What Government Service Delivery Can Learn from Netflix

In our series about digitizing your services, we showed you what it looks like to take your website to the next level to meet and exceed constituent expectations.

These expectations come from people interacting with digital giants like Netflix. To learn from the private sector, let’s take a look at their model.

The Netflix Model

Since the beginning of Netflix, they have been collecting data and creating algorithms that have allowed their service to organically adapt itself to the individual. They suggest movies and programs that will appeal to the end-user, based on that user’s previous engagement. Netflix provides a personalized movie selection and allows the option to create multiple viewer profiles.

These features make it an easy application to navigate, as users are less likely to invest time searching for specific content. There is a good chance that Netflix found it for them, and will have presented the customer with the necessary links so that they can begin watching instantly.

What Government Can Learn From Netflix

Here are three lessons from the rise of Netflix that can be applied to local government agencies:

Big data is powerful, but big data plus big ideas is transformational.

Netflix’s analytics, algorithms, and digital-streaming innovations have changed how customers watch movies and TV shows. But this technology has always been in the service of a unique point of view — building a platform that shapes what customers watch, not just how they watch.

The company has vast amounts of data on the viewing habits of its 125 million subscribers, from which movies and TV shows they liked or disliked, to how long they watched an individual episode or binged a new series. This powerful data system creates a rich social system that influences the movies and shows members see, based in part on this data.

The core takeaway: Technology matters most when it is in the service of a compelling strategy. Find out how your constituents interact with you online to optimize their experience.

  • Link your citizens to services that are relevant to them. For instance, let people self-select if they are a local business owner, then display topics most business users typically are looking for.  
  • Identify how your constituents interact with your site. Do you they automatically go to the search queue or go straight to the agency page that offers the services? Are some services more popular depending on the time of year, like tax season or the weeks leading up to an election?
  • Identify the services people search for on your site the most, and then prioritize those offerings on your site. You do not have to change everything at once. Rack up one success, and you’ll have an easier time gaining buy-in for your next project.
  • Build a platform that matches existing search habits. Your homepage should be intuitive to navigate and search from, like Google.
  • Allow people to set their own preferences for things like topics and services they are interested in, ways they want to receive alerts, and how they can save account information.  


Think critically.

Are you keeping a process more complex than it needs to be, only because this is how it always has been done? Netflix disrupted the movie industry. Over the last two decades, it has since disrupted itself in service of its mission. Netflix began with a pretty simple innovation—crushing Blockbuster by shipping DVDs by mail and abolishing late fees. It then transitioned from mailing content to streaming movies and TV shows digitally. Today, Netflix is most noteworthy as a creator of content; it will spend a staggering $12 billion this year alone on programming.

When rethinking digital service delivery, introduce new features or services in phases. This way you can test it with staff and constituents and build improvements into regular updates (learn about agile development). Work with vendors who provide excellent products and support, and implement those products in such a way that their impact is undeniable. It’s important during this process to keep up communication with everyone, supporters and detractors alike.

When building your solutions in-house, identify the business process of your most important services and focus on digitally transforming them. This can help reduce costs and accelerate the delivery of new solutions. Once implemented, look at ways to replicate the process across other services. This will allow agencies to change the implementation and modify their systems without huge impact.

Strategy is culture, culture is strategy.

It takes a village to…run a village. Reviewing the rise and reinvention of Netflix, you can see an emphasis on its strategy and technology. Netflix also thinks rigorously about their people and culture, from who they hire to how they share information internally. Netflix has invented (and reinvented) a range of practices that are designed explicitly to connect what the company aims to achieve in the marketplace to how it organizes the workplace.

To make sure your culture reflects the overall strategy of improving service delivery, look at your key players:

IT Department: IT is a crucial. If you are overhauling your website, this could mean a wholesale replacement of existing technologies. Closely collaborating with IT in an agile way will minimize any system roadblocks and smooth the path to a successful website.

Human Resources: HR is aware of internal talent or can identify talent gaps to ensure that the website development is fully staffed.

Marketing and Communications: This team is key to communicating new technologies and overall strategy to both internal and external users.

Agency Stakeholders: To ensure adoption, agency staff must be assured the pursuit of new technologies will help their constituents. And the best way to do that is to listen to what their pain points are. The goal is a mix of human innovation with advanced technology.

Customer Service: When constituents reach out with a question or complaint, they’re not necessarily interested in what a service rep has to do to get the job done. They just want their issue resolved. Think about you can make customer service reps happier and more effective.

Constituents: Identify who you are aiming to assist digitally. Constituent questions will help guide which services are the most challenging to access, and user testing will ensure you’re meeting their needs.

Raising The Bar For Government Technology

Cities have a unique opportunity to combine the best practices of private sector service delivery with evolving needs across the entire constituent base. Technology continues to become a more common part of everyone’s lives, delivering convenient and lower-cost alternatives that didn’t exist in the past. Private sector innovators like Netflix have had the resources to experiment and higher risk tolerance if their first try didn’t pay off. Rather than making costly mistakes, the public sector can benefit from applying the best practices that private sector giants have already tested in the field. Cities can deliver better service to constituents, and free up resources to solve higher value challenges.

Look to peers in other cities you admire for their innovative solutions. Join associations where other public servants share advice and platforms where technologists and public servants share effective tech solutions, like Marketplace.city. Or reach out directly to a colleague in another local government. Most people are willing to share their experiences that will support growth nationwide. In addition, those of us who serve the public sector can share perspectives gained from working with many cities. (You can contact us here.)

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