view of the capitol building in Washington DC
PHOTO: Maria Oswalt | unsplash

Three years after acknowledging they had a customer experience (CX) issue, government agencies are still struggling. Just visit the DMV to renew your driver's license or try to get a new passport and you'll know what I mean. The government's version of customer experience leaves much to be desired. But the issues go beyond anecdotal evidence.

Forrester's comprehensive evaluation of government CX, the U.S. Federal Government Experience Index (paywall), actually shows a slight improvement, from 59.7 to 61.1 between the last two annual ratings, representing the government’s best score since the research firm began compiling its annual indexes.

However, the government’s CX rating is still the lowest among indexes for the 14 verticals the research firm compiles.

Federal agencies scored particularly low in “respects me as a customer” (46%), communication (50%), customer service (52%) and website and mobile app (54%). Compare this with other industries' performance in each of those areas: Luxury auto manufacturers (65% for customer respect) and multichannel retailers (communication, 78% and website and mobile app, 79%).

Small improvements in any one area can greatly improve CX, according to Forrester. Each time a federal agency’s CX Index score increases by a point, 4.5% more people will say positive things about the organization; 2.8% more customers will trust the agency; 2.7% more will forgive the agency for making a mistake; and 1.9% more customers will do what the agency asks of them.

The Government's Short History With Customer Experience

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) first included customer experience in its 2018 Circular A-11, which discusses the basic laws of the budget process. It then updated its guidance in managing CX in the 2019 Circular. Since then, the government has gone back and forth on how CX should be managed. The most recent guidance, issued since the installation of the Biden Administration, requires government agencies develop an overall trust score based on survey data, emphasizing government trust as a priority.

“Agencies were clear, and unanimous, in their desire to have the earlier framework reinstated,” said Pam Coleman, OMB’s associate director of performance and personnel management, in a blog post. “Grounded in proven management practices of high-performing organizations both private and public, the framework emphasizes a focus on implementation by engaging senior leaders through ambitious and data-driven goal setting, regular reviews of progress, and public reporting of results.”

Coleman added: “we are encouraging agencies to work across organizational boundaries in setting goals that better align to the outcome and the person we are serving, rather than how programs are structured. We encourage new political appointees to partner with career leadership, including the workforce outside the Washington, D.C. area, to refine their goals and objectives.”

Related Article: OMB Pushes Government Agencies to Improve Customer Experience

A Renewed Focus on Trust and CX

The new guidance directs agencies to align new goals with Biden-Harris administration priorities. Agencies were to prepare and submit strategic plans, performance goals and targets that must be submitted to OMB by the end of June.

The newest guidelines also specify several CX goals OMB wants agencies to reach by 2030. They include:

  • Customers will rate satisfaction with federal services comparable to private sector averages.
  • Federal programs will identify the most important drivers of experience to the customer for particular types of services and transactions.
  • Significantly increasing public trust in the federal government.

Those are aggressive goals. According to Forrester, the first step for government agencies is to improve current practices to improve customer trust and use of agency services.

The importance of trust in government agencies as a CX issue was highlighted during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic as consumers looked to the government for guidance on pandemic risks, vaccine availability and a host of other factors, said Forrester analyst Judy Weader, who noted individuals and businesses alike look to government agencies for various types of support during a crisis.

Poor government CX hurts agencies’ abilities to serve their constituencies, added Forrester analyst Rick Parrish, saying that poor CX leads to citizen distrust, as well as unwillingness to apply for services, seek authoritative information or forgive agencies for mistakes.

Many of those mistakes — either in enabling customers to access the proper information, forms, etc., or in functionality — occur in the government’s websites and mobile apps, which have very inconsistent capabilities and functionality from government agency to government agency, with five of the agencies examined scoring in the very poor category.

Related Article: Innovate, Pivot or Stay the Course: How Customer Experience Responds to Disruption

Recommendations for Improved Government Customer Experience

To offer better CX, Weader recommended the government:

  • Innovate personalized virtual experiences as well as virtual town halls to increase civic participation.
  • Reevaluate HIPPA and other privacy rules that can limit access to critical benefits and services.
  • Invest in public-private partnerships that help connect volunteers to their communities.
  • Find opportunities to collaborate with private sector resources to accelerate the value the government agency provides to its customers.

Parish recommended that the government, as well as private businesses, invest in training, technology and professional services.