US White House
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The US Federal Customer Experience Initiative (FCXI) team at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has updated its federal customer experience guidance. It comes under OMB Circular A-11 Section 280, which aims to “raise the standard of experience across government” among 33 of the nation’s highest impact service providers. It includes an annual enterprise-wide CX capacity assessment and action plan, focused improvement efforts for designated services, customer feedback collections and public reporting.

Can customer experience professionals outside the federal government learn from the feds' CX approach? Can CX pros teach the federal government at the same time?

“It may be easy to look down on the feds, but consider the range of pressures, rules, policies, restrictions and resource constraints they're working through,” said Stephanie Thum, CCXP, founding principal of Practical CX. “For example, feds can't survey customers without going through a complex, multi-agency approvals process that is required by law, that can take up to a year to get through. Same with simplifying those long, tedious forms that can obliterate customers' experiences from the get-go. Those have to go through the same long, multi-agency approvals process. There are also laws that sometimes bring on sludgy experiences for customers. Agencies don't make those laws. Congress does.”

What the Feds Can Teach CX Pros

So let's discuss CX lessons CX professionals can take from the US federal government's approach:

Does Your Team Have Required Transparency in CX?

The Feds do have something going for them that most private sector companies don't, according to Thum. That is required transparency now with customer experience data as part of OMB Circular A-11 Section 280.

“I have always wondered why more publicly traded company shareholders don't demand more data about customers' experiences — sales and pipeline numbers are not the same as CX data,” Thum said. “Veterans Administration Inspectors General are actually using customer and employee feedback data to systematically evaluate business and operational risk inside VA medical facilities. That's a corner of business that not a lot of private sector company executives allow CX to touch, but should.”

Related Article: How the US Federal Government Can Execute Great Customer Experience

CX Measurability and Transparency a Staple in Government CX Plans

The private sector can learn the importance of CX measurability and transparency from the government’s approach, according to Aaron Mosby, director of federal business development at Avtex. Performance.gov includes key measurable metrics that are available to everyone for review.

"The most important takeaways are its metrics and transparency,” Mosby said. “The government’s approach is a good model for CX pros to follow: to find ways to fold measurements into every place feasible. A lot of CX pros create metrics only to measure how well their CX initiatives are going and then only share them with decision-makers inside of the company, rarely making them public. By ‘public,’ I mean to the entire company, as an example, or to shareholders.”

CX pros may be hesitant to share metrics widely because they don’t want to cause concern or make others — including themselves — look bad. “But,” Mosby said, “when shared widely, more ideas for improvement and innovation can come forward. A CX professional isn’t on-the-ground every day, executing transactions. Broader inclusion of measurements and reporting prompts more feedback, which fuels continuous progress.”

Government Is Persistent in Trying to Get Better at CX

Performance.gov is built around setting audacious goals for customer satisfaction in the most challenging areas, according to Mosby said. “We’ve noticed that this approach is already driving improvement, which comes from influencing behaviors inside the government,” he said.

Also, the government is naming chief experience officers (CXOs) in areas that may not have citizen customers, like the U.S. Air Force. This makes CX visible as a strategic business imperative, Mosby said, to agency leaders inside the government and to other leaders in the private sector. “CX pros like me learn from government CX in that we recognize their persistence: the government never gives up, no matter how difficult the challenge,” Mosby said. “Their CX will benefit from this attribute because it is a core pillar of CX. Problems don’t get smaller or easier, only more difficult. CX plays a key role in addressing problems.”

Feds Are Strong in Consistency and Process

Craig Shull, president and GM of GetFeedback at Momentive, told CMSWire that consistency and process are two things that are key pillars to making customer experience initiatives successful. It seems like the new federal CX framework is trying to drive this both within and across agencies, he added.

“Consistency in targeting, the way metrics are measured, and how people take action on feedback are essential to providing a good customer experience,” Shull said. “And the process is the fuel that makes the CX engine work. The more processes can be automated, so feedback is consistently being collected and acted on, the more likely an organization is to actually improve the experiences it provides since they are much closer to the short-term trends that may be indicative of issues that could cause long-term problems.”

Related Article: Government Updates Focus for Customer Experience Improvements

Feds Have Clear CX Definitions and Examples

The federal CX framework includes clear definitions of what goes into CX, with tangible examples. This should be part of every CX program and the plan to execute it, according to Shull.

Here's how the federal government lays that out in its framework:

All federal agencies should have knowledge of the services they provide (e.g., SNAP recertification, land border checkpoints, business tax filing) and should also be able to articulate:

  • Occasion: A customer situation, (“the why”) an individual is interacting with your agency and the problem they are trying to solve through your service and offering. Can be written as a story describing their intent (access financing to procure new farm equipment) or a life event (addressing food insecurity). Agencies should be able to understand the scale of the demand or impact of the problem and characteristics of the person navigating the service.
  • Offering: A customer objective (“the thing”) they are trying to get or accomplish, “the noun.” The “product”, good, or value received/task completed (e.g., passport, flu shot, loan, tax payment, timely entrance into the United States through a border checkpoint).
  • Channels: The mechanisms (“the places”) by which the American public accesses public services: e.g., in-person at a service center (a USDA county office), in-person at another point of service (buying stamps at a pharmacy), digital (checking a loan balance on a mobile phone), or over the phone (calling a call center to complete an application over the phone).
  • Roles: Tasks to perform (“the people”) within the delivery chain in order to deliver the services and who does do them (e.g., concierge, county office employee, auditor, chat bot).
  • Tools: Foundational building blocks (“the tech”) for delivering services: e.g., identity verification, mobile-responsive website, notification platform.

Among these, Shull said he really appreciates how the government framework clearly spells out the why, or as they call it, occasions. “The focus on what the customer is trying to solve and the why behind it are critical to providing a great experience in any customer interaction and is something CX pros should definitely try to take away from this to bring to their own programs and plans,” Shull said. “The other thing I really liked was the expectation that every agency should clearly be able to articulate these definitions and how they relate to their products and services.”

Defining the framework is a great first step, Shull said. However, any CX program, or any program or process change across organizations or teams, requires level-setting around expectations and what accountability looks like. “CX pros should take note of how this is explicitly called out in the federal CX framework and work something similar into their programs and plans,” Shull said.

What CX Pros Can Teach the Feds

Now, let's flip the switch and discover what the US federal government can learn from CX professionals from the private arena:

CX Pros Recognize Importance of Optimizing Employee Experience

CX pros know the most important point of view regarding CX is that everyone is a customer, according to Mosby. The government serves everyone, so treating everyone as a customer will help put and keep CX practice front and center, he added.

“Also, they must remember that ‘everyone’ includes their own internal branches of government — ‘inside customers’ — and their employees, recognizing the need for also optimizing the employee experience,” Mosby said. “Thinking of every person as a customer is the first step in considering every interaction as an opportunity to leverage CX capabilities and competencies.”

Related Article: What's Ahead for Customer Experience in 2021?

CX Pros Know CX Goes Beyond Call Center

CX pros can also teach federal CX practitioners that CX is an activity not limited to the call center or CX department; it should be embedded in everything the organization does because, increasingly, Mosby said, the federal government is competing with the private sector in terms of products, services and employees. “Civilian crews are now in orbit,” Mosby said. “Delivering packages and healthcare has become highly competitive. After all, the government cannot decide to simply exit a business; it is mandated to continue to deliver. Taxpayers expect that the money to operate these systems are utilized and optimized. CX is an excellent investment to deliver on taxpayer expectations.”

CX Pros Can Iterate — and Fast

The key to customer experience is not just measuring metrics but consistently and quickly collecting data, and acting on it, according to Shull. While some of these mandates established by the federal government are meant to be rolled out over the course of years, he added, we’ve seen the most successful organizations get started with something simple quickly, and then iterate and build upon it over time.

“Oftentimes,” Shull said, “an organization that spends too long on implementation will find that needs or expectations have changed by the time they are ready to collect and act upon data. Or worse, they collect data but don’t act on it until it’s already outdated. Historically, governments are slow, but CX technology is now advanced enough to allow users to get running quickly and start listening to constituents without requiring a massive, long rollout. CX pros can show how listening, learning from what customers are saying, and then iterating to gain additional insights fast is key to success.”

Thinking More Critically About CX In Line With Goals

The government could also take a page from CX pros and think more critically about how feedback is reflected in top-level goals and performance plans, according to Shull. The Feds’ new plan focuses primarily on data points like “was feedback collected?” or “did wait times shrink?” However, for example, it doesn’t explicitly call out customer satisfaction as a metric, according to Shull. The federal government does say it aims to improve customer satisfaction with and trust in federal government; and wants to allow for a government-wide comparative assessment of customer satisfaction.

“To truly become customer-centric,” Shull said, “the government needs to look beyond things like SLAs and also tie their performance metrics and goals to actual customer happiness.”