By now we all know that federal customer experience (CX) is disastrously weak and that improving it will boost both agency operations and the health of the political system.
We’ve also seen some pockets of hope popping up, as I predicted a few months ago. For instance: The Department of Education’s new portal is complete, the Department of Veterans Affairs My HealtheVet site now offers online tracking for mail-order prescriptions, and BusinessUSA.gov combines thousands of pieces of information from several federal agencies into a single site for entrepreneurs and business owners. Other improvements are still in the works, like 18F's upgrade of the Department of the Treasury's My Retirement Account website and the Office of Personnel Management Innovation Lab's redesign of USAJobs.gov.
These isolated projects are good, but not good enough. It’s time for federal agencies to get beyond one-off tech tasks and the find-and-fix mentality to truly institutionalize CX improvement throughout their organizations. And that means treating CX not as a sideshow, but as a real business discipline. To do this, agencies must systematically perform the practices associated with all six CX disciplines — strategy, customer understanding, design, measurement, governance, and culture. Right now, federal agencies are failing in all of these areas.
- Strategy. A CX strategy is a clear and substantive description of the experience that an organization wants to provide. It must be detailed enough to guide resource allocation and employee activities to ensure that the whole organization is focused on delivering a consistent experience in line with customer preferences. Most federal agencies have no CX strategies at all, and the CX strategies that do exist are mostly vague platitudes that can’t guide decision-making.
- Customer understanding. A systematic approach to customer understanding will give each agency a shared, actionable appreciation of who its customers are as people and what they want and need from the organization. Many agencies already have robust quantitative data about the customers, but they lack the deep qualitative information necessary to form the holistic and evocative pictures of its customers' lives necessary to create truly compelling and empathic experiences for them.
- Design. CX design is a repeatable problem-solving process that incorporates the needs of customers, employees, and other stakeholders. CX design practices include things like mapping customer journeys and the ecosystems that support them; co-creating experiences with key stakeholder groups like customers, frontline employees, and private sector partners; and using Agile development methods to improve and deploy experiences quickly. I’ve yet to find a single federal agency that performs any these practices consistently.
- Measurement. In a truly customer-centric organization, customers' perceptions are the ultimate arbiter of success. A mature and continuous voice of the customer (VoC) program will give federal agencies the ability to understand the current state of their CX, identify the key drivers of great experiences, and track progress toward their goals. The website analytics and occasional customer surveys that most agencies use are just two small pieces of the puzzle. Agencies need to add consistent touchpoint- and relationship-level surveys, social listening programs, and the other elements of fully-functional VoC programs.
- Governance. CX governance is the way an organization directs and controls the creation and implementation of its customer experiences. It will help agencies manage their CX efforts in a proactive and disciplined way, prioritize and coordinate CX improvement projects, and ensure ongoing customer centricity. It will also create accountability by allotting particular CX tasks to specific employees and create standardized processes for tracking quality improvement. CX governance is virtually absent at all but a handful of federal agencies. Good job, Ex-Im Bank, FSA, GSA, and VA for creating chief customer officers!
- Culture. A CX culture creates shared values and behaviors that keep employees focused on providing great customer experiences. A mature CX culture makes customer centricity a habit rather than a mandate and lays the foundation for future CX improvements by making sure employees are ready for the organizational changes necessary to take CX to the next level. The CX awards programs at IRS and some other agencies are a good start, and OMB’s new presidential-level CX awards will also help. But it takes far more than awards to create a customer-centric culture.
If you’d like to know more about the 40 specific CX practices related to these six disciplines and some additional advice for implementing them, check out this report, in which I examined the six disciplines in light of last year’s VA customer experience scandal.