Customer Experience

Mission delivery relies on strong customer service.

All federal organizations service a customer: the American people.

In fact, great customer service from the federal government can change, and sometimes save, people’s lives. Many of the 13 million students who accessed financial aid services from the Department of Education needed support to receive their loans. As do the survivors of natural disasters or the veterans who require medical or mental support.

To effectively administer their missions, agencies should apply a customer-centered approach toward how they design and deliver services to citizens.

Our Role

We educate government leaders on the importance of customer experience and how to incorporate it into their strategic plans. Through our expansive and fact-based research, we isolate best practices on customer experience throughout government, share those findings and work with agencies, Congress and the White House to implement much-needed change.


Use data and customer feedback to design and improve services

To help their customers, agencies must first understand them through data and direct customer feedback. Our research found that agencies have incomplete and outdated customer information, preventing them from drawing meaningful insights and driving strategic decisions. Agencies should create consistent and seamless customer experience by analyzing, sharing and integrating customer data across the organization’s divisions, programs and service delivery channels.

The Department of Veterans Affairs used different types of data to understand how veterans engage with the pension claim process. By using an approach called “human-centered design,” the VA conducted one-on-one interviews and observed how veterans behaved in the waiting room and interacted with staff. The research revealed that veterans were uncomfortable with the process, often because they had little information about what it entailed. Combined with their quantitative survey data, the VA developed a more complete understanding of the issues with its pension claim process and created better ideas to redesign it.


Developing a CX plan

Agency’s need a customer service definition and a customer experience plan to ensure employees are all working toward a common goal. According to private sector best practices, plans should articulate who the customers are, what kind of experience they expect and what gaps need to be addressed, as well as top priorities and an implementation roadmap.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency integrated its customer experience strategy into its 2014–2018 strategic plan, which set aggressive targets to increase citizen satisfaction. The plan helped to articulate that employees’ work is “all about the survivor and not about the agency supporting the survivor,” said Karole Johns, deputy director for FEMA’s Recovery Technology Programs Division. For a customer experience plan to work well, employees in the organization need to see it and understand how their work contributes to the plan’s implementation.

Establishing a CX leadership team

One of the best ways an agency can demonstrate its commitment to customer service is to assemble the leadership team responsible for carrying out the vision. For some agencies, this might entail establishing a chief customer experience officer. For others, it might involve assembling a team of senior leaders responsible for improving the customer experience.

Our research has identified several benefits to establishing a chief customer experience officer: It signals a sea change for agencies that have not had a strong customer focus and ensures that a single leader has the insight and authority needed to strengthen and coordinate agency-wide customer experience efforts. To ensure effective implementation, agencies must establish clear roles for the position, provide sufficient budget and staff, and place the chief high in the organization.

For example, when the secretary of the VA announced the establishment of a chief veterans experience officer position, it sent a strong, positive message to the organization that improving the veteran experience was a top priority. The position was one of only three people in the agency who reported to the secretary, giving the position substantial authority and power to effect change.

Build the CX workforce

Every agency needs a skilled, engaged workforce that understands and is prepared to serve its customers. To build this workforce, agencies need to hire well, train and prepare staff to serve customers and hold employees accountable for the quality of service delivery. The Office of Federal Student Aid specifically hired an expert to evaluate the tone, soft skills and emotional intelligence of customer service representatives. This helped the office ensure that it was hiring employees with the ability to provide the best possible customer service experience.

While strong front-line customer service employees are critical, truly enhancing customer experience must extend beyond the employees who interact with customers directly. It also includes those who create policies and regulations, design products and services and supervise everyone involved.

The Social Security Administration includes customer service competencies, such as oral communication and interpersonal skills, in job announcements for positions dealing with customers. Because such competencies could be broadly interpreted, the agency develops detailed descriptions that define each competency in the context of its work. During interviews, hiring panels ask candidates questions to assess whether the applicants can meet these competencies. The questions require candidates to describe how they would handle the specific kinds of difficult and complex situations agency employees often face when interacting with the public. Despite the extra work required to screen candidates, the meet-and-deal method “has proven extremely valuable [because] it allows us to get the right people on our front lines,” said Erik Jones, assistant deputy commissioner for operations.

Congress: Remove roadblocks to providing a better customer experience

Congress can take several steps to improve the customer experience by holding agencies accountable and giving them the tools they need to succeed.

For instance, Congress can revise the Paperwork Reduction Act, which requires that agencies complete an arduous clearance process before collecting information from 10 or more members of the public, to allow agencies to better meet the needs of today’s citizens. The act hasn’t been updated for decades and, in today’s environment, creates an unnecessary bureaucratic hurdle that restricts agencies from asking for voluntary feedback and citizens from voicing concerns and providing suggestions to government.

Beating the Tax Rush: Providing Critical Information Early Improves the IRS Customer Experience

Filing taxes each year can seem as daunting to some people as completing a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle, so the Internal Revenue Service strives to offer assistance in multiple ways. In 2017, the IRS used an innovative approach to anticipate and address taxpayer questions and concerns, with the hope that fewer citizens would need to call or visit websites for assistance. To achieve that goal, the communication team worked with agency business lines early on to develop and coordinate campaigns to educate and inform citizens, and improve customer experience.

Agencies across government seek ways to improve customer experience and meet citizens’ increasing expectations for fast, easy and consistent interactions. Yet long-standing agency silos often isolate lines of business from communication teams in federal agencies and departments.

In this issue brief, the Partnership for Public Service and Accenture Federal Services highlight the strategy the IRS used to improve customer experience across call centers, websites and other channels and increase voluntary compliance with tax filing, despite significant budget and staffing constraints. The IRS’ approach offers a model for other agencies to replicate to get ahead of customer questions and improve customer understanding and experience.

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REPORTS

Time for a Change: How agencies are transforming business practices to meet customer needs

October 23, 2018

Publication Type: Research and Publications

Publication Topic: Modernize Management Systems

Time for a Change: How agencies are transforming business practices to meet customer needs

The White House and Congress have prioritized improving customer experience with government. Those nudges are important and useful—but to truly enhance customers’ interactions with government, change has to come from the federal agencies. Agency leaders will have to untangle a complicated web of decades-old systems and business processes that underpin how government delivers services to…

Beating the Tax Rush: Providing Critical Information Early Improves the IRS Customer Experience

April 11, 2018

Publication Type: Research and Publications

Publication Topic: Build Networks of Support,Modernize Management Systems

Beating the Tax Rush: Providing Critical Information Early Improves the IRS Customer Experience

Understanding that filling out tax forms doesn’t rank as a favorite activity for most people, the Internal Revenue Service initiated new information campaigns during the 2017 tax season to ensure good customer experience throughout the process. By making it easier for taxpayers to request and receive assistance, the IRS also eased the burden on agency employees…

Beyond the Basics: Leading Practices for Improving Customer Experience in Government

October 12, 2017

Publication Type: Research and Publications

Publication Topic: Modernize Management Systems

Beyond the Basics: Leading Practices for Improving Customer Experience in Government

The federal government is aiming at a moving target when it comes to improving customer experience. As many federal agencies make progress on delivering readily accessible, user-friendly services, the private sector continues to innovate and set expectations even higher. With ongoing focus on strengthening citizen services from the Trump administration, following a similar effort during…

The Most Important Customer: Improving the Citizen Experience with Government

March 22, 2017

Publication Type: Research and Publications

Publication Topic: Modernize Management Systems

The Most Important Customer: Improving the Citizen Experience with Government

Focusing on the customer experience with government services can help the Trump administration accomplish many of its goals, none more important than ensuring that government meets its citizens’ needs. By making the customer experience a top priority, the new administration can simplify and speed up how people get help with their taxes, obtain benefits, make…

Government for the People: The Road to Customer-Centered Services

February 22, 2016

Publication Type: Research and Publications

Publication Topic: Modernize Management Systems

Government for the People: The Road to Customer-Centered Services

Government can change lives through great customer service. For example, millions of individuals attend college each year thanks to federal financial aid services, and many more rebuild their lives after natural disasters with government assistance. In order to change lives, agencies must put citizen needs at the center of everything they do. But how well…

Serving Citizens: Strategies for Customer-Centered Government in the Digital Age

September 8, 2014

Publication Type: Research and Publications

Publication Topic: Modernize Management Systems

Serving Citizens: Strategies for Customer-Centered Government in the Digital Age

Providing excellent services to citizens, businesses and other organizations is at the core of most federal agencies’ missions. However, customer satisfaction with the government’s services is low and declining. How can agencies design and deliver digital services to best meet their customers’ needs? How have some leaders overcome the barriers to collaborating across traditional organizational…