An expert offers advice on how to know whether you're ready for change at the top.
With customer experience (CX) now firmly established as a critical differentiator in the marketplace, companies are racing to provide their customers with interactions that meet the highest possible standards — and government agencies are paying close attention.
Every day, an estimated 18 million people visit a federal government website. However, while users recognize that federal websites continue to improve, commercial sites are often viewed as more user friendly, flexible and visually appealing, according to Booz Allen's 2019 Federal Customer Experience Survey.
Whether through federal agency websites, apps or live interactions, the pressure has never been greater to improve service for those who need help accessing information, services and benefits. To accelerate change, some agencies are creating a customer experience office (CXO), a new development in the federal government. Below are a few important considerations when deciding if now is the time to stand up a dedicated CX function:
1. Secure buy-in from stakeholders. Meet with leaders of key organizations within your agency, describe the findings and explain the urgency to make the services and processes revolve around the customer rather than around organizational structures or the limitations of legacy systems. Explain that a cross-organizational approach that spans business lines would have the necessary authority, scope and resources to make change possible, and get buy-in from across the organization for how an experience capability would function, report and drive results.
2. Decide where the new office will sit. Ideally, a CX capability would sit at the executive level to enact a cohesive strategy that will reap the benefits of integrated services across the organization. If stakeholders support this move, it shows not only that they are willing to back the establishment of the office but also that they are prepared to support its recommendations.
3. Take notes from agencies that have started down this path. Each organization has a unique mission and set of goals, but the overarching principles of a customer-focused experience remain the same. We're starting to see examples of federal agencies that are setting up this function and can serve as a model to others who are earlier in the journey.
A reimagined experience for veterans
The Department of Veterans Affairs is an example of an agency that has yielded significant impact from standing up a CX office. In 2015, the secretary of the VA recognized that there was no office solely dedicated to measuring and reporting the veteran customer experience. The VA created the Veterans Experience Office (VEO) to enable the agency to be the leading CX organization in government so that service members, veterans, their families, caregivers and survivors choose VA.
By bringing in experts in human-centered design, data science, statistics and artificial intelligence, this centralized VEO pioneered a brand-new CX measurement capability that identified the moments that matter to veterans, family members, caregivers and survivors when accessing and using VA services. Using natural language processing and machine learning, the agency developed algorithms that are saving the lives of at-risk veterans. The Office of Management and Budget modeled this cross-functional approach as a best practice for measuring CX — mandating 24 other agencies to follow suit.
Designing a Center of Excellence model
Another example of a CX office in practice can be found at the United States Department of Agriculture. USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue charged the agency with becoming "the most efficient, most effective, and most customer-focused department in the federal government." Like in any highly complex organization, this would require mapping the interrelationships between USDA agencies, programs and customers and building intuitive connections across the enterprise based on customer needs.
Under the joint General Services Administration and USDA Customer Experience Center of Excellence, the organization applied human-centered design, digital, data science and customer experience principles to build a robust, data-driven customer experience capability. The team was composed of ethnographic researchers, designers, CX strategists, data scientists and other digital specialists who all came together to guide USDA in the development of a comprehensive CX strategy.
They were able to do this, by first conducting extensive ethnographic/user research across the organization's various agencies and services. Then, they mapped the findings into an ecosystem uniting numerous customer journeys across varied USDA services. That work allowed them to develop tools and guidelines to modernize USDA's web applications to comply with the 21st Century IDEA Act and apply the research and guidelines to enhance customer-facing applications. These services now work together to help the USDA create more intuitive, efficient and effective experiences that map to real customers as they seek services and resources from the department.
Putting the taxpayer at the center
The Internal Revenue Service is another strong example of an agency that dedicated resources to turning taxpayers into customers. The organization knew it had an image problem, with taxpayers experiencing frustration even when making simple, quick requests. The website was complicated to navigate, and when consumers called in, they often would wait on hold for too long. So the IRS embarked on a strategic effort to change that—with a vision to redefine the taxpayer experience and deliver high-quality, easy-to-use, low-cost online services consumers crave. By deploying UX designers, data scientists, marketing and digital strategists, and information architecture specialists, IRS was able to develop and improve more than 25 digital products — including IRS.gov, the first-ever Online Account tool, and the IRS2GO mobile app. The goal was to simplify the experience of taxpayers by creating a digital-first CX strategy; this approach also boosted electronic payments by $62 billion in four years.
A focus on CX opens the door to organizational changes. My colleague Chris Bagley shared that by prioritizing the customer, "we'll start to see agencies be able to spend less, do more, and then reinvest some of those savings in continually listening and evolving as the needs of the population change." But a successful CXO function starts with a commitment that extends across an organization, at every level and across every channel — and is backed by the resources to make that commitment concrete. While this dedicated investment is not yet standard across the government, this is the direction agencies are moving. And for departments with a core mission to serve citizens, providing critical benefits and services, a CX function is opening up new possibilities for advancing that mission.
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