We the Partnership

4 recommendations for building a customer-focused government

By Emma Oonk
November 22, 2021

Efforts to improve the federal customer experience have made significant gains over the past few years. For example, digital.gov, a site designed to help government deliver better digital services, offers a premier customer experience toolkit and several agencies now have chief customer experience officers.

However, government still lags behind the private sector in customer satisfaction metrics. To narrow this gap, federal agencies need to deliver better services to the public by focusing on the needs and experiences of the people they serve. The following recommendations provide a path for agencies to do just that.

Create incentives for government leaders to put the customer first

A customer-focused government designs products and services around its users, mirroring certain customer-driven approaches that leading private sector organizations use.

However, in the public sector, a lack of incentives to prioritize the customer experience has made leadership unaccountable for fully developing its customer experience management skills. Agencies should invest in incentives that encourage innovative strategies—such as human-centered design and customer journey mapping—to prioritize customer needs.

Improve channels for customer input to fully understand the customer’s journey

Agencies should improve the channels for customer input to truly understand and solve problems that customers experience. Many of the existing channels that enable federal customers to provide feedback are not user-friendly and are isolated into single touch points.

These siloed channels also make it difficult to fully engage with customers, develop insights or design improvements based on feedback. This focus on individual touch points misses the larger picture: the customer’s end-to-end experience across multiple channels.

Drive customer-focused approaches through government processes

Agencies can take numerous steps to adopt customer-focused methods.

Agencies designated High Impact Service Providers by the Office of Management and Budget should fill project lead roles with employees experienced in designing and delivering products and services. This strategy would help agencies improve their customer experience efforts and foster a customer-driven environment.

In addition, the Executive Core Qualifications, or ECQs, should be revised to measure skills in customer experience management. Agency executive teams should also create Senior Executive Service competency curriculum on service delivery and the customer experience. In addition, adding customer experience measures to executive performance plans would add an additional incentive to focus on the customer.

Finally, federal regulations should include the customer experience as an essential agency mission outcome and require agencies to collect feedback on customers’ service journeys. To measure progress on this outcome, agencies with public-facing services should make gaining a user’s trust a priority goal.

Standardize customer experience expectations across government

Agencies across government should collaborate with each other and with state and local governments to create more unified and consistent methods to deliver services and manage the customer experience.

On an executive level, there must be communication and collaboration with legislative offices, committees and advocacy groups to update key laws and regulations that would improve the customer experience. Stakeholders like the Government Accountability Office and congressional oversight committees could also help create a standard rubric for agencies to conduct customer experience audits and evaluations. These efforts will help establish universal customer experience expectations across government.

Elevate government effectiveness in new ways

Adopting the approaches listed above would involve the customer in federal decision-making processes, rebuild public trust in government and help transform the way agencies work.

When agencies design services around a customer’s needs and behaviors, they can more easily identify gaps in products or service delivery and align customer priorities with mission goals. These steps would enable agencies to strengthen their risk management and overall resilience, develop more thoughtful and efficient delivery systems, and better allocate resources—all of which are critical to building a better government that more effectively serves all and regains the public’s trust.

This post on customer-focused government is part of our blog series on building a new innovation agenda for government, developed in coordination with the Partnership’s Federal Innovation Council. For more information, read our first post.


Emma Oonk

Leave a Reply