One of the most important things agencies can do is build trust.
Federal agencies have plenty of room to improve their collective customer experience, but some—even amid a pandemic—have met challenges with agility, innovation and improvements that lay groundwork for other agencies.
Speaking Tuesday at the Customer Experience Summit, representatives from three key federal agencies—the IRS and Veterans Affairs and Agriculture departments—shared how they’ve improved service delivery over the past year. One key theme shared by each federal official was improving trust.
Jim Clifford, director of the IRS’ Taxpayer First Act Office, said the IRS customer experience strategy focused on “delivering a higher degree of trust” among Americans, “especially aimed at segments of the population who do not trust or fear the government.” Clifford said 2020 represented “multidimensional challenges,” as COVID-19 forced tens of thousands of IRS employees to work remotely despite increased mission load in the form of issuing 200 million economic payments through the government’s stimulus package.
To accomplish the mission, Clifford said IRS employed nontraditional partners to reach populations that may not routinely engage with the taxpaying agency, like homeless Americans. In addition, the agency adapted as quickly as it could to remote work environments.
“We are in the midst of a journey and we’ve recognized there will be a cultural shift transformation required,” Clifford said.
Margarita Devlin, principal deputy undersecretary for benefits at VA, said the agency responsible for providing care to millions of veterans annually has taken a series of steps in recent years to improve service delivery. One of them was both simple and profound, she said.
“Sometimes you find really surprising things when you’re listening,” Devlin said.
When veterans were transitioning to VA, she said they often weren’t hearing about veteran readiness and vocation programs, but would later come back with questions after discussing issues with their friends and colleagues. The agency found it needed to do a better job educating veterans early on about various options available to them. In recent months, VA has instituted a variety of real-time surveys to inform decision-makers that have resulted in increased trust scores among veterans.
“This isn’t your grandfather’s VA anymore; we want veterans to choose VA,” Devlin said.
Simchah Suveyke-Bogin, chief customer experience officer at Agriculture, lauded the success of the Farmers.gov portal for Agriculture’s stakeholders, an abundance of which are actual farmers. The agency, she said, spent a lot of time with researchers, farm service personnel and farmers and producers in ensuring the product had a human-centered design. Engagement matters, she said, whether you’re engaging customers or frontline employees. Suveyke-Bogin added that the agency has emphasized the employee experience, important because 90% of Agriculture’s workforce is dispersed across the country outside of Washington, D.C.