information because the website they are using is unclear, cumbersome and difficult to navigate (ok, so I am using an experience close to home). These insights lead to new possibilities for service delivery. For example, How might we develop secure methods for submitting important documents? How might we develop online services for tax payment that are intuitive and easy to understand for the population (and even a joy to use)?

  • What are emerging forms of technology that people are using?
  • How can technology be used to enhance and improve the delivery of services?
  • How do we ensure that technology is secure and safe for people's privacy?
  • How can we implement technology into services while still retaining a human touch?

Digitizing existing processes isn't good enough in itself; to deliver a digital service that works, the entire end-to-end service must be redesigned.

Digital government opens opportunities not just for digital services - like online forms, but also means we need to consider the importance for the government to have a well-developed digital identity for citizens. With an increase in the amount of personal data being shared between people and government departments comes the need to have channels that are secure, efficient and intuitive to exchange this data. By establishing a digital identity, people are able to access government services in secure and convenient ways that are fundamentally more efficient to engage in.

Journey map of a tech-savvy person who forgot to return books to the library.
James' experience with the library app.

How to create a customer journey map for government services?

Developing great journey maps for government services means engaging with citizens and understanding their lived experiences. From this we are able to build sophisticated journeys that help us gain insights into how our services could better support their lives. In this section we will look at a few specific elements of a journey map and how they can help map the customer journey.

For extensive journey maps with advanced lane and content types like these, it may be helpful to use a digital journey mapping program. To ease the process of choosing a tool for you, we collected the top applications for digital customer journey mapping in this piece.

Consider a diversity of persona types

Because of the breadth of different citizens that interact with government services, it is important that journey maps are able to reflect this diversity. By developing personas that reflect the variety of different needs, expectations and drivers of different groups within society you are able to reflect these differences through a range of journeys. Being able to understand this diversity allows for the creation of services that are inclusive and can account for variations in service delivery depending on specific persona types and their needs.

Communication channels

Designing for multichannel delivery means accounting for the range of different citizens, their way of life and how they are able or willing to engage in government services. Whether this is by phone, through mobile devices or whether someone still requires a human touch and a face-to-face encounter.

When thinking about communication channels it can be important to consider how technology can simplify and make a customer journey more efficient, while still feeling human and supportive. Assisted digital - a process where front-line staff are empowered to help users access digital services even if they’re not comfortable using digital, is an important consideration for how the digital and real-world touchpoints can interact and work together.

Understand the backstage processes

The backstage processes that go in government service delivery can be massive and complex. Building the backstage processes into your map allows you to gain insight into the processes that happen behind the scenes to deliver a cohesive service to citizens on their journey. Through analysing the backstage processes, you might discover areas where different governmental departments are able to collaborate to simplify customer journeys.

This in itself can be a bit of a challenge when departments are siloed and customer journeys are fragmented between a range of different government service providers and departments. Journey maps can, and should be used as an educative tool, as well as a practical tool for highlighting these areas where government services are failing individuals and groups, and to highlight areas where silos need to be broken down to achieve better outcomes for citizens.

Set up the environment

As much as the practice and application of service design can provide value, the organization must be ready for the change to come. Service design approaches such as journey mapping can confront the existing ways of working within a department. This confrontation to business as usual can result in a resistance to engage in new ways of working, slowing the progress of change and innovation within government departments.

These cultural shifts can be challenging within governments, as it can be within any large established organization. Getting buy-in from crucial stakeholders and building believers in the process can result in the push required for wider scale adoption. If you would like to read more about embedding service design, and the power of journey mapping to introduce service design to an organization you can read our whitepaper here.  

Example journey map for government services

example journey map for governments with multiple steps and multiple layers of detail
Expand journey map example for government services

Challenges in introducing customer journey mapping in government services

Working at pace

Government teams can often move slower than private organizations. They may have less of a culture of innovation, and often put more focus on risk prevention and working within the hierarchy. These entrenched cultures and ways of working or mindsets create a tight grip on "how things are done around here”.

Government departments need to build teams that can work at the speed of private businesses so that they can deliver at pace.

The pandemic has pushed some governmental departments to adapt, develop new services quickly, to iterate on them as the situation evolves. This is an example of a radical change to the norm, putting pressure on to change the way services are delivered.

Government needs to harness this same sense of urgency, adaptability of policy, and collective action, and apply it across departments and on a range of different issues. Governments that have seen success have built teams of people with private industry experience, building capability within government for service design as they work within departments to develop and improve services.

Readiness for change

When it comes to any form of change, the question will always remain, how ready and willing are people to think and work differently? Openness to change can be a big roadblock for any new and innovative way of working because it introduces uncertainty into often predictable patterns of behaviour.

If service design methods are forced into departments without the proper leadership or cultural understanding, resistance can block the adoption of new ways of working, such as journey mapping.

This resistance can be mitigated in some ways through clear communication, having a committed senior leadership team and a culture that acknowledges failure and experimentation as part of a greater learning journey.

Siloed governmental departments

A reality of large government departments is that work can easily become siloed and ultimately fragmented. With multiple government departments each delivering a range of different services, how do we reconcile and connect the dots within our citizens journey? Having strongly siloed departments can be a hindrance to creative cohesive customer journeys as they may rely on the flow of information and collaboration between different personnel.

Perhaps different departments are working on different platforms, some which accommodate more digital methods, while others still require manual, physical sightings of documents.

This lack of cohesion can create jarring customer experiences and cause processing delays for services.

To mitigate the effect of siloed workplaces, governments must focus on developing effective coordination mechanisms for customer journeys, the ability to share data and develop multi-channel service delivery methods that accommodate for a range of different customer types.


The world of government services is vast and impacts the lives of millions of people. When executed well, government-provided services can be effortless to engage with, creating customer satisfaction while simultaneously costing less for the taxpayer. At their worst service journeys can be fragmented, costly and time consuming for everyone.  

Journey mapping has a lot to offer the delivery of government services, both for the people delivering the services, as well as the customers receiving them.

By developing a thorough understanding of the needs and experiences of users, you will have much better insights on where to develop and tailor specific services.

Whether this is understanding the experiences of a solo mother using a library, a student applying for a passport or assisting someone who needs to engage a service but cannot use digital channels.

Developing efficient, customer-centred services within governments is not always easy, whether it’s a lack of buy-in from stakeholders, a resistance to new ways of working, or other cultural hang ups that get in the way. The benefits certainly outweigh the costs, and using a tool such as journey mapping can help drive customer engagement and empathy, can improve communication between decision makers and front line staff, and have an overall positive impact on the efficiency of how services are deployed.

And now, what's next?

Now it's about implementing what you've just learned: Create government journey maps to understand the citizen experience and innovate your services.

The journey mapping tool Smaply lets you easily create government journey maps, personas, and ecosystem maps.

Sign up now, it's free!

Create citizen experience maps with Smaply!