A few weeks ago, I advised federal agencies to build better digital customer experiences. I had no idea how polarizing the post would be, so I’d like to return to the topic of digital customer experience (CX) again this week.

Even the US Digital Service (USDS) thinks federal agencies need better digital CX. Last year, the USDS published a US Digital Services Playbook, a series of 13 plays to help federal CIOs create better digital customer experiences. (The playbook would work equally for agencies’ digital services teams, if they ever get funded.)

Notably, the Playbook doesn’t open with CIO staples like cloud services or automated testing or procurement. It starts with four CX plays that remind federal CIOs to begin every project with an outside-in customer-centric perspective.

These four CX plays are good advice. Federal CIOs who follow them will produce measurably better CX. That's because these guidelines, which are drawn from basic but proven best practices, correctly advise CIOs to:

  • "Understand what people need." Play No. 1 challenges CIOs to think from the outside in by putting "the needs of people" before the "constraints of government structures or silos" when designing new experiences. This guidance provides federal CIOs with the mandate they need to push back against rigid organizations and complex regulations that paralyze CX improvement efforts.
  • "Address the whole experience, from start to finish." Play No. 2 reminds CIOs to address the entire journey a customer takes as she tries to accomplish a goal. That's an important shift away from the fragmented, channel-specific thinking typified by most federal CX efforts, and it will lead to more integrated customer experiences.
  • "Make it simple and intuitive." Play No. 3 emphasizes clarity and consistency within and across channels to ensure that customer experiences are intuitively simple and useful. This guidance is crucial because agencies sometimes forget that channels packed with information and functionality are useless if regular people have trouble understanding and navigating them. For more information on how federal agencies are doing on this front, see my recent blog post on the topic.
  • "Build the service using agile and iterative practices." Play No. 4 stresses the use of Agile development methods to quickly iterate prototypes and deliver minimum viable products. That's a sea change from most waterfall-driven federal technology projects that make improvements slow and expensive.

Federal CIOs who want to execute these four CX plays will have to deploy some basic but powerful CX techniques, including:

  • Develop realistic customer personas. Using personas will help you understand how your agency's CX fits into the lives of your customers and identify new ways to serve them better. Use all your customer research to create a few key personas to guide your CX project prioritization and Agile processes.
  • Map customer journeys. Map each persona's journey as he tries to achieve goals relevant to your agency. Good customer journey maps identify each step of the journey, highlighting crucial touchpoints — including those that aren't controlled by you, like when a customer tweets his review of your mobile app or calls his friends for advice — and the customer's emotions at each point.
  • Focus first on the most painful moments of truth. Every customer journey has certain moments of truth that make or break the experience. Digital technologies can offer huge improvements over traditional touchpoints at key moments by making these touchpoints far more convenient and efficient or by eliminating them entirely.
  • Build the minimum viable product. Using Agile methodologies and governance, co-design prototypes with real people. Conduct design prototype A/B tests with these customers to optimize designs early. Use qualitative research to optimize the user experience and then deliver the minimum viable product.
  • Instill trust in the experience. With data breaches and electronic surveillance in the news, customers are increasingly concerned about digital privacy and likely to be skeptical of digital government touchpoints. Address customers' concerns by allowing them to access services anonymously when possible, gathering only the data that is essential to the transaction, and telling customers — in plain language, prominently displayed — what information you are gathering, why, and how it will be protected. Conflicting guidance from different government touchpoints also invites customer skepticism, so make sure that all information sources, both digital and nondigital, are using the same data sources and giving the same instructions.
  • Co-create at every step. Bring real customers and other stakeholders into the development process, from ideation to creation to testing. They will help you avoid groupthink and faulty assumptions, identify problems you missed, and invent solutions you didn't think of.

Federal CIOs who use these techniques to achieve the first four plays of the US Digital Services Playbook will be well on their way to achieving better CX. If you’d like more details and additional advice, you’re in luck. I wrote an entire research report on it. If you still vehemently disagree, use the comment section below, and let’s get a dialogue started on this critically important topic.