Reports Suggest Divide Between Government and Customers it Serves

Citizens' perception of the federal customer experience differs from that of the agencies themselves.

Two new reports on the government’s customer service efforts indicate a continued divide between federal agencies and the customers they serve.

The reports are similar in nature but authored separately by Forrester Research and the Partnership for Public Service. Linked above, these reports are extensive and worth reading for any executive or customer experience stakeholder, but I’ve highlighted a few of the key takeaways.

In “Government for the People,” the Partnership for Public Service’s report, includes a two-sentence factoid that encapsulates the government’s customer service woes as well as anything.

The exchange: “Nineteen of 26 respondents agreed with the statement, ‘My agency tracks the right information to fully understand the needs of the customers we serve.’ However, government’s customers have a different perspective. Only 45 percent think agency representatives understand their needs, compared with 66 percent of private-sector customers.”

In short, feds’ belief that they’re getting the right data is not translating to customers’ perceptions of improved service.

That’s bad, as Mallory Bulman, the Partnership’s director of research and evaluation, told Nextgov. 

“The most surprising thing is the disconnect when you look at the scores citizens are giving government about their experiences, but when you talk to some agency officials about how they’re doing, they give themselves rosy scores,” Bulman said. “I really think we need to bridge that gap.”

The same research indicates that of 12 large, public-facing agencies surveyed, five did not have a customer service plan in place. Even worse: Nine of 12 agencies lacked a senior leader responsible for customer experience. If nobody owns it, chances are it’s not getting done well.

Forrester Research’s “The Public Is Still Skeptical of Federal Digital Customer Experience” doesn’t bury the lead.

On the whole, customers believe federal digital customer experience is starting to improve, yet it’s still not viewed as favorably as in-person interactions. Seventy-two percent of customers interacting with the federal government in person – through the U.S. Postal Service, Social Security Administration or Veterans Affairs benefits offices – report “being satisfied.” That’s actually higher than the 70 percent satisfaction score customer report dealing with federal websites and mobile apps.

Federal websites, by the way, “still have a long way to go,” according to Rick Parrish, who authored the Forrester Research report. He writes that “53 percent of customers now agree that federal websites are ‘Exactly what they should be.’” As he points out, it is a 2 percent increase over last year’s research, but there remains room for significant improvement.

On the whole, only 39 percent of federal customers believe the federal government ought to offer more digital services.

Security concerns could factor into the public’s reluctance to embrace federal digital efforts – only 32 percent of customers are confident the government can keep their personal data secure – but it also appears to be a demographic issue.

Adults 18-24 and 45 and older “have all become less interested in digital government,” while adults ages 25-44 have grown “slightly more interested.”

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