Mapping for equity: Investing in customer journey maps for better public services
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Mapping for equity: Investing in customer journey maps for better public services

May 17, 2023 | Updated on June 14, 2023

Hours after taking office, President Biden signed an executive order that committed the federal government to prioritize equitable outcomes for all. More than 90 federal agencies then went on to conduct equity assessments culminating in each of them releasing detailed Equity Action Plans —designed to address the barriers that underserved communities face in receiving services—in April 2022.

Shortly thereafter, the Partnership and Accenture Federal Services released a report that highlighted several ways agencies can fulfill their Equity Action Plans and make their services more equitable, including communicating directly with the customer and effectively co-designing services with them.

A powerful tool that can help teams in this work is customer journey mapping

Customer journey mapping helps providers understand how their customers use a service and what helps and pains them during the experience. A potent customer journey map is a visual representation of all the actions—visible or hidden—that customers take while engaging with a service, starting with people’s circumstances and needs, and including their attitudes, feelings and perceptions.

Some federal agencies already successfully use it; for others, it remains uncharted territory.

While agencies may have a sense of how customers use a service—and the barriers to using it, they have not always been able to track where and how specific communities run into administrative burden.

As defined by scholars Don Moynihan and Pamela Herd, administrative burdens are the “costs that people encounter when they search for information about public services (learning costs), comply with rules and requirements (compliance costs), and experience the stresses, loss of autonomy or stigma that comes from such encounters (psychological costs).”

Without that deeper, more nuanced understanding that a customer journey map provides, teams working on services might only have a process flow—which is also important, but not enough to create truly equitable services.

For example, agencies may recognize that a requirement to mail in a paper form could be burdensome, but only through in-depth customer research and journey mapping will they fully understand how that requirement impacts different customers, depending on their schedules, access to transportation, physical abilities and numerous other factors.

In a more recent executive order, President Biden recognized the value of customer journey mapping, offering agencies guidance on using experiential data, including “human-centered design methodologies such as journey mapping” to identify customer experience challenges.

Realizing the full value of these maps, however, will require agencies to collect or analyze the customer insights needed to develop a full picture of their customers’ experiences—and that will not be possible unless agencies invest in diverse customer experience talent and empower them to listen to the many different voices of those who rely on federal services.

For many agencies, this process is just beginning.

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