How Customer Experience Leaders Are ‘Hardwiring’ CX Across Government


Cross-pollination and communication among agencies are helping build the discipline of customer experience across government.

As the previous President’s Management Agenda expires and the nation awaits a decision to determine the next presidential administration, the leaders of the current cross-agency priority goal on improving customer experience very much believe the momentum will continue.

The customer experience CAP team—led by Veterans Affairs Department Chief Veterans Experience Officer Lynda Davis and Deputy Chief Veterans Experience Officer Barbara Morton—have compiled a wealth of customer experience-based resources, policy changes and talent to benefit federal practitioners for the next administration. Their goal is to help “hardwire” customer experience into federal agencies much as the discipline has been hardwired into VA.

“We were asked to lead the CAP goal to amplify the movement we were beginning here at VA,” Morton said during an Oct. 15 panel discussion with Nextgov at the Customer Experience Summit. Their CAP goal leadership expired at the close of fiscal 2020. “Over the last few years, it’s been tremendous to work across government, and share best practices we’ve developed at VA the last four or so years with our brothers and sisters across agencies.”

On the policy side, the Office of Management and Budget updated Circular A-11 guidance over the past two years to focus on federal customers and service delivery. The guidance drives agencies to collect data from customers “in as real-time as possible,” and mandates that High Impact Service Providers—the agencies that engage the most with customers—submit their customer experience data for public reporting.

Beyond policy changes, the customer experience CAP team recently supported an initiative led by OMB and the Office of Personnel Management to bring in 20 new CX strategists to the government ranks. Using a pool announcement, agencies attracted a large pool of applicants they later scored and ranked using common criteria.

“What we were all looking for was a design background, highly emotionally intelligent [people], empathetic listening and the ability to translate insights from human-centered design into tangible results,” Morton said.

The customer experience CAP team will also leave behind a litany of literature for other agencies.

“In addition to having all the skillsets of these external experts in customer experience, one of the things we have done is a supplement, like a cookbook, of everything we have learned,” Davis said.

The resource—expected to be public by November—will include a list of “key ingredients” agencies will need to bake customer experience into their missions. While it will have plenty of insights from VA’s own efforts, Davis and Morton both stipulated that VA’s approach is just one way to stand up mature customer experience and not the only approach that may work.

VA’s modern approach to customer experience began under former VA Secretary Bob McDonald at the conclusion of the Obama administration. Like many agencies across government, VA suffered poor marks in customer experience. To address those and other deficiencies, the agency prioritized the veteran experience and created the Veterans Experience Office now helmed by Davis. Now years into its customer experience journey, VA—amid a pandemic—saw its trust scores among veterans eclipse 90%. The agency’s veteran feedback operation resembles a private sector company, with millions of veterans annually surveyed in real time about their experiences. Through its Veterans Signals program, feedback Davis said that used to take years to assess is run through text analytics and artificial intelligence software immediately to identify problem areas or pain points.

Morton said VA also recently began piloting the concept of a Customer Experience Institute. In the first instantiation, the Veterans Experience Office is partnering with the Veterans Health Administration to provide a CX-based curriculum over a number of days so that health care practitioners and others can bring customer experience principles to their health care facilities. The concept involves mentorship, practitioner guidance and cohorts who complete the curriculum will receive a certification. Morton likened it to “teaching them how to fish.”

“The important thing here is that all of these pieces help us hardwire into the VA culture the processes, programs and policies for the secretary’s number-one priority of customer services and improving the customer experience,” Davis said.