Enhancing customer experience has been a frequent topic of discussion for federal agencies during the last few years and the need to improve it has only grown more apparent. One year on from the issuance of the Executive Order on Transforming Federal Customer Experience, and with the anniversary of the OMB memorandum approaching in April, agencies have made significant progress toward delivering on expectations. Recently, federal agencies and industry leaders from Maximus and Salesforce joined Federal News Network for a webinar discussing best practices and lessons learned over the last year.
Driving Proactive Improvements with Data
Websites and user portals are a valuable part of improving customer experience, but upgrading back-end processes is equally important. For many agencies, this means changing how they think about and use the vast amounts of data at their disposal. Mia Jordan, Digital Transformation Executive at Salesforce, explained that the government is shifting from a reactive stance—waiting for a user to make a request—to a more proactive one. She gave the example of a passport with an upcoming expiration date, explaining that with a proactive approach, “the government isn’t allowing you to let it lapse. [We’re] moving to a state where, 90 days out from that expiration date, you get an email or a text prompting you to come in and [giving] appointment options.”
The COVID-19 Task Force’s vaccine distribution initiative in early 2021 exemplified this principle of proactive engagement. When vaccines became available for broad distribution, the White House, CDC, U.S. Digital Service, and Maximus collaborated to develop a COVID-19 help desk, CDC-VAX, to assist Americans in locating vaccine appointments. The frontline feedback the program received guided the addition of numerous capabilities. “We were bringing [data] back to our agency leaders and saying, ‘people are struggling because they can’t get appointments,” said MaryAnn Monroe, Senior Director, Total Experience Solutions and Services at Maximus. As constituent feedback revealed access barriers, CDC-VAX contracted with pharmacy chains, rideshare apps, and childcare providers to facilitate appointments. “It was this constant learning […] and then adapting and evolving our services to meet those changing needs in almost real time,” Monroe said.
Simplifying User Experience with a Digital Front Door
In addition to general guidance, the Executive Order outlined specific actions for agencies to take to improve their customers’ experience. One such action was to redesign USA.gov as a “digital front door”—a centralized starting point for any service a user might need. Other agencies, such as the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), have taken a similar approach to their modernization. Barbara Morton, Deputy Chief Veterans Experience Officer at the VA, explained that a digital front door addresses a well-known pain point within the agency.
Traditionally, veterans wanting to interact with the VA online had to navigate many different digital properties depending on their needs. VA’s strategy during the last year focused on collapsing these properties into a single website, identified as the ideal front door after extensive user research. “We asked veterans upfront, ‘If you’re thinking about transacting with the department, which of these web properties would you naturally gravitate toward?’” Morton said. “They came back to us and said, ‘VA.gov is a strong brand; that’s where I would think to go.’” To complement the updated functionality, the website also underwent a redesign, moving top transactions to the front page for easy access.
Embedding Customer Experience into Agency Culture
As agencies redesign their approaches to customer interactions, they are building education in from the start. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has cultivated an in-house design and development team since its founding in 2011. After the Executive Order (EO) was issued, CFPB established a user research and design thinking team within that team to cement design thinking, and considering customer needs above all else, as a core capability of the agency.
For the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), improving customer experience delivers dual benefits of providing positive interactions for passengers and creating a smoother screening experience for security officers. TSA Customer Service Branch Manager, Niki French, explained that “if people are causing problems or complaining in the line, that’s backing things up. You want calm checkpoints so that you can spot bad actors more easily.” To underscore the connection between customer experience and security, new hires now complete a dedicated “CX Demystified” course during training. The class is also offered to existing employees, and the agency plans to roll out a higher-level course next year.
Agencies have already made significant progress toward the goals outlined in the EO, and customer experience when interacting with the government will only continue to improve. With the lessons and best practices discovered this year in mind, agencies are on the right path to grow their ability to deliver on their missions in new and innovative ways.
Learn more about ways to enhance customer experiences in government here.