VA, TSA Are on a Mission to Make Government More Human

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Most people see interacting with the government as a tedious and impersonal task, but two agencies with spotty public image records want to improve customer experience by making the government work with citizens on a more human level.

The Transportation Security Administration and Veterans Affairs Department have both taken steps to make themselves more accessible and equipped to meet customer needs through person-to-person conversations. Both the TSA and VA have dealt with highly publicized issues regarding slow-moving customer service in recent years.

The TSA recently took to social media to rapidly resolve issues for travelers, allowing people to send questions to “Ask TSA” accounts on both Facebook and Twitter. Using each platform’s messaging service, people can get answers to questions on everything from international pre-check options to whether they can bring a goldfish on the plane. All responses come from an actual TSA agent within 20 minutes or less, TSA Director of External Communications Jennifer Plozai told Nextgov.

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“I think having a human conversation with customers is crucial to understanding their wants, their needs and their concerns, and being able to take action on those,” she said. Plozai pitched Ask TSA to agency leadership and later spearheaded its creation in 2015.

She now oversees a team of 10 agents who run the accounts and answer an average of 1,000 questions per day, humor and GIFs at the ready. With traffic increasing steadily, she recently put in a request for five more employees.

Reviews from customers have been overwhelmingly positive, she said, and the TSA has taken many suggestions posed through social media to heart. The agency redesigned its website and implemented an employee recognition program all as a result of the Ask TSA program.

At the VA, Chief Veterans Experience Officer Lynda Davis has been working under the new administration to ensure veterans have a direct line to the agency, and their thoughts get taken seriously. The agency faces an uphill battle after Forrester Research ranked it 292nd out of 314 public and private-sector organizations in terms of customer service.

“The human relationship can never be ignored,” Davis said in a speech at a customer experience conference hosted by Forrester. “Veterans see us as one humongous organization that is overwhelming, hard to navigate and hard to understand. They don’t know how to make inroads. It’s our job to clear that up for them.”

Davis told Nextgov that VA encourages vets to offer up problems and suggestions over the phone, email or directly to employees at local facilities. Her department works with VA leadership in D.C. and veterans engagement boards across the country to quickly identify problems at local facilities and allocate resources to solve them.

With this bottom up approach, Davis believes the VA is able to better address issues that could get glossed over without as much human-to-human communication.

“When we rely only on technology to solve service-delivery challenges, and we don’t inform ourselves with the experience of the user, in our case the veteran, we’re going to be missing near-term and simple solutions,” she said.