• Jo Thomson, Partner |
6 min read

At a time when public sector bodies are under pressure from constrained budgets and rising demand on services, it is more important than ever to build good faith with citizens through the quality of the experience delivered. The bar has been set in the private sector, where the increased digitisation of channels since the pandemic has enabled customers to self-serve more and interact with brands more seamlessly. So, how is the public sector faring?

Citizen experience under the spotlight

New research from KPMG throws light on this question. Our Citizen Experience Excellence report is an extensive benchmarking of citizens’ views on the quality of their interactions with the public sector across central government, local government, healthcare and transport. Now in its third year, we have reached around 55,000 citizen evaluations of their experiences. The analysis mirrors KPMG’s wider Customer Experience Excellence research which examines customers’ experience with private sector businesses that has been running for 14 years.

In the research, we measure satisfaction against Six Pillars that are key to the citizen experience: Personalisation, Time & Effort, Meeting Expectations, Integrity, Resolution, and Empathy. 

Citizen satisfaction and trust on the decline

Given the pressures affecting the public sector, it probably won’t be a surprise that satisfaction with public bodies tracks behind that of the private sector across each one of these pillars – although the scores are very close for Empathy, a traditional strong point for areas such as healthcare in particular.

But if this is not surprising, it is nevertheless disappointing that we find an 11% decline in citizen satisfaction between 2021 and 2023. It’s a worrying picture – we found that citizens are becoming more and more frustrated with their experience of trying to find information and navigate government services.

Trust is also in decline. This is another major concern because trust is key to any relationship and therefore to the drivers of satisfaction. Over 30% of citizens believe that the public sector doesn't prioritise their best interests or those of the community, which significantly harms citizen satisfaction. Our studies uncover a shocking 27% decline in satisfaction levels when this belief persists.

Embracing digital channels

However, there were some encouragements too. One of the standout shifts is the rise of the ‘digital citizen’. Just as customers have embraced digital interactions with private sector businesses, so too they are looking to move online with public services. There is evidence of government and public sector organisations making progress here – in particular, where they’ve made digital enhancements. For the first time, citizens were more satisfied with their interactions over digital channels than more traditional routes like email or phone – and this generally applied whatever the age of the respondent, from Gen Z to the over 55s.

The key to building on this is to ensure that digitisation is connected across the organisation, not just in silos or pockets. Adopting an end-to-end citizen-centric approach can result in a win-win: a much improved citizen experience and, for the organisation, significant cost reductions by eliminating duplications, errors, overlaps and handovers.

Three key insights

There is a lot to digest and reflect on in our research, but I would call out three key points to help public sector bodies focus their efforts:

  • Balance reducing costs with service delivery. Good resolution creates a 9% uplift when done well, but 45% of citizens said that getting resolution to their issue was difficult. This just leads to increased cost through citizens repeatedly contacting the organisation for an update or further information (we estimate that each single contact carries a cost of between £5 and £8) – and increases the workload on already stretched staff. Look for ways to increase opportunities for citizens to self-serve through digitisation and more frictionless experiences.

  • Embrace new technology to enhance delivery. There is a 15% increase in satisfaction when citizens use digital channels. But they still use traditional, high cost channels such as phone, email and face-to-face 50% of the time. Understand where the opportunities are to increase digital service delivery, and prioritise connecting these so that the citizen has a more seamless experience where they don’t need to re-enter all their details each time. When citizens feel that the organisation knows and recognises them, satisfaction and goodwill increases.

  • Understand what matters most to build trust. The public sector scores well on security, with 86% of citizens confident that their data is secure. This is an increase from last year – and is a credit to the sector. But the wider finding that 30% of citizens don’t believe the public sector acts in their best interests is a real concern. Focus on really understanding your citizens, including by different segments and cohorts, and then concentrate on delivering against their needs and priorities. Keep citizens informed and up to date – show them that you care and are working hard to address their issue or concern.

It is also important to reflect what matters to citizens most across the different segments within the public sector. Our research suggests that for central government what citizens care about most is that they should not have to expend lots of time and effort – they value quick and easy digital first services such as for driving licenses or passports. In local government, resolution of issues is what matters most, along with managing expectations for more complex areas like social care. In health, empathy is critical and so too is personalisation whereby citizens are assured that their individual medical needs are understood.

Satisfaction uplift in action

While the results show that there is much to do, nevertheless progress is being made. Increasingly, bodies across the public sector are intensifying their focus on understanding their users and meeting their needs.

One example of this is at Crown Commercial Service (CCS)1. On a recent webinar where we discussed our public sector findings, we were delighted to hear from Colin Morrow, Director of Procurement Operations at CCS. Colin spoke about the journey CCS has been on to drive up customer satisfaction through increasing their understanding of what buyers actually want and what matters to them across different services and products. They have done this through extensive customer research and listening, a process KPMG has been supporting them with. Seven years ago, the net promoter score for CCS stood at a disappointing -35. Now, it is a very commendable +55. There is more to come as CCS continues on its transformational journey.

This is a good example that serves as an important reminder: the tools and means are there to drive up satisfaction and the quality of the experience. The organisations that truly prioritise achieving this have it within their power to create remarkable improvements.


1. Crown Commercial Service
Crown Commercial Service (CCS) is an Executive Agency of the Cabinet Office, supporting the public sector to achieve maximum commercial value when procuring common goods and services.
To find out more about CCS, visit: www.crowncommercial.gov.uk
LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/company/2827044