Let’s Flip the Script on Customer Experience

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Customer experience is about more than customer satisfaction.

Government leaders are getting serious about improving customer experience.

The latest White House Budget Proposal states that the administration wants “to ensure that Government no longer lags behind the private sector on customer experience”; and bills in both the House and Senate take meaningful steps to help federal agencies better understand how citizens interact with them. Even so, when it comes to the public sector, the conversation about customer experience needs to change.

To begin with, too many people think customer experience, or CX, comes down to customer satisfaction—but it’s not that simple. It’s about so much more than that, and the word “satisfaction” can cause all sorts of confusion. Even the most unsatisfied customer has an experience we can learn from; and satisfaction is not a good gauge or measure of experience, because actual human experience is always complex. 

We probably learn most not from those who give us a quick thumbs up or thumbs down, but those whose experiences are mixed, and whose trajectory of engagement with an agency we can map from start to finish. 

Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that customer experience is not just about delivering something—something satisfying or unsatisfying—to the customer. In fact, customer experience is primarily about getting something from the customer. Something essential: information, orientation, a sense of what works and what doesn’t, insight into your processes, how you’ve set up your organization, and how best to add value.

So it’s time to flip the script: customer experience is not just about giving customers (or users or citizens) what they want; it’s also about getting the insights you want, and need, to fulfill your mission. Understand who your users are, what they are doing or trying to do, and you can build your digital first agency to operate more efficiently and effectively within those parameters.

There are some demonstrated ways to go about getting mission-critical insights from CX. Of course, every agency will have different requirements, depending on its level of funding, its function, its history, and where it falls on the retail to regulator spectrum. In general, however, CX work involves three steps: 

Mapping. Gather information on how citizens interact with your agency. Mapping is all about taking the word “experience” seriously, and making it easy for people to give you information. Mapping should be both granular—capturing every aspect of the user’s experience in a single moment—and extensive, from the moment a user first engages to the moment she disengages. For some federal agencies, the map of a user’s experience can extend over an entire lifetime; other experiences are more ephemeral. No matter the duration, a user’s experiences constitute a journey, not just a linear progression from input A to output B. With every user, the map evolves.

Measuring. Assess and analyze the information gathered in the process of mapping, and use other data to figure out the stories it has to tell. Measuring is not merely a matter of asking your customers to fill out a scorecard, though quick surveys, done right at the moment of customer contact, are especially effective in getting a sense of what’s working and what’s not. 

Car rental agencies have done a particularly good job of this. Many now measure on the spot with a quick survey, delivered to your phone before you get to the airport gate, and open a dialogue: if things have not gone as well as they should, there is an employee who is equipped to deal with the issue. 

They are not just tallying scores. They are making data actionable. That involves measuring to assess interaction at every organizational touchpoint: from technology to processes and people. Ultimately, measuring is about learning how to work effectively, together, inside your agency and with the customer. 

Mindset. Making data actionable is critical. To be able to succeed, you need to turn what you learn into principled action. That comes down to mindset. Think of the way coffee shops set up retail locations and equip employees with the mindset to make customers happy, no matter how specialized the customer’s needs may turn out to be. 

It’s impossible to prescribe a solution for every coffee order, or for every potential issue that might arise in the course of a user’s experience. But you can set some basic principles that will define success. Then, to help your people succeed, put new information, tools, and resources into their hands. That is the most effective way to empower them to work with users and with each other to address issues as they emerge and, where possible, make fixes on the fly. 

Technology can facilitate this process, but mindset is really about giving the right people within your agency the resources they need to intervene and improve the user experience. 

Working through this mapping-measuring-mindset cycle once will help make it easier—and necessary—to work through it again. The aim is to keep getting the information you want, and need, from your users, and to initiate a virtuous cycle of iterative improvement. 

People with the right mindset will help fill in detail on the user experience map, for example, and that will in turn help you measure how effective your work to date has been; from there you can rejigger processes and outfit your team with what they need to improve. 

This virtuous cycle of iterative improvement is really what customer experience should come down to. Don’t think of experience as what those who interact with your agency are undergoing; it’s also and most importantly about what you are undertaking, the goals you want to pursue and achieve. Dedicate your organization to this kind of CX project, and you’ve committed to getting the information you need to achieve the outcomes you want: whether that’s streamlining operations, reducing costs, or making sure your people share your mission and are equipped and ready to realize it. 

RJ Krawiec is a principal at Deloitte Consulting and a federal health care leader.

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