We the Partnership

Three principles for improving the federal customer experience

October 30, 2020

This year, federal agencies across government faced a major challenge: meeting customer expectations while navigating the COVID-19 pandemic. Some agencies quickly met this challenge and adopted strategies to accommodate customer needs. This success can inspire other agencies to implement similar strategies to improve the federal customer experience.

On Oct. 6, the Partnership for Public Service in collaboration with Accenture Federal Services released the annual “Government for the People” report, which highlights detailed data and insights on how the federal government handled customer experience improvements this past year. The report’s findings were also featured in the annual customer experience summit. During this virtual event, attendees heard from senior government leaders about the strategies they use to understand and meet customer needs, both during and after the pandemic. Panelists for the summit included:

  • Simchah Suveyke-Bogin, chief customer experience officer, Agriculture Department.
  • Jim Clifford, director at the Taxpayer First Act Office, Internal Revenue Service. 
  • Margarita Devlin, principal deputy undersecretary for benefits, Department of Veterans Affairs.

The report and the panelists outlined three delivery principles to improve the customer experience:

  1. Quickly understand changing customer needs and pivot accordingly. The VA employed this strategy to become a more responsive service provider. “We use a structured service mechanism with immediate feedback surveys to automatically collect feedback. We call them VA signals,” said Margarita Devlin, the department’s deputy undersecretary for benefits. “Little by little we’re putting [this mechanism] into all our business lines.”
  2. Empower employers to deliver services to anywhere, from anywhere. Simchah Suveyke-Bogin discussed strategies the USDA implemented to enable employees to work remotely, such as empowering field staff with new digital systems to keep farm loan processes moving even as field offices closed during the pandemic.
  3. Accelerate self-service capabilities. The IRS launched online tools that helped people check the status of their stimulus payments without additional assistance. Jim Clifford, director of the department’s Taxpayer First Act Office, described this approach: “Our guiding principle is to listen, learn and then design.” Once agencies listen to the customer, and learn what they need, then can they design effective methods and strategies to create a positive experience.

Read the complete “Government for the People: Serving the Public in a New World” report for data-driven insights into how customers experienced 11 key government services during the past year.

This post is by Tanvi Hathiramani, an intern on the Partnership’s Communications team.