Federal CX picks up speed

Customer experience has become a driver for agencies modernizing their IT systems.

customer services (cifotart/Shutterstock.com)

Increasingly, the goal of producing positive customer experience is driving IT modernization efforts at federal agencies.

Customer experience is "the sum of a customer's perception, with their end-to-end interactions with a brand or organization," Anahita Reilly, chief customer officer at the General Services Administration, said. "It matters a lot. It can drive operational efficiencies, savings, cost avoidance. It can make your employees happier."

Three years ago, 'customer experience wasn't really a thing that government did or focused on…we focused on customer service," Reilly said in remarks at ACT-IAC's CX summit in Washington, D.C., on June 25. "We're civil servants. Customer experience was new. It was touchy. It was feely. We weren't quite sure what to do with it. Things have changed."

Customer experience, backed by measurable data made possible by noting whether users are internal staff or the public and assessing their preferences, has become a driver for agencies at the forefront of modernizing their IT systems, according to experts at the ACT-IAC event.

According to Federal Deputy CIO Margie Graves, the Department of Agriculture's moves to modernize operations shows how customer experience drives technological changes.

"Everything they're doing aligns with changing the customer's experience," she said on a panel at the event. Graves, who is on the board of the Technology Modernization Fund, said that USDA's focus on "changing the conversation with the American farmer" was a big factor in the TMF's decision to fund some of the agency's efforts.

Understanding user experience with agency systems and functions is a complex subject that covers internal and external users, according to Graves.

"There are multiple customers all along a business process. You have to go all the way to the endpoint -- and that's generally the citizen," she said. "You have to understand the experience of every one of those and design and architect, so it is a fluid experience for all of them."

Agencies are picking up on the need to get more savvy when it comes to customer experience, but CX managers are scarce in the federal workforce.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development, one of the General Services Administration's centers of excellence agencies, is currently looking for a chief customer experience officer, HUD COO Ralph Gaines said during a panel at the event. The Social Security Administration, according to its CIO Sean Brune, is also in the process of developing such a position.

Until now, user experience researchers, or user experience designers, according to Charles Worthington, CTO at the Department of Veterans Affairs, have been missing in the federal workforce. "The government hasn't been asking for it. That's something that's changing fast. We're looking for people to level up their skills in product design and user experience" to help gauge what customers are looking and translate those needs into capabilities.