Consumers should expect better customer experience from government agencies, provided those agencies follow through on the latest guidance from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB)

In its most recent update to Circular A-11, OMB updated its guidance on managing customer experience and improving service delivery. The circular included CX for the first time in 2018. The latest update offers more specifics for what it expects government agencies to do in the area of CX.

“This section provides continued guidance to agencies on implementing the federal government’s customer experience framework, and information for agencies on how to effectively manage customer experience improvement efforts,” the guidelines state. “Updates include additional information for agencies on best practices for measuring and managing customer experience.”

Under the updated guidelines, government agencies must perform an annual review of how programs with citizen-facing services are meeting the core functions of the “CX program maturity model” — measurement, governance and strategy, culture and organization, customer understanding, and service design. The self-assessment should include details on how the agency — and specific programs — are meeting these metrics and an action plan to remedy any deficiencies.

So how will government services evolve to provide improved customer experience?

Government Steps Up Its CX Game

“For the past several years as the federal government's customer experience community has grown, CX practices inside of agencies have been viewed as more of a ‘nice to have’ rather than a necessity,” said Stephanie Thum, chief advisor for federal customer experience at Qualtrics. “OMB Circular A-11 Section 280, Managing Customer Experience and Service Delivery, moves those ‘nice to have’ practices into the realms of necessity and reality for high-impact agencies (e.g., the Department of Veterans Affairs)."

While initially it might appear the updated guidance is “about doing surveys and calling it a day,” it goes beyond that, offering best practices for polling citizens on their experiences and how that data should be categorized, stored and shared.

“It's about integrating the practices and principles of CX as a business discipline into the fabric of your organization. That means one person alone can't be ‘assigned’ to do the work,” Thum said. So she advises government employees charged with CX to partner up internally.

The OMB’s guidance is only one step the government is taking to improve CX, Thum added. “Customer experience is at an inflection point in the US federal government. Customer experience is a designated president’s management agenda goal. Recently passed legislation like the Integrated Digital Experience Act (IDEA), the Connected Government Act, and the recently signed Taxpayer First Act all bring the customer/citizen experience into the forefront.”

Additionally, two CX-related bills that failed to pass in the last Congress, the Federal Agency Customer Experience Act and the CASES for Constituents Act, have been revived with the current Congress.

Related Article: Why Government Must Care About Customer Experience

Private Sector Offers Guidance

Despite the legal moves to improve CX, many of the government agencies are unprepared for the move, said Randy Law, principal consultant at Analytics & Insights Matter LLC, who said following best practices of the private sector will help agencies evolve their CX practices.

Learning Opportunities

“There are many CX strategies, frameworks, tools, analytic techniques and organizational change approaches that can be applied to assisting government agencies in making this transition,” Law said. “It will be a challenging journey for many agencies to become more nimble and responsive to its citizens.”

Law expects consumers to be skeptical as the agencies start to evolve their CX practices.

“It will be hard for most people to imagine how such a massive organization can become more understanding of its wants and needs and to actually respond effectively.  If done well, over time this OMB decision has the potential to transform government agencies to serving their mission more effectively — serve the want and needs of US citizens.  It will take time, but good things can come from this new guidance.”

Related Article: Use Design Thinking to Put Yourself in Your Customers' Shoes

Don't Expect Change Overnight

MaryAnn Monroe, director of customer experience for HighPoint Global, agreed it will be a long process to improve the government's customer experience, so people using government services shouldn’t expect to see a quick change.

“Things are not going to change overnight,” Monroe said. “Now that the guidelines [detailed in Section 280] exist, the agencies have more guidance on categorizing and sharing the customer experience data that they are using.”

Specifically, the OMB wants agencies to:

  • Obtain customer feedback as close to the time of the transaction as possible, and make available to program managers as frequently as possible.
  • To the extent possible, feedback collection mechanisms should be brief, thereby imposing minimal burden on customers and sampling techniques may be used on high-volume transactions to reduce burden, when appropriate.
  • To administer surveys applying best practices for optimizing response rate, for example, presenting only the two overall measures and the opportunity to provide free text comments on the reasoning for provided scores first, then presented the opportunity to respond to the remaining CX measures.

“By incorporating the CX guidance, OMB is showing a commitment to advancing something that the government sees as a priority. The expectations for improving CX is high. But all of these things will result in incremental improvements. Agencies will be applying these practices over time and will be chipping away at [poor CX].”