Finding the right mix of X (experience) and O (operational) data isn’t just about finding a better way to serve customers. It’s also about finding a better way to attract, retain, and understand the needs of employees. That applies to all industries, including aerospace and defense.

In the world of aerospace and defense, there’s no shortage of operational data. Armed services leaders know, for example, how many service members they’re recruiting. They know how many jobs are open and which are the most critical to fill. They know how much is being spent on healthcare, benefits, training, deployments, and how long it takes on average to move service members and their families to a new duty station. That’s operational data, or O-data, and there’s a lot of it in the defense world. And because there’s so much operational data, one might think there’s enough there to understand the employee’s world, right?

But imagine this. A senior pilot with years of experience and training under his belt, currently serving on a six-month tour of duty in a far-away country, just talked to his wife and kids on Skype. The wife says she and the kids are burned out on the military lifestyle. They’re done and want a “normal” civilian life in a “normal” environment. The service member has a choice to make. Stay in and lose his family, or leave the military.

O-data can’t clue you in on that type of employee attrition risk. X-data, on the other hand, could.

Enter X-Data

X-data is short for “experience” data. Asking the service member, asking their families… what’s your experience been like living this life as a military family? What are the things that happen that make you want to stay or leave? And then, for the military base commanders, what can you do about it? That’s what the leadership team at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana wanted to find out, and they chose Qualtrics as the tool to help.

Measuring On-Base “Health”

“Recruiting airmen, retaining entire families” is the mantra at Barksdale Air Force Base. But for years they haven’t had the right data to understand why some stay, and others leave. They knew there were aspects of the on-base living experience they could improve to better serve airmen, but which ones should they prioritize?

Every day approximately 14,000 airmen and their families at this “city within a city” go to work, seek medical care, grocery shop, bank, dine, pursue hobbies, entertainment, recreation, and fitness goals through on-base services. Airmen aren’t just employees here; they and their families are also customers of an extensive set of base services.

A lot of investment goes into creating a resilience-building experience for these communities that could otherwise fracture during deployments and moves to new assignments, new schools, and new communities. Especially during these times, Air Force families look to on-base support and assistance. When airmen and their families perceive the right support to be there, their experience feels one way. When support isn’t there in their minds, the experience is something completely different.

Problems: Too few measures and too few responses

Barksdale AFB’s leadership wanted to know the base-specific factors that influence the decision to leave the Air Force entirely. But when it came to on-base measurement, fewer than 10 percent of target audiences were responding to existing email and paper surveys. They needed a better way to measure the experiences of airmen and their families, including more creative ways to hear from difficult-to-reach populations on base.

Creative, multi-channel X-data capture

With better technology, Barksdale leadership designed more succinct surveys, and, in addition to traditional email and social feedback channels, armed themselves with the survey on iPads and smartphones, and engaged respondents at work, at base social events, and on-base retail facilities. Leadership personally greeted airmen and/or their families and asked, in-person, for answers to a simple survey on the spot.

Flexible tools for comparable reports

Barksdale Air Force Base now has information that can be compared across departments and over time. With shorter surveys and standardized demographic questions, X-data can be compiled to create a holistic picture of the base experience from the airmen and the families’ points of view.

These new approaches help base leadership understand how the community feels about on-base amenities and resources, but it is also a method to help get ahead of some of the additional risks and realities of military life: mental health issues, suicide risk, domestic abuse, and alcohol or substance abuse, for example.

Today, multi-channel surveying continues at Barksdale AFB, including on-the-spot outreach. Base leadership regularly reviews survey results as part of their monthly leadership team meetings. Deep analysis and dashboards housed in the Qualtrics platform help base leadership understand which improvements matter most to airmen and their families. From ensuring on-base services are available during the right hours, to understanding how local schools impact airmen’s families’ desire to stay, Qualtrics tools are helping Barksdale AFB avoid the risk of airmen attrition and create the resilience-building community command leadership envision.

That’s the power of X-data in creating intelligent enterprises. Collecting feedback via Qualtrics’ secure, FedRAMP authorized Experience Management Platform™ is a decision that can support you in your quest.

Reach out to the Qualtrics federal team for more insights on our experience management work with more than 100 federal government clients at 60+ agencies and the Department of Defense, including our work as the only FedRAMP authorized experience management platform available.

Want expert help? Request a consultation from our federal team

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Author Bio: Stephanie Thum is a Certified Customer Experience Professional (CCXP) and Chief Advisor for Federal Customer Experience at Qualtrics. In a past life, Stephanie was the head of CX for a federal government agency where she built a CX program that included customer surveys, executive councils, employee engagement, and data governance practices. She was also responsible for coordinating her agency’s public-facing annual performance plan and report, based on OMB Circular A-11. She is formally trained in strategic planning for government organizations and in planning, budgeting, and performance reporting for government organizations.