The notion of the customer at the center of government is not a new concept. For centuries, government employees have been identified as “civilian servants of the public.” Becoming a politician or government departmental employee was considered a noble act of serving individuals, the community, and the nation.

Few organizations, and even fewer vocations, shape our world more directly than the men and women working in government as they develop, enact, or deliver public policy in response to the will of the people. And few, if any, organizations must serve such a wide range of “customers” — a term in government that extends well beyond citizens and constituents to include stakeholders as diverse as tourists, overseas investors, and nonresident business owners.

Sadly, this fundamental mission of government has over time been obscured by party politics and bureaucracy. And like the private sector, customers have in the past been forced to serve the government and its processes. Today, customers have rising expectations of digital experiences from the brands they interact with, and they expect the same — or more — from public services provided by governments and their respective agencies.

In times of peace and prosperity, this lack of alignment between the core mission of the public service and the reality of service delivery has made governments and their agencies easy targets for criticism when it comes to the absence of customer obsession. But as governments around the world deal with the COVID-19 pandemic and global recession, the need for exceptional government customer experience (CX) has never been greater. Why? Exceptional government CX will save lives.

Our research tells us that mission success in the public sector occurs across five customer behaviors: compliance, trust, engagement, advocacy, and forgiveness. We also know that even small improvements in CX can increase positive customer behavior in these areas. For example, a 1-point improvement on the 100-point Forrester Customer Experience Index scale for a government agency will result in 2% more customers doing what the organization asks of them. In a pandemic where the decision by just one individual to breach a public health directive to self-isolate could trigger an outbreak of infections — and those infections lead to the real risk of death for our friends, family, or neighbors — the stakes for society have never been higher. Under these conditions, convincing even 2% more people to self-isolate, wear a mask, work remotely, or stay home when they feel unwell makes returning to the core mission of customer-obsessed government a matter of life or death.

Thankfully, the ideas governments need to apply at this moment are not new. Through our research into digital transformation and customer experience over the last decade, we have identified the key changes across structure, culture, and technology that public service leaders must drive to become customer-obsessed. But given the life-saving impact a return to customer obsession within the public service can have now and in the recovery beyond, we have developed a new report to guide the way: Embrace Customer Obsession To Achieve Mission Success (available to nonclients as well as clients).

I encourage you to download and review this guide to learn more about the government agencies that have successfully made this shift and how your own organization can emerge from the current crisis focused once again on serving those who need you most — your customers.