Veterans Education and Training Benefits Back to Customer Experience Profiles Veterans Benefits Administration, Department of Veterans Affairs Executive Summary Data Highlights Customer Experience Insights Delivering Services Equitably Leading Customer Experience Practices The Veterans Benefits Administration provides a wide array of services for veterans, including education and career training benefits. Veterans appreciate the agency’s proactive communications—especially during the uncertainty of the pandemic—and the agency is now working to target its messages to meet customers’ need for more personalized information. VBA is also beginning a modernization effort that will enable veterans to interact with the agency through additional channels, such as text and web chat, and get access to real-time information about their eligibility and benefits. Service Overview VBA supports veterans in multiple ways, including through education and disability benefits, pensions and home loans. Each year, the agency provides education benefits to nearly a million veterans and service members, as well as their families, helping them find the right schools or training programs, pay education expenses and access career counseling. Primary customers Veterans, service members and their families. Key education and training services (all data for fiscal year 2020) Information about eligibility for education and training benefits, the application process and status of payments. Processing of claims and applications for education and training benefits programs. 3.5 million education benefits claims processed. Payment of tuition and fees, monthly housing stipends, books and other related expenses. $11.5 billion in benefits paid. Assistance with finding schools where veterans can use their benefits. Education and career counseling to support job searches, identify training programs and help veterans achieve their training and employment goals. Coordination with school officials, so they understand the VBA benefits available and can answer the questions veterans frequently ask. Service Snapshot (all data for fiscal year 2020) 2 million calls answered by the VA Education Call Center. Average wait time: 2 minutes. 6.7 million calls answered by the National Call Center, which handles other non-education benefit inquiries. Average wait time: ~3 minutes. 56 VBA regional offices.1 Data Highlights education benefit claims processed. of veterans surveyed felt they were treated with courtesy and respect by VBA call center staff. Customer Experience Insights Improvement from last year Room for improvement Veterans would like more personalized information about their education benefits. VBA conducts nationwide email campaigns and other outreach to provide veterans with information about applying for and using education benefits. Veterans have shared that these communications are particularly helpful during times of change, such as the coronavirus pandemic, when many veterans may have similar questions, according to VBA officials. However, through their customer research, VBA officials have heard from veterans that the amount of information provided can be overwhelming and that veterans would like to receive fewer, more personalized messages. In response to this feedback, VBA has consolidated some of the messaging it sends to customers and begun sending more targeted messaging to specific groups of customers based on their particular situation—such as applying for benefits or if an individual is about to graduate from college—and what information would be most relevant and useful at that time. Authenticated accounts will enable veterans to access real-time information about their eligibility and benefits. VBA’s customer research has shown that veterans would like more online self-service opportunities to manage and receive their education benefits, as well as the ability to communicate with VBA through additional digital channels. The agency is currently working on a large-scale modernization effort, called the Digital GI Bill, to improve how education benefits are delivered and provide veterans with a better experience. The modernized online platform developed as part of this effort will use the secure, authenticated account process already in place on VA.gov, and will provide veterans with the ability to call, email, text and chat with the agency to get real-time answers to questions about eligibility and benefits. The account will also enable veterans to easily and immediately access their own records without having to wait for VBA to provide them. For example, as part of this new platform, veterans will be able to access digital copies of certificates of eligibility or denial letters the day decisions are made, rather than needing to wait for a copy to be mailed to them. As it implements this initiative, VBA is using human-centered design to ensure that the final product meets veterans’ needs. Veterans appreciate the professionalism of VBA call center staff but would like more clarity about next steps. VBA’s National Call Center answers questions about all types of VBA benefits, including training and disability benefits. Callers in fiscal 2021 rated the call center’s staff highly but indicated that they did not always get all the information they were looking for during a call. To improve veterans’ call center experience, the agency has expanded its ability to quickly resolve common issues on their first call. Veterans seeking certain information corrections or changes can now have their records updated instantaneously when calling the agency. [chart] Delivering Veterans Education Benefits Equitably Historically speaking, the Serviceman’s Readjustment Act of 1944, or the G.I. Bill, is widely considered to be a transformative piece of legislation that played a key role in strengthening the middle class in the post-war U.S. and driving the country’s economic expansion. It was also the first openly race-neutral federal social legislation. But despite the progressive language of the bill, in practice, the benefits it granted were not equally extended to Black and white veterans. Particularly in the South, because of structural barriers, the G.I. Bill not only failed to improve but worsened educational and economic disparities between Black and white people. Looking at educational opportunities provided to veterans through a historical lens allows for a better understanding of the disadvantages that prospective first-generation Black students and students from other underserved communities face. For instance, veterans of color are 4 times more likely to be first-generation students than their white counterparts. This means that students of color often lack family guidance on higher education, are less familiar with admission procedures and funding opportunities and, combined with other risk factors, are more likely to drop out without a degree. The GI Bill student population is diverse. Students ranging in age from 18 to over 70 seek benefits from the VA. One-third of those in contact about education benefits are women and over half identify as a member of an ethnically diverse group. The administration has expanded the use of digital outreach, particularly during the pandemic, but it is also making sure to respond to the needs of the many older students, who might have different preferences. Students who are not on a traditional college track, such as apprenticeship students, have different information needs, and VBA provides them with targeted resources regarding GI Bill benefits. Overall, VBA is engaging with veterans to thoroughly understand and address the diversity of their needs. Leading Customer Experience Practices The Partnership and Accenture developed the following list of practices to understand how agencies prioritize the customer experience, and steps they can take to improve. The list is based on research about effective customer experience practices in both government and the private sector, and aligns with practices in a customer experience maturity self-assessment for agencies developed by the Office of Management and Budget. Organizational Commitment Organizational Commitment A strong commitment and plan from agency leaders to prioritize customer experience is essential for sustained progress. The agency: 1. Includes high-quality customer experience in its strategic goals. Yes Customer service is one of the priorities listed in the agency’s strategic plan and is included in several of its strategic goals. 2. Specifies customer feedback as a key measure of the organization’s performance. Yes The percent of veterans who agree with the statement, “I trust VA to fulfill our country’s commitment to Veterans,” is a key performance measure. 3. Has a senior executive with the responsibility and authority to lead efforts to improve the customer experience across the organization. Yes The VA has a chief veterans’ experience officer who leads the agency’s customer experience efforts and strategy. Ease of Customer Interactions Ease of Customer Interactions Interactions with the federal government should be easy, transparent and designed around user needs. For the most common services provided, customers can: 1. Complete common transactions using the service delivery channel of their choice. Partially For post-9/11 GI Bill benefits, veterans can apply, view their payment history, request changes to benefits and change their direct deposit information online or over the phone. However, detailed account information for programs created before the post-9/11 GI Bill is not available online. 2. Obtain status updates through online self-service. Partially Veterans can check the status of payments online if they are post-9/11 GI Bill recipients, but not for older education programs. 3. Receive a response to feedback or answers to questions over social media. No VBA does not respond to customer questions or comments on Facebook or Twitter. 4. Access online information and support in languages other than English. Partially Some content about veterans’ benefits is available on the agency’s website in Spanish. Listening to Customers and Acting on Feedback Listening to Customers and Acting on Feedback To understand and prioritize customer needs, agencies should collect, publish, analyze and act on feedback. The agency: 1. Collects meaningful customer experience data across interactions and service delivery channels and shares it with the public. Yes Improvement from last yearVBA collects and publicly shares customer experience data for its call center services, in line with OMB guidance. 2. Collects and analyzes first-hand customer feedback to understand customers’ experiences, based on their own words. Yes VBA conducts human-centered design interviews and builds journey maps to understand customers’ experiences. 3. Aggregates and analyzes customer feedback across channels and programs, and shares feedback with relevant staff members so they can act on it. Yes Back to Customer Experience Profiles Footnotes and Methodology Footnote VBA’s education services are available in two of the 56 regional offices. Data from an email survey distributed to customers after they have interacted with VBA’s National Call Center. Responses on a five-point Likert scale ranging from “strongly disagree” to “strongly agree.” Percentages represent the average percentage of respondents who answered four or five in Q2 and Q3 of fiscal 2021. Customer experience indicators methodology The Partnership and Accenture developed the following list of practices to understand how agencies prioritize the customer experience, and steps they can take to improve. The list is based on research about effective customer experience practices in government and the private sector, and aligns with practices in a customer experience maturity self-assessment for agencies developed by the Office of Management and Budget. Organizational Commitment A strong commitment and plan from agency leaders to prioritize customer experience is essential for sustained progress. The agency: Includes high-quality customer experience in its strategic goals. Criteria: a) customer experience with the agency’s services is listed in the strategic plan as one of the organization’s top priorities, or a supporting goal of one of the priorities b) the strategic plan provides specific actions the agency will take to improve customer experience Specifies customer feedback as a key measure of the organization’s performance. Criteria: There is a performance measure included in the agency’s strategic plan, annual performance report or agency priority goals that is based on feedback directly from customers. Has a senior executive with the responsibility and authority to lead efforts to improve the customer experience across the organization. Criteria: Based on a review of the agency’s organizational chart and online descriptions of leadership positions, the agency has an executive who meets the following criteria: a) customer experience is that executive’s primary responsibility b) the executive reports to the head of the organization or a deputy c) the executive’s work spans all major service delivery channels (e.g., online services, contact centers, face-to-face services). Ease of Customer Interactions Interactions with the federal government should be easy, transparent and designed around user needs. For the most common services provided, customers can: Complete common transactions using the service delivery channel of their choice. Criteria: Based on a review of the agency’s website, customers have multiple options to complete common transactions including going online, calling, using webchat and visiting field offices or other physical locations. Obtain status updates through online self-service. Criteria: customers can get real-time updates through an online self-service channel that provides estimated timelines. Receive a response to feedback or answers to questions over social media. Criteria: Does the agency respond to questions through the direct message feature on Facebook and Twitter, or in the comment section of posts? To assess this, we examined social media posts on the service’s primary account across a three-month period. “No” indicates the agency never or rarely responds to comments; “partially” indicates the agency responds sometimes, but not consistently; and “yes” indicates the agency responds to comments on a frequent and consistent basis. Access online information and support in languages other than English. Criteria: “No” indicates content is available only in English and translation features are not available on the website; “partially” indicates that some content or services are available in English and Spanish; “yes” indicates that content or services are available in English and Spanish and additional languages. Listening to Customers and Acting on Feedback To understand and prioritize customer needs, agencies should collect, publish, analyze and act on feedback. The agency: Collects meaningful customer experience data across interactions and service delivery channels and shares it with the public. Criteria: In alignment with the Office of Management and Budget’s guidance on customer experience measurement, the agency shares customer feedback with the public and that: a) represents multiple service delivery channels b) provides details into different aspects of the experience (i.e., beyond overall customer satisfaction) Collects and analyzes first-hand customer feedback to understand customers’ experiences, based on their own words. Criteria: In alignment with Office of Management and Budget’s guidance on customer experience measurement, in customer or user research such as interviews, focus groups, surveys and other feedback mechanisms, customers can describe their experiences in their own words, and the agency has automated analytic capabilities to identify and act on insights that emerge from customer feedback data. Aggregates and analyzes customer feedback across channels and programs, and shares feedback with relevant staff members so they can act on it. Criteria: Agency has an automated system to collect feedback across multiple channels and programs into a centralized location, analyze it for insights, and share those insights with relevant agency business owners or other appropriate colleagues responsible for taking action. The agency also tracks the impact of actions taken in response to customer feedback. This customer experience profile was produced in collaboration with Accenture Federal Services.