Washington DC Capitol dome with waving American flag outside.
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The US federal government’s “cross-agency priority goals” include ongoing efforts to improve customer experience. CX Day — an annual celebration of CX professionals on the first Tuesday in October — is today, so what better way to celebrate than to tell the US federal government how to actually improve its customer experience?

We do think the government is trying. Others do, too. But some use words like “weak and uneven” when describing federal customer experience. And who can relate to trying to find important COVID-19 regulations from news outlets vs. actual government websites or communications? (We’re raising our hands).

With that, we caught up with customer experience experts about how the US federal government can walk the walk when it comes to its promise to “provide a modern, streamlined, and responsive customer experience across government, comparable to leading private-sector organizations.”

What Is the Fed CX Mandate?

First, some details on the federal CX effort. It operates under updated guidance from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) — called A-11 Section 280 (PDF), “Managing Customer Experience and Improving Service Delivery.” It was recently updated for 2020. The CX mandate includes goals, challenges, opportunities, action plans, updates, the OMB toolkit and resources.

The effort is led by:

  • Dr. Lynda Davis, chief veterans experience officer, Department of Veterans Affairs.
  • Matt Cutts, administrator, US Digital Service.
  • Dustin Brown, deputy assistant director for management, Office of Management and Budget.

By 2030, the US federal government wants to reach these outcomes:

  • Customers rate satisfaction with federal services comparable to private sector averages.
  • Federal programs are able to identify the most important drivers of experience to the customer for particular types of services and transactions (e.g., service effectiveness, ease, efficiency and equity/transparency).
  • There is a significant increase in public trust in the federal government — agencies collect and track measures of trust through customer feedback, and can draw clear correlations between satisfaction and trust.

Related Article: OMB Pushes Government Agencies to Improve Customer Experience

What Gov Should Know About Managing CX

For the purposes of this article, we are focusing on one particular section of the OMB CX guidance: 280.6, “How should agencies manage customer experience?” The government summarizes core CX functions in this section in the areas of measurement, governance and strategy, culture and organization, customer understanding and service design and improvement.

So let’s help them get there.

Governance and Strategy: Identifying Executives and Leaders

What the US government says: Institutionalizing CX by identifying executives and leaders responsible, organizing supporting resources, defining the processes by which strategic decisions incorporate customer perspective, and aligning CX strategy and activities with business decisions, initiatives and investments within the agency's broader mission and strategic priorities.

Governance is one area where agencies really have an opportunity to soar, but struggle, according to Stephanie Thum, CCXP, founding principal of Practical CX. Governance is complex and requires a continuous cadence of work and attention. “It is what takes you from having data to doing something with it,” Thum told CMSWire. “We can’t see progress until teams do something.”

When most people hear “governance structure,” they immediately assume it’s only referring to the governing body, including people, roles and responsibilities that inform and lend oversight to the work that lies ahead, according to Annette Franz, CCXP, founder and CEO of CX Journey. Oversight and execution are what really matters, she said. Execution is the operating model portion of governance, which outlines how things will get done to achieve your desired outcomes, Franz added.

“The other thing to keep in mind about governance is that it’s also critical to getting organizational adoption and to breaking down silos,” Franz said. “When you stand up cross-functional committees that become the conduit to/from the core CX team, you are bringing together teams that don’t often work together. It opens the door for them to see what other departments do and how they all work together to deliver the customer experience.”

Creating Administrative Policy Around Surveys

Especially when doing CX governance work in government, one of the best places to start can be to create an administrative policy around customer surveys, according to Thum.

“Government is really good at governance,” Thum said. “You will have to influence change when you’re building this work. So, even if others around the government agency leadership table don’t quite get the concepts of CX yet, they probably do understand administrative policies. So, this can be one area where you can create instant understanding around some elements of the CX work.”

Administrative policy can align your organization around how your agency collects and uses customer feedback, Thum said. “There is a lot more to governance, and government agencies may even already have other elements of governance in place that they can build from and just not realize it yet — like existing customer advisory boards and committees,” she said. “But an administrative policy around surveys is a good place to start.”

Related Article: How Miami-Dade County Has Handled Web and Digital Challenges Amid COVID-19

Measurement: Ensuring Accountability in CX

What the US government says: Defining and instituting CX outcome measures, as well as service operational measures, to ensure accountability for improving service delivery and communicating performance across the organization and to the public, routinely analyzing and making use of this data.

High-impact federal agencies now must publicly share operational and experiential metrics that tell the story of their customers’ experiences, Thum said. Operational is the “what” of experience: contact center volumes, application volumes and processing times, for example. “Experiential data comes straight from customers about their experiences. It’s customer feedback,” Thum added.

She suggests government CX practitioners partner up with their agency’s Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA) liaison. PRA can be a roadblock for federal agencies in getting started with collecting customer feedback.

“The law requires a complex interagency process that can take up to a year before an agency gets approval to administer a survey to customers,” Thum said. “But if you’re a high-impact agency and can connect customer feedback collection to A-11/280’s requirements, then there may be a fast-track way. They, along with GSA (General Services Administration), have been working on a new umbrella clearance for A-11/280 work.” Understand PRA law. Partner up inside the agency, and partner up with consultants who understand PRA, Thum said.

“The biggest roadblocks I see federal government clients encounter is with PRA,” Thum added. “They don’t leave enough planning time to pull in their PRA liaison to help navigate the law and process of surveying customers, they don’t know who that person is, or they think it will take too long to find out, so they avoid the work.”

Culture and Organization: Developing CX Talent

What the US government says: Acquiring and developing the talent required to incorporate and improve CX within agency activities, and empowering all employees to adopt a CX mindset through training, performance measurement, and rewards.

A customer-centric culture is one that is deliberately designed to be that way, according to Franz. This happens when the CEO or agency head has committed to always having customers’ best interests at heart.

“There are no discussions, decisions or designs without bringing the customer’s voice into them, without asking: how will this impact the customer? How will it make her feel? What problems will it solve for her? How will it add or create value for her?” Franz added.

Culture is core values plus behaviors. It’s not enough, Franz said, just to outline your core values. “You must also outline examples of acceptable behaviors that correspond with each value,” Franz said. “And then you must not only socialize the core values but also operationalize them. That’s how you get the culture you design, not the culture you allow.”

Related Article: How Cultural Differences Impact Customer Experience

Hiring for Culture Fit Matters

Operationalize values by using them when hiring, firing, promoting, making decisions and developing policies and processes. Hiring for culture fit is important, Franz said, adding that doesn’t mean your culture won’t be diverse.

“What it does mean is that you’re hiring people who understand, align with, and are happy to live your core values,” Franz said. “This goes a long way toward that CX mindset. If you hire employees who have demonstrated that they put people first, care about customers, work well with others, etc., organizational adoption becomes that much easier.”

It’s not enough to just ensure that employees are empowered to adopt a CX mindset. Employee experience drives customer experience, so it must start with ensuring employees have the tools, resources, training, processes, policies and workspace to do their jobs and to do them well, according to Franz. “They’ve also got to have leadership that cares about them, provides them feedback and coaching, appreciates and recognizes them, ensures they know how they work contributes and matters, and more,” she said.

Customer Understanding: Mapping CX Journeys

What the US government says: Identifying the main occasions that result in the public making use of or interacting with federal services and conducting qualitative and quantitative research across organizational silos to map intra-agency customer journeys, as well as cross-agency journeys where applicable, to build and continually refine a knowledge base of the agency’s customer segments and needs, integrating disparate customer interaction and administrative data.

Customer understanding is the cornerstone of a customer-centric culture, according to Franz. It’s so important to do the work, and to do it continuously on an ongoing basis to understand customers and their pain points, problems to solve and jobs to be done, Franz said.

She identifies three ways to achieve customer understanding: listen (feedback and data), characterize (research-based personas) and empathize (journey mapping process). Franz added it’s important to do the work to understand employees, as well, using the same three approaches.

“Know that each one is done with customers and yields a ton of data,” Franz said. “In the end, they all work together to deliver a great experience. Data is at the heart of designing and delivering a great customer experience. It takes a data-driven strategy to reimagine, to redesign, and then to deliver the experience that customers desire today. The only way to know what customer’s expectations are about the experience is to talk to them, to understand them and to co-create with them.”

Service Design and Improvement: Customer-Focused Approach

What the US government says: Adopting a customer-focused approach to the implementation of services, involving and engaging customers in iterative development, leveraging digital technologies and leading practices to deliver more efficient and effective interactions, and sharing lessons learned across government.

There’s a tremendous opportunity for agencies here to choose the projects that make the most sense for their agencies, according to Thum. It could be anything from redesigning an application form and implementing greater use of plain language, to automating easy transactions. It could also be redesigning a whole digital service or website.

“This is one area of A-11/280 where you may be able to find some quick wins that impress people,” Thum said.

Try pilot projects in areas of the agency where change is most likely to be successful. But be careful of a couple of pitfalls.

“First, some executives often like to believe that they just know what customers want without asking them,” Thum said. “You must reframe your assumptions and listen to customers through questionnaires or focus groups, for example. Second, as business leaders, we usually love pilot projects and early wins. But demanding quick wins can lead you to overlook important nuances of what it will take to create lasting customer-focused change.”