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.
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.
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 Our research found that agencies have incomplete and outdated customer information, preventing them from drawing meaningful insights and driving strategic decisions.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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
Despite some gains, customer satisfaction with government still lags almost all other industries and sectors. In this brief, the Partnership for Public Service and Accenture Federal Services examine findings from federal agencies that have explored promising customer experience strategies from the private sector.Learn More
This sample customer experience dashboard highlights some of the important data that agency leaders can track to understand services from a customer’s perspective.Learn More
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. Learn how in the Partnership Accenture Federal Service’s new issue brief.Learn More
The Partnership for Public Service, with support from Accenture Federal Services, identified the steps agencies can take to become more customer-centered, based on extensive interviews with agency leaders.Learn More
In this report, the Partnership for Public Service and Accenture highlight lessons learned from federal initiatives that have simplified and streamlined the process of interacting with the government by implementing a customer-centered approach to digital services. The report also includes additional recommendations for reforms that can better empower agencies to provide excellent customer service to citizens.Learn More