Service Canada told key to improving use, ease of online services is human touch

OTTAWA — An annual review of how well the government interacts with Canadians as they access federal benefits suggests more people would turn to online channels, if there was a human around to help them out.

The report found that nearly half of people who could use online services would be convinced to make the switch, if they had help by phone, an online chat or a video link.

The Service Canada review noted barriers to applying online for benefits are “psychological and emotional.”

People applying for government services are often doing so for the first time, and sometimes for something meaningful to their lives, the report said, which means “they have a heightened sense of needing reassurance and feeling confident in the process.”

As is, the report found, many trek to a Service Canada office because they had more confidence that their application or issue would be resolved quickly and easily.

The report, which cost just under $250,000 and was delivered earlier this year, was made public this month.

Canada Revenue Agency, in a separate review of its services, heard something similar.

The agency’s report, also released this month, spoke about the need for its workers to show “more empathy and understanding,” and avoid making interactions feel “transactional.”

The report also said that the CRA website needs to have more plain wording and less technical lingo.

Participants told agency researchers they wanted to see an expansion of online services, such as notifications about important dates and more ability to track documents provided to the CRA.

The CRA review also suggested more online chats and setting times to talk with a CRA official on the phone would make services more flexible.

“Canadians want us to deliver service the way they are offered by others, and through more modern and integrated channels,” the report said.

“They said that it is important to avoid ‘one size fits all’ solutions and offer services in different ways.”

The annual client survey for Service Canada suggested that year-over-year, about 85 per cent of participants were satisfied with the service they received and found it easy and effective to use.

Satisfaction rates with online services remained lower than in-person centres, and didn’t change between the fiscal year that closed in March 2018 and the ensuing 12-month period.

The report suggested that improving satisfaction rates would require setting better expectations about wait times, being more courteous when explaining denials, and improving online functionality.

Officials have been working for years on simplifying and expanding online services, but antiquated equipment as well as complicated rules for procurement and data use have slowed down the pace of change.

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