Bolstering CX in Government Makes 'Fundamental Business Sense'

Brian A Jackson/

The government has nowhere to go but up in terms of providing customer service on par with top private sector organizations.

In the ultra-competitive private sector, where a single tweet or Yelp review can make or break a business’ bottom line, customer experience has always played an important strategic role. And lately, the government has been paying more attention to its customers. 

New digital offices like the U.S. Digital Services and 18F, housed within the General Services Administration, are helping agencies revamp projects in user-centric fashion, and the White House created a cross-agency customer service working group to scour and share across government best practices in customer experience.

Recent research from companies like Forrester suggests most of government has nowhere to go but up in terms of providing customer service on par with top private sector organizations. Yet, glimmers of hope in the bureaucratic clouds are beginning to shine through.

“It just makes fundamental business sense to improve your customer experience,” said Stephanie Thum, vice president of customer experience at the Export-Import Bank of the United States.

Thum spoke on a customer experience panel at the DigitalGov Citizen Services Summit on Thursday, alongside IRS product development director, Andrew Hughey, and David Simeon, branch chief at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Thum said it was important for government agencies, despite their differing missions, to focus on customer experience. In the case of the Export-Import Bank, Thum said customers “do have a choice” and can interact with other export credit agencies in the world if they so choose.

Under her tenure, the Export-Import Bank allows every employee the potential to view important customer metrics like processing times. Access to that data helps workers do their jobs better and convey to customers “how long it’s going to take and what to expect.”

Simeon said USCIS, which has a totally different mission, has also come to view customer experience as an important strategic opportunity. The agency knows that, for example, roughly 30 percent of its customers are Hispanic but most do not view the website from a laptop or desktop computer. That led to the introduction of responsive design so immigrants accessing information from mobile devices didn't face additional challenges.

Simeon noted that focus groups, roundtables and interviewing actual immigrants were all key pieces of improving the overall experience of customers at USCIS, adding that “one mechanism that works for one customer base may not work for another.”

Even agencies like USCIS face competition, albeit indirectly. America, he said, is still a melting pot of immigrants that include some of the best and brightest talent throughout the world. A responsive redesign of the USCIS website improves the quality of what for many potential immigrants would be their first interaction with the United States.

“The Statue of Liberty conveyed a sense of belonging and welcoming,” Simeon said. “How do you do that in the digital era?”

Monitoring customer feedback is important, and Hughey said the IRS monitors application store reviews to see what customers say. It’s not always pretty, he noted, but often there are useful insights buried in the feedback somewhere. 

(Image via Brian A Jackson/