Customer Experience

A look at wins from government customer experience in 2018 and forward to struggles in 2019

All in all, 2018 was a pretty good year for federal agencies working to advance the customer agenda. It was packed with new learning events, new thought leadership, and the launch of government CX centers of excellence, for example. Other important influences either found footing, gained momentum, or added depth to the CX conversation. That’s all good for citizens, as agencies do more to understand expectations and learn the practices and techniques that lead to better experiences. Here’s a recap of some of the wins you may not have heard about for government CX in 2018, and some of the continued struggles we still are working on in 2019.

First, a look at the wins.

Win: Connected Government Act passes

The January 2018 passage of the Connected Government Act was a win for government CX because it requires new or updated public-facing federal websites to be mobile friendly. Prior to the act’s passage, a study found that about 40% of government websites weren’t mobile friendly. Any Congressional-level decision to improve citizens’ experience with their government, online or off, is a great thing, and the Connected Government Act will likely inspire broader dialogue within agencies about the end-to-end citizen experience. (The 21st Century Idea Act also passed in December, more on that here.)

Win: OMB Circular A-11 Section 280 goes live

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) sent out some formal new CX-related “to-dos” to big agencies. OMB Circular A-11 Section 280, called “Managing Customer Experience and Service Delivery,” tells agencies to survey customers, report the survey scores publicly, establish CX governance, work on the connection between customer and employee experience, and consider agency customers in service design. In many ways, the new guidance represents a next frontier because it requires agencies to do stuff that incorporates CX as a business discipline, like publicly reporting customer feedback data and what they are going to do to make experiences better. No longer are CX practices a “nice to have.” They are a reality.

Win: Plain language enters the CX stage

“Plain language” hasn’t crossed into the customer experience conversation much just yet, but that is changing. The July 2018 plain language inaugural summit opened the door. Plain language is the law for government agencies, and being bad at it on things like application forms and informational websites only hurts the citizen experience. Websites, writing styles, usability testing, and design thinking were all a part of the 2018 summit’s agenda and talking points. Find a recording of the summit here.

Win: Continued influence from Government Accountability Office

The Government Accountability Office (GAO), an agency that works to improve the performance and accountability of the federal government continue to evaluate and report on federal agency customer experience practices. For example, a December 2018 GAO report called out the need for the Department of Transportation to collect more customer feedback from airline passengers. A September 2018 report said the IRS needed to better communicate customer wait times and gather more customer feedback on policy changes. GAO influence is important because agency leaders have to respond to the GAO’s recommendations and formulate written action plans to address recommendations. That interaction and position of influence is important for implementing CX practices in government.

Win: From-the-trenches wisdom

Daryl Covey spent decades building and contributing to a large, very diverse government CX community from inside, then outside the walls of a government agency. Daryl, who passed away in December 2018, was truly one of the pioneers of government CX. His 2018 book Customer Experience Culture in Government includes practical insights from those years. Daryl’s perspective is important because there’s a delicate balance to strike between meeting the needs of customers and operating as a government organization. You might have a hard time understanding that balance, and what can be accomplished in government, unless you’ve been in the job. Daryl’s book puts the highs and lows on paper.

Now, a look at the struggles.

Struggle: Legislation appearing to go nowhere

The Connected Government Act was a win, but other recently introduced legislation that ripples to citizens’ experiences with government, like CASES for Constituents and the Government Customer Service Accountability and Improvement Act, appear to be going nowhere. Even so, no matter what happens, the work that went into them can be chalked up as a success. Any communication that supports CX practices in government contributes to its development, sometimes in unanticipated ways.

Struggle: Chief customer officers are still mostly missing

In 2018 the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) recruited for its first Chief Customer Experience Officer and the Veterans Administration (VA) built out its Veterans Experience Office team by recruiting a program analyst and statistician. Those are positive examples of CX talent being infused into agency CX efforts. But government agencies need more senior-level agency-level CX-focused leaders. Without them, the struggle to infuse CX as a way of doing things inside of agencies will continue.

Even in the private sector, new practices take time to evolve. But in the 25 years since President Clinton signed an executive order calling on executive branch agencies to survey their employees and customers, haven’t things come a mighty long way? There’s still work to be done, and given the momentum felt in 2018 and demand for great customer experiences in every industry, we’ll hopefully make an even bigger splash in 2019.

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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.

Stephanie Thum

Stephanie Thum is a contributor to the Qualtrics blog.

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