Name: Michelle Thong
Title: Digital Services Lead
City: San José, Calif.
Michelle Thong’s role in San José is to make sure that the city’s services are easy to find, easy to use, and accessible to everyone. “It’s about creating online interactions that work really well the first time for our residents and businesses,” she said. “We want them to have a good experience so they can get on with whatever they’re actually trying to do. If they’re applying for a permit, their goal isn’t to apply for a permit — it’s to open a restaurant or build an addition to their home.”
For Thong, that means being intentional about designing and delivering services in a way that’s centered squarely on user needs. That can be harder than it sounds. For example, when Thong led an upgrade to the city’s 311 mobile app, called My San José, she wanted to give residents a better sense of when the city would respond to their requests. Adding that capability required partnering with a number of operations teams to establish agreeable time targets and hold themselves accountable in this way.
“In this era of Amazon Prime delivery and Uber, people expect that if they report a pothole, it will be fixed within an hour. So it’s really important to set expectations,” Thong said. “Great customer experiences don’t happen by accident. They happen by design.”
Pro Tip: “It can feel lonely to be one of the people in your organization who are trying to advance change. Reach out and connect with your peers in other cities to feel like you’re part of a community.”