You could say the web and digital communications team with Miami-Dade County is ready for disasters out of its control. That comes with the territory when you operate in a county whose main city is statistically the most likely major city in the world to be struck by a hurricane.

No one, though, could have prepared for the COVID-19 world health pandemic. It's put government customer experience - and government digital customer experience - to the ultimate test. Miami-Dade County's residents, like the rest of the world's residents, are under a great amount of stress. The county is the first county in the state to surpass 10,000 cases and exceed 1,000 hospitalizations, according to the Florida Department of Health's report this week.

Governments Put to the (Digital) Test

Hundreds of thousands of people across the globe have lost their lives, and millions have lost their jobs due to the coronavirus pandemic. In times like these, people are scared. Along with food, healthcare and money, they need information. Many turn to digital channels for critical access and information from their local, state and federal governments. And government entities are tasked with being creative, ready from a digital infrastructure standpoint and all the while, empathetic in their messaging to their very-worried constituents. 

It's all about adopting a customer experience mindset, according to researchers at Deloitte. "Governments can make navigating the emergency relief benefits less daunting," Deloitte researchers William D. Eggers, Michael Flynn, John O'Leary and Bruce Chew wrote in their April 16 report. "Consider a three-pronged approach: Embedding a deep understanding of business and individual needs and experiences into digital interactions; mapping the end-to-end customer experience to identify customer pain points; and rapidly adapting digital experiences based on user input. Virtual call centers may play a role given the emphasis on remote work."

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Drive Toward Centralized COVID-19 Resources

Miami-Dade County officials, with the digital teams have taken this great burden to heart. It launched a COVID-19 specific website, consolidating all county related information, links and resources to a single site. 

The website driver? Miami-Dade County wanted to provide a centralized source of information related to a single event, which would allow residents to find important info quickly and easily, according to Inson Kim, director, department of communications at Miami-Dade County.

It kept this creed in mind when executing its new COVID-19 related web page. Kim said the web and digital teams were experienced in an effort like this due to various other community events, hurricanes being the most frequent. "So the publishing of the page was business as usual," she said. 

The one "difficulty" was choosing what information to display vs. what to link to outside agencies, such as symptoms of COVID-19. "In the end we decided if we weren't the originator of the information we would link to the outside resource," Kim said. "This ensures accuracy of all information hosted within our domain."

The Communications Department's Digital Communications team created the page and populated it with content using various sources, including various internal departments and 311 Contact Center data. The Contact Center data is a compilation of residents' most frequent call topics which are submitted, plus their answers, to the Digital Communications team for placement on the web.

How much has site traffic blossomed? The home page for the week of March 19 to 25 last year saw 102,148 pages. This year, that climbed 169% to 274,786, according to Kim. "Our infrastructure has been tested and updated based on various events in the past, specifically hurricanes, so nothing was needed to further prepare…hopefully," she said.

Meetings Go Virtual

Miami-Dade has also responded to stay-at-home advisories by providing virtual government meetings through video. It established a Virtual County Commission meeting, allowing users to submit their comments and concerns online. Previously this was only available in person. The Communications Department's Digital Media team in a partnership with the County's Information Technology Department made that happen. 

"Due to social distancing requirements we needed to utilize technology to keep the government functioning while still providing the transparency and resident involvement required," Kim said. "Once a few of the initial issues were ironed out the meeting went very well and future meetings will be hosted in this medium until we can return to normal."

Learning Opportunities

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Social Communications, Listening

Social listening dashboards allow Miami-Dade staff members to monitor all of Miami-Dade County's social handles (150-plus) from a central view, allowing them to answer multiple COVID-19 related questions.

"The influx of COVID-19 related questions required us to divert staff's typical function to responding to the public's questions," Kim said. "These dashboards allowed us to do this in a more efficient manner. Other than 'reminding' some users of their username/password this has been a very successful effort. Both the Digital Communications and Digital Media Teams within the Communications Department has set up, monitored and replied to social postings."

Voice of the Customer at Heart

Miami-Dade County is not in its first rodeo trying to improve web and digital experiences. Last year, it won the Overall County Government Experience Award from the Center for Digital Government (CDG) for its web portal and digital channels, a nationwide honor that recognizes achievements and best practices in delivering resident services online. Earlier in the year, the newly-redesigned website (its first since 2001) earned Miami-Dade County a National Association of Counties (NACo) Achievement Award. 

Aside from managing COVID-19 resources for constituents, Miami-Dade thinks of its web and digital properties in terms of "putting the customer at the center of your business," Kim told CMSWire. Part of that is execution of its "Voice of the Customer" program. Their goal - and they admitted it's a lofty one - is to interact with every constituent that has a touchpoint with Miami-Dade County, be it a visit to a park or time spent on a digital property.

"It's about really listening to the customer, and what they want, and not what do we think they want," Kim said. "They'll tell us what they want, so we just have to be listening and paying attention the right way."

Moving Toward Self-Service Digital Models

As for the next steps, Kim said her teams are always moving toward a more self-service model for users, allowing them to transact online without county staff involvement. What works in the consumer digital world seamlessly should be as easy with government websites and digital channels, she said.

Her teams are working with the IT Department and a vendor to explore an automated tool which will allow callers to its 311 Contact Center to schedule COVID-19 testing without interacting with one of their phone agents. "This product is currently in testing," Kim said. "However, the county's focus has been on particularly vulnerable populations, such as the elderly, who struggle with access to and use of technology. To make sure they can access basic needs such as meals, we remain committed to phone."

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Diverse Group of Messaging Platforms

What is Miami-Dade's current number one digital channel of communication with residents? Kim called this a very difficult question to answer because "we have such a diverse audience spanning multiple languages, cultures, ages, social and economic backgrounds and what might be a top channel for one group is ineffective to another," she said. "That is why we push our information out through the web, phone, TV, emails, social media and whatever else is available to help reach our audience and deliver the messages they need to hear to be informed and stay safe."