A hurricane is brewing in the Gulf of Mexico. It’s gaining speed and power, threatening to turn into a deadly Category 3. Satellite data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) indicates that the storm is heading right for low-lying communities along the Alabama and Mississippi coasts. Agencies on the ground depend on NOAA’s information to plan and coordinate their response. They’ll use NOAA’s data and services to help residents stay safe and (if necessary) evacuate. People will make life-or-death decisions based on this information.

NOAA fully understands the critical part that the agency plays in the health and prosperity of US residents. From storm warnings to protecting fisheries, NOAA provides services and data that empower agencies such as FEMA and the Red Cross to assist US residents in need. NOAA also plays a critical role in climate resilience planning, which will only become more critical as the costs of the climate crisis mount. The President’s Management Agenda and executive orders on customer experience (CX) and racial equity challenged federal agencies to put US residents at the center of operations, with a particular emphasis on underserved communities. NOAA answered the call. The agency tapped Forrester to be its strategic partner for a CX transformation effort that resulted in more effective and equitable service delivery through the creation of a CX resource portal.

Thanks to this partnership, NOAA was able to complete a transformation in two years that would have typically taken five. This remarkable achievement was well received by stakeholders in the federal government. Benjamin Friedman, J.D., deputy under secretary for operations and the highest-ranking civilian at NOAA, said, “I am pleased that NOAA has made huge strides in a relatively short period of time, responding to the President’s Management Agenda by assessing the current state of our CX capacity and quickly providing tools and resources to NOAA programs to help meet Administration priorities to tackle the climate crisis, including to support underserved communities in achieving greater resilience to weather and climate hazards.”

How NOAA Achieved A Five-Year CX Transformation In Two Years

The transformation kicked off with a CX maturity assessment. Not only did this create a baseline for future measurement, but it determined the agency’s strengths and weaknesses. This allowed NOAA to avoid a common CX trap: guessing where the pain points are rather than knowing. The assessment uncovered that climate services and data weren’t easily translated into insights that support underserved and vulnerable communities. To fill the gap, NOAA needed a clear CX vision, a framework to prioritize customer needs, tools to move insight to action, and more consistent tools and processes.

From there, Forrester helped NOAA craft a CX vision. “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,” said Tony Wilhelm, director of performance, risk, and social science at NOAA.

The next step was to translate that vision into action, empowering employees to enact the CX vision in day-to-day operations. The agency launched a resource portal for line offices (i.e., lines of business), which all have a customer-facing component. The portal incorporates Forrester’s LIAM — listen, interpret, act, and monitor — model. “The LIAM model is an easy-to-understand and intuitive model for understanding CX end to end,” said Wilhelm.

At this point in its journey, NOAA was able to dodge another common sticking point for CX transformation: Many organizations roll out CX tools in one big push, leaving stakeholders to figure them out for themselves. NOAA, on the other hand, employed Forrester’s gold-standard process by rolling out the CX portal in waves: It started with an in-depth training for early adopters, took in the early adopters’ feedback, and then gradually rolled the portal out to more and more stakeholders. This efficient and adaptable approach achieved excellent buy-in: 81% of respondents to a post-training survey said that they would be likely or very likely to try out one or more of the CX tools available in the portal.

More Than A One-And-Done Effort

While the CX portal is a tremendous achievement, NOAA isn’t done yet. The agency will continue to respond to the president’s call for improved CX and equitable delivery by leveraging its partnership with Forrester to generate a steady drumbeat of improvement. Upcoming work focuses on scaling the capabilities that NOAA established in the first two years, enabling the agency to work more directly with partner organizations — including NGOs, other government agencies, and the private sector — to drive climate resilience solutions. In the near future, it plans to scale its capabilities with equitable CX pilot programs, applying CX tools to drive improvements in Heat.gov and the U.S. Climate Resilience Toolkit to tackle the climate crisis.

Want to hear more about NOAA’s CX journey? Read our interview with Tony Wilhelm and see his mainstage presentation at CX North America on June 13–15.