Improving CX isn't all about tech

business management (Alexander Supertramp/ 

Agencies are moving ahead with plans to deliver private sector-level customer services almost a year after Congress approved the 21st Century Integrated Digital Experience Act.

On Sept. 19, the White House released details on 25 "high impact" service providers and their plans to improve customer experience, as part of an overall cross-agency goal.

Federal officials on the front lines of delivering on improved customer experience say that IT modernization and improved CX mostly go hand-in-hand, but agencies have to tread cautiously.

At a Sept. 19 luncheon hosted by the Association for Federal Information Resources Management, Chad Sheridan, IT Director, farm production & conservation business, at the U.S. Department of Agriculture said the agency has been busy rolling out modern, public-facing services to aid farmers. Those systems provide the agency with data that can help it perform its mission and tweak systems to better serve farmers. There is a limit, however, to how much the agency should ask from its constituents, he said.

"Customizing and sending out" individually tailored messages about the agency's services to farmer in hopes of honing customer experience, "gets really creepy" since the agency typically interacts with each individual only three or four times a year, said Sheridan.

Interactions, like asking for disaster help or a farm loan, he said, shouldn't be an opportunity for the agency to aggressively mine farmers for data, or push its other services at them, he said. The old fashioned trusted local USDA officer remains a staple of the agency's customer contact, he said, despite its development of a stable of public-facing online customer services.

Sometimes a technology may improve service for customers, but it can carry connotations that might make them wary.

Customs and Border Protection, said Colleen Manaher, the agency's executive director of planning, program analysis, and evaluation in the Office of Field Operations, is equipping its 354 ports of entry, including airports, seaports and land crossings with biometric identification technology.

The agency's Global Entry program, which pulls in data from travelers in advance of their trips in exchange for speedier transit through security is a hugely successful example of a data-backed customer service, she said.

"We're moving quickly with facial recognition," she said, acknowledging that the technology has garnered some bad press. Manaher stated that facial recognition "is not a surveillance program" because when it comes to border crossings, photos and other biometric information are part of existing databases.

"You've already given me your data when you got your passport or passport card, or your Global Entry card," she said. "I use facial recognition to simply identify you and move you."

Using facial recognition at crowded seaports, airports and land crossings, she said can save travelers time in long lines. The technology saves 30 seconds per passenger which can add up at crowded entry ports, she said, and has improved boarding times on cruise ships, which were early adopters of the technology.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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