Arranging your affairs with the government online: fine of course, for those who know the digital way. But not everyone is equally digitally skilled. There is also a group of approximately 2.5 million 'low literate people', Dutch citizens aged 16 and older who have difficulty with reading, writing or arithmetic. Not all of us navigate effortlessly through the information society. Contradictory as it may seem: new technology can lower the digital threshold.
And that threshold needs to be low, because everyone is entitled to accessible government services. The government is there for all of us, including people who are less able to maintain that contact digitally, either because they do not have sufficient command of the Dutch language or – for whatever reason – have difficulty finding their way in the digital age.
Many municipalities are therefore looking for ways to organize digital interaction with residents as effectively as possible. It is important that, in doing so, they consider the needs and skills of residents of all ages, with different backgrounds and varying levels of digital literacy and language proficiency.
How do citizens perceive digital contact with the government?
How do all those different Dutch people actually view the digital interaction with their municipality? Well, most people are quite positive about that. This is apparent from research carried out on behalf of marketing and communication platform Frankwatching. More than two thousand participants aged 17 or older who had at least one digital contact with their municipality in the past two years, gave their opinion: they rate this contact with an average of 7.4.
The results do show a striking difference: Dutch people with limited digital skills give a lower score than Dutch people who do have digital skills. They have less confidence in the digital channel and are less positive about their contact with the municipality.
A human tone of voice
So, there are opportunities for improvement: if municipalities make online contact easier and more accessible, they can increase the trust of less highly educated citizens with limited digital skills and ensure a more positive customer experience.
The results of Frankwatching's research already give a hint for the solution: 82% of the respondents indicate that they appreciate more sympathy, informal language and a 'human' tone of voice in digital communication with the municipality. The human dimension is sometimes missing in the web of difficult to read texts and cluttered menus. What can governments do to improve peoples’ experiences?