The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is a US federal agency with more than 12,000 employees and a mandate that covers areas critical to the health and prosperity of Americans. This includes getting life-saving extreme-weather warnings to underserved and low-income communities. NOAA has engaged Forrester to help improve its customer experience (CX) capabilities so it can serve US residents more effectively and get people critical information in their moment of need.

I interviewed Tony Wilhelm, Ph.D., director of performance, risk, and social science, to discuss NOAA’s mission, the agency’s work with Forrester, and the exciting outcomes from that work.

Setting The Scene — NOAA’s Mission And Goals

Q: NOAA’s mission is threefold: 1) to understand and predict changes in climate, weather, ocean, and coasts; 2) to share that knowledge and information with others; and 3) to conserve and manage coastal and marine ecosystems and resources. How does CX connect to that mission?

TW: Whether it’s responding to weather and climate hazards or protecting endangered marine mammals, NOAA must connect to communities and partners on the ground who need to make crucial decisions every day about how to make their neighborhoods safer from storms or sea-level rise or to safeguard endangered whales or turtles from environmental hazards. NOAA’s new CX initiative will provide solutions to make those connections with communities more robust and ultimately more responsive to the climate challenges that confront them.

Q: What’s the relationship between climate resilience, CX, and equity?

TW: Underserved populations, such as rural and low-income communities, are often the most vulnerable to weather and climate hazards. Understanding the needs of underserved communities and overcoming the barriers facing them in accessing and using NOAA climate information and services is key to making their communities more resilient. For example, NOAA and Forrester are currently teaming up to make the U.S. Climate Resilience Toolkit more responsive to the needs of underserved communities.

Q: What does “equitable service delivery” mean? Why is it important to NOAA?

TW: In our baseline assessment of NOAA’s current CX capabilities, we found that 83% of respondents to our survey said that NOAA’s climate services and data did not meet all their needs — and fully 50% of them gave the reason that the services and data didn’t translate easily into insights that support underserved and vulnerable communities. “Equitable service delivery” is NOAA’s commitment to addressing this gap by focusing enhancements in its climate information and services on meeting the needs of underserved populations. For example, NOAA is investing in codeveloping solutions to regional climate challenges — whether it be tackling heat risks for older adults in the western US or enhancing risk communication in low-income communities in the North Atlantic.

Q: How has the President’s Management Agenda and executive orders on CX and equity created the motive and will to do this work? How has it led to the Enterprise CX Program?

TW: NOAA stood up its CX initiative to respond to the challenge mounted by the POTUS to put the customer more at the center of how the government does business to improve customer satisfaction and deliver results. Riding this wave has allowed NOAA to go further, faster — and in less than two years, we have stood up a governance structure, developed a CX vision, launched a CX resource portal, and begun to support “early adopters” in applying CX tools to achieve these Administration management priorities.

Scoping The Project

Q: Why did you decide to engage Forrester in the project?

TW: Forrester is viewed as an industry leader in CX research and has been the perfect partner in supporting NOAA in launching our CX initiative — always providing the perfect case study or research report to enable decision support and insights and mature NOAA’s CX practice. With Forrester’s research and consulting engine behind us, NOAA has been able to accelerate the awareness-building and adoption of CX tools within the agency, and we’ve sharpened our ability to identify and address the needs of our core customers and partners to better tackle climate and weather hazards.

Q: What was your initial plan or goal?

TW: Forrester was able to help us take a methodical and data-driven approach to CX by conducting a baseline assessment to identify gaps in our current-state CX capacity. We were able to leverage state-of-the-art research to prioritize these opportunities into a coherent and feasible roadmap for action. To ensure success, one of my first steps was to ensure that I had a champion for CX at the highest levels of NOAA to set the tone at the top and to underscore that this was a top management priority for our agency.

Q: How did the need for the Enterprise CX Program come about?

TW: NOAA is a very decentralized organization with many lines of business, from satellite and ship operations to fisheries management, weather forecasting, and climate research. Several programs had already begun to explore integrating CX practices. We took the initiative to help coordinate and share best practices to “wholesale” the provision of tools and know-how by launching a CX resource portal, while permitting maximum flexibility locally.

Q: Who is your CX program meant to serve? How does it relate to NOAA’s climate resilience mission?

TW: NOAA’s core partners and customers include:

  • Local, state, national, and tribal government entities.
  • Commercial users of climate and weather data.
  • Nongovernmental and academic organizations.

These partners are essential in tackling our weather and climate challenges by being the “last-mile” providers of services to the public.

The Project Moves Ahead

Q: You started with a baseline CX maturity assessment. Tell me about that process. What did you learn, what were the key findings, and how did those findings influence the direction of the Enterprise CX Program?

TW: NOAA surveyed and interviewed core customers and partners to ascertain their satisfaction with our climate data and services. About 58% of respondents said they found our climate services easy to use, and 63% found them to be very effective at meeting their needs. These numbers varied by customer type, with commercial partners better equipped to leverage our data than nonprofit organizations. The results revealed opportunities to improve the ease of both finding and using NOAA’s climate-related data and services and provided a strong impetus for our CX initiative to close these gaps.

Q: As part of this project, you created a CX vision for NOAA. How did that vision help guide the project priorities and outcomes?

TW: The process to develop the CX vision helped us pinpoint the attributes of the intended experience and engagement with our customers that we are striving to maximize. In highlighting empathy and reliability, for example, we are prioritizing our efforts to walk in our customers’ shoes and ensuring that we have continuous engagement with core partners and can meet their needs in the long term.

Q: The CX playbook and portal incorporate Forrester’s listen, interpret, act, and monitor (LIAM) model. Why did you choose to go with that model? What are the advantages?

TW: The LIAM model is an easy-to-understand and intuitive model for understanding CX end to end. We have set up our CX resource portal with highly effective tools according to the LIAM elements, and it has proven to be easy to grasp for busy practitioners who don’t want to spend a lot of time trying to find what they need.

Q: You’ve made a tremendous amount of progress on the Enterprise CX Program and associated deliverables in a short amount of time — how were you able to achieve that?

TW: Two factors were paramount in achieving rapid liftoff with our CX initiative. First, we had tremendous support at the top of the organization with NOAA’s deputy under secretary for operations serving as our CX champion — and were able to leverage an existing executive council to ensure accountability. Second, given that we did not have dedicated CX staff at the outset, our partnership with Forrester was essential. It gave us the capacity to hit the ground running with expertise and leading-edge research. It also helped us develop a CX resource portal and support early adopters who were eager to apply CX tools to improve customer satisfaction with NOAA’s weather and climate products and services.

Q: How do the CX playbook and portal empower NOAA’s line offices, and what is a line office?

TW: A line office is basically a line of business, which at NOAA includes our weather services, climate research, satellite operations, and the like. Given that all NOAA line offices have a customer-facing component, the CX portal has been a game-changer in enabling programs to apply easy-to-use tools and use cases to better identify and address customer needs.

Q: What kinds of resources does this provide to NOAA’s line offices? How do they use it in their work?

TW: The CX playbook and intranet portal provide an array of tools and resources to help NOAA programs better identify and address customer needs. Just to give one example, one office in NOAA’s National Ocean Service is harnessing the power of the customer research canvas and persona development tool to help bring its core customers into sharper focus for use of its Inundation Analysis Tool, an important resource in regional ecosystem management and climate adaptation efforts.

Q: How did Forrester help shape the rollout process?

TW: To socialize the CX resource portal more broadly across NOAA, Forrester’s CX experts led five deep-dive training sessions — what we called the “CX Roadshow” — to describe leading-edge tools within Forrester’s intuitive and easy-to-understand LIAM CX model. Each session also included a NOAA use case in which a senior leader or leaders within important NOAA programs explained how they were applying CX principles or tools to make the training even more relevant to attendees. Our overall evaluation of the training sessions revealed that 89% of participants found the presentations very useful and 83% thought the tools were very useful.


Q: What kind of response are you seeing internally?

TW: We are very pleased that about 200 unique individuals attended at least one of the five training sessions — evidence that there is significant interest and demand for CX tools and methods across the organization. NOAA’s leadership is also responding favorably to the new initiative, and it has gotten noticed as well at the Department of Commerce (DOC) headquarters (NOAA is a part of DOC) for the methodical and decisive approach that NOAA has taken in launching its enterprise CX initiative.

Q: Do you have any early indicators of success that you can share?

TW: We have seen significant demand for the tools and research we have made available through our internal CX resource portal. We’ve had robust participation from our burgeoning CX community at the CX Roadshow, a series of five one-hour training sessions in which Forrester experts and NOAA program leaders provided a highly engaging overview and use cases of selected tools. Of those who completed a survey after the training sessions, an impressive 81% said they would be likely or very likely to try out one or more of the CX tools available in the portal.

Q: What’s next for the Enterprise CX Program?

TW: We have launched an effort across NOAA to enlist “early adopters” to try out or pilot some of the tools in our CX resource portal. This will build up the number of NOAA use cases, and we can begin to catalog the benefits of using CX approaches to improve customer satisfaction with NOAA’s weather and climate products and services.

Q: The executive orders on customer experience and support for underserved communities have been catalysts to help spur NOAA’s CX initiative. How will you continue to answer the Administration’s call?

TW: NOAA’s CX initiative is seeking partnerships with NOAA programs that are focused on providing additional support to underserved communities, especially those most vulnerable to weather and climate hazards. We are working with the NOAA Climate Program Office, for example, to overcome barriers that underserved communities face in taking steps to become more climate-resilient via the U.S. Climate Resilience Toolkit.

Q: What would you say to someone who is thinking about becoming a Forrester client but hasn’t quite taken the plunge?

TW: Forrester has been an exceptional partner in launching our enterprise CX initiative and provides the expertise and support to help us along many dimensions of our journey. This includes standing up our governance structure, establishing our CX vision, and providing a battery of best-in-breed CX tools and resources for NOAA programs to jump-start their customers’ enhanced satisfaction with our weather and climate products and services.

To learn more about how Forrester empowers CX leaders to achieve their goals, win stakeholder support, and mature their organization, explore the Forrester Decisions for Customer Experience page.