OMB Makes Major Changes to Agency Guidance on Customer Experience

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The Office of Management and Budget updated its Circular A-11 guidance for agencies this month, including an expanded definition of customer experience itself.

In its annual update to Circular A-11 guidance for all federal agencies, the Office of Management and Budget included significant changes and additions to Section 280, which deals entirely with improving customer experience and service delivery.

Among the most important changes are OMB’s expanded definitions of the terms “customer” and “service delivery” as they relate to the federal government. In the revamped Section 280 guidance, customers now include individuals, businesses and organizations that interact with a government agency or program, “either directly or via a federal contractor or even a federally-funded program.” Customers also include public servants and federal employees themselves.

“OMB has slightly expanded the definition of customers in the federal government context as compared to the 2019 guidance,” said Stephanie Thum, who formerly served as the vice president of customer experience at Export-Import Bank and recently launched her own company, Practical CX. “This is a timeless conversation that happens inside agencies all the time. Who are our customers?”

OMB’s definition of service delivery is more detailed than last year’s guidance, and adds two additional services—data and research and regulatory—to the five types of government services outlined last year, which were administrative, benefits, compliance, recreation and informational. The guidance includes a nuanced and detailed overview of the sometimes complex interagency interactions involved in performing services for customers, Thum said. That’s important, she said, because it’s a rare occasion when a customer receives a desired service through a single touch-point or interaction.

The updated guidance summarizes the government’s “core CX functions” as measurement, governance and strategy, culture and organization, customer understanding and service design and improvement, though there is significant overlap in some of these functions.

“OMB is meshing these concepts together, and we’re seeing crossover and a fusing together in practicing customer experience,” Thum said. “What I sense here is that we’re moving away from guidance that acts as a compliance checklist and toward a language that is queueing us toward a business discipline. These are things that make a lot of sense.”

The biggest change in OMB’s Section 280 guidance is geared around how customer experience ought to be measured. OMB will require agencies to develop an overall trust score based on survey data collected “in as real-time as possible.” The guidance regarding measurement is particularly important for High Impact Service Providers, or HISPs, which are required to submit their customer experience data for public reporting. Thum said OMB’s Section 280 guidance appears to elevate customer trust over customer satisfaction, mirroring a trend among some private sector customer experience experts who feel the former may be a more important measurement.

Thum said the 2020 guidance also attempts to simplify and expedite the survey process itself, allowing agencies to submit new surveys under OMB A-11 Section 280 Umbrella Clearance. Agencies can craft news surveys with templates provided to them and reviewed by “a customer experience subject matter expert in an effort to further streamline the review of these types of collections.”

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