Improving the Customer Experience Government-wide
We held conversations with 25 High-Impact Service Providers, identified because of the scale and impact their customer facing services have on the American public. With just these 25 programs, the Federal government touches nearly every American. Here is what we learned.
By CX CAP Goal Team
quarterly update CAP goal PMA
From small businesses seeking loans, to families receiving disaster support, to someone passing through an airport security line - every interaction between the Federal government and the public is an opportunity to demonstrate the government understands and is working to meet their needs. For an individual, this can mean less time in a government office or on the phone with a help desk. Collectively, these interactions are a powerful opportunity to demonstrate to citizens that their government is working for them. According to recent research, as much as 67% of trust in government can be explained by customer experience.1 This means that improving the public’s trust in government happens interaction by interaction, and we must act to improve every moment that we can. In addition to increasing trust, improving customer experience has also been demonstrated to improve outcomes such as saving costs, reducing risk, and more effectively achieving stated missions.2
The 2018 update of the Federal Performance Framework (OMB Circular A-11, Section 280) provides first-of-its-kind guidance aimed at embedding customer experience management as a critical component of agency operations. The primary focus is on 25 High Impact Service Providers (HISPs) across 14 agencies, identified because of the scale and impact their customer facing services have on the American public. With just these 25 programs, the Federal government touches nearly every American. This makes the HISP customer interactions an incredible opportunity to rebuild trust in our government.
These service providers are advancing their organization’s CX maturity and gathering customer feedback using government-wide standard CX measures. In November 2018, teams from all 25 HISPs completed a CX Maturity Self-Assessment. The tool adapts leading CX practices from the private sector to the Federal government context. The purpose of this annual exercise is threefold:
- Provide a common understanding of “what good CX looks like” in practice;
- Facilitate intra-agency conversations across functions that execute Federal programs; and,
- Identify CX challenges and opportunities government-wide to focus service delivery improvement efforts.
This past winter, the CX CAP Goal Team discussed the results of these assessments with each HISP. We were inspired by the impressive public servants across government who are deeply connected to their mission and the people that they serve. A number of themes emerged across programs from these discussions. These include:
Customers experience life events, not Federal agencies. Traveling out of the country requires getting a passport from the Department of State, going through a Transportation Safety Administration security line, and declaring goods to Customs and Border Protection. Exporting your first shipment from your small business could require interacting with no fewer than five Federal entities. Completing research across multiple Federal websites, varying eligibility criteria, definition of terms and more are not setup for actual experiences, but along appropriation language, statute, and individual agency policies. Oftentimes individuals hit the limits of support based on an agency mandate rather than a customer need, or the fact that another agency or program might meet that need somewhere else. Interactions with one agency could even have unintended consequences or impacts later with another entity of government.
Moments of stress often require complex decisions. People are frequently interacting with the Federal government at a time that is stressful (either positively or negatively) to begin with – figuring out retirement, recovering from a natural disaster, losing health insurance, managing logistics after the death of a loved one, determining if and how you’ll pay for college. These moments often require mental effort just by the nature of the event, and government information around an important decision can often be confusing and overwhelming.
People frequently navigate Federal services on behalf of someone else. Whether it’s a child with a disability, caring for an elderly parent, or even coordinating for a neighbor, individuals are often helping others, but federal programs face challenges designing for individuals in a caretaker role.
Sometimes the confusing part isn’t the quality of the website. Much of the government’s investment, legislation, and focus on improving customer experience has been on building new digital products and modernizing IT. While this is certainly critical work and is often part of the solution to improving the customer experience, important changes are also necessary in how our services are administered. Understanding the root causes of barriers to delivering the outcomes we seek may require policy changes, rethinking how enrollment processes work and their timing, how information is presented and framed, how choices are presented, how we structure incentives, or even connecting people between Federal programs or broader systems of support. For example, in 2015, while civilian employees were automatically enrolled in the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP), active duty Service members were not. Just 42% of Service members, compared to 87% of civilians, were enrolled in TSP. No-cost, evidence-based insights were applied to increase retirement contributions, supporting a change in the 2017 NDAA to automatically opt-in Service members to retirement savings.
While each program faces a unique set of challenges, the CX CAP Goal Team also identified a number of barriers to the adoption of CX practices. These include:
CX is too often not a priority for leadership and staff at all levels. Federal managers and program staff are passionate about delivering their program’s mission, and attentive to political demands and legal requirements. However, they often do not sufficiently prioritize understanding their customer’s needs and designing service delivery from the customer perspective. Even with customer-centered practices saturating conferences, panels, and the popular press, Federal programs still trail the private sector in adopting proven CX practices by a considerable margin. Budgets “for CX” at HISPs range from zero to tens of millions of dollars, and some investments are needed when implementing CX practices. But good CX work doesn’t necessarily require funding requests or changes in statute - it requires leaders to be connected with their customers directly and empower their employees to go about things with the customer at the forefront of their mind.
Program implementers don’t necessarily have a deep understanding of their customer or their needs. The Federal government has vast amounts of rich administrative data. Research and evaluation divisions possess extensive knowledge of the impacts of Federal policies and programs. Too often, these are separate groups and their insights are not translated into real-time program improvements. Logistical implications of the Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA) can cause hesitancy among Federal employees who want to talk directly to customers but want to do so responsibly. Program implementers (not just their IT shops) need go-to guides and templates to conduct customer research, gather customer feedback, and conduct user testing.
Frustrated employees won’t provide an exceptional experience for customers. Agency leaders are beginning to recognize the connection between employee and customer experience. In government, internal processes can be particularly difficult to navigate, IT systems can be disparate, and front-line employees experience inflexible boundaries of autonomy. Employee frustration with these barriers can be passed on to the customer. Employee experience journey maps are equally important to customer experience journey maps, so we can understand where our own processes are getting in the way of excellent service.
Getting the right CX talent and services is hard. Procurement is often setup to buy printers, airplanes, computers and other defined items and services. There is no “human centered designer” government job series. When budgets and FTE counts are tight, managers aren’t sure how to justify a CX hire in a program office when tech teams have “User Experience Testers” or see it solely as a function related to digital product development. Agencies across government have found unique solutions that we need to share and replicate.
We’re using these findings to prioritize the development of centralized resources and support to help improve the customer experience government-wide.