How Improving Employee Experience Leads to Better Citizen Experience

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Happier, more productive employees lead to better citizen services and customer experiences, officials said.

Federal agencies—by choice and by mandate—are trying to improve the customer experiences they were created to deliver. But in the rush to better serve the citizen, federal customer experience experts suggested agencies shouldn’t forget to get their own house in order, first.

“We found that, very early on, we started by focusing on our external customers as an agency,” Anahita Reilly, chief customer officer for the General Services Administration, said Tuesday at the Association of Government Accountant’s annual CFO/CIO Summit. “We wanted to prove this concept that having a dedicated team focused on the customers would help empower our employees to improve their experience.”

Shortly thereafter, Reilly and the team realized the key to producing better outcomes externally was to first focus internally.

“If we couldn’t figure out how to improve the employee experience, there would be no way that we could expect our employees to provide a great experience externally,” she said.

Janelle Romano, deputy chief of industry and academic engagement for the National Security Agency, acts as a liaison between the internal and external customers at her agency, putting her smack in the middle of the customer experience issue.

“Everybody loves me and everybody hates me, simultaneously. I can never service their needs fast enough,” she said. “Where that comes into play—especially within the agency—is recognizing … we can’t just focus on our external customer base. When we do that we optimize for one part of the problem, not for the problem in totality.”

At NSA, Romano has found that satisfying internal customers is often about finding just the right amount of technology to serve their needs.

“We have a very interesting dynamic in that we have to satisfy needs from those who are less tech savvy—so they require a lot of automation—to the most technologically advanced people,” she said. “So, from our internal customer perspective, it was essentially looking at how we can optimize their experience but allow each customer to own their journey.”

Finding the right balance—either a full-scale automation of a process or merely a technical assist—ensures employees are comfortable with the technology they’re using, as well as more productive and, ideally, happier.

“It’s really optimizing both sides of that problem in order to, ultimately, service the external customer needs faster,” Romano said.

While the solutions may differ, the approaches are largely the same whether working with internal or external groups, Reilly said. The GSA team uses the same tools and tactics with both groups: journey mapping, pilot projects, surveys and user interviews and research like demographic studies, she said.

That said, “I think it’s a little easier to talk to an internal group—fewer checks that we have to go through,” Reilly said.

“And then, most importantly, I think, we talk about what we learned both internally and externally,” she added. “We talk about what we tried, why we tried it, who we worked with, what the results were and what didn’t work—we’re quite honest about that. And we do this quickly so we can rinse-and-repeat and then try again.”