4 CX Lessons Federal Agencies Can Learn from Their Peers

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There are several agencies making major strides in the CX space and other agencies could learn a thing or two from their CX programs.

Customer experience is a federal priority. Policies like the President's Management Agenda and the 21st Century IDEA Act highlight the importance of providing a positive, streamlined experience for U.S. citizens as they interact with government agencies. And yet, many agencies are slow to implement technologies and processes to improve their CX, and citizens are taking notice. 

In fact, in the 2019 Forrester CX Index, federal agencies were ranked last of 16 industries studied in providing a positive customer experience for its citizens. 

But while there is much work to be done in the public sector, there are several agencies making major strides in the CX space. Agencies like the General Services Administration and the Veterans Affairs and Agriculture departments and more have helped to lead the way, and other agencies could learn a thing or two from their CX programs.

Lesson 1: Make CX Your Culture

In order for customer experience to be effective in the public sector, agencies need to engrain it into their cultures. Putting the customer at the center must become a practice that the entire agency preaches, not just one individual. While agency leaders may not realize it, CX is directly aligned with the mission outcomes they work so hard to drive forward. And what’s more important to an agency—and its people—than the mission?

A few federal agencies have made CX a part of their everyday culture. As Agriculture Secretary, Sonny Perdue drives change from the top-down, turning his passion for CX into tactical methods of “making the USDA the most customer-centric department in all of government.” Additionally, the United States Postal Service has built a cross-functional CX council. Led by executives from varying departments within the agency, the group meets biweekly in an effort to hold each team accountable for driving customer-centric initiatives forward. 

As with any shift within the federal government, culture change starts from the top, then trickles down. Mid-level and frontline employees are the ones who drive these changes forward, but they won’t be able to make this change and execute on the agency’s CX vision if the leadership doesn’t do it first. 

Lesson 2: Leverage Your Employees

Employees see both sides of the CX equation. Whether they are at the frontline or not, they hear the voice of the customer and can relay that information to agency decision-makers. Employees can help their agencies understand customer pain points and either resolve the challenges that can be fixed or educate them on why certain processes are in place, usually due to regulatory reasons. 

Additionally, agency employees’ pain points can provide unique perspectives into the customer experience. In the private sector, companies use the voice of the employee as a proxy for the voice of the customer, and agencies are beginning to do the same. If employees experience frustration, it likely is also experienced by the citizens they interact with. By listening to your employees, agencies can both improve their internal experience, increasing employee retention, but also inform and maintain a better customer experience program.  

The Environmental Protection Agency recently implemented a function of their CX program specifically focused on the employee, and the Federal Aviation Administration leverages employee input and feedback to improve customer—and employee—experiences. 

Lesson 3: Make It Your Job, or At Least, Someone’s

Think about it this way: If CX is no one’s sole responsibility, then it’s no one’s priority. While everyone has a role in providing positive CX, it’s necessary to have a senior leader own the program, someone who understands the agency’s nuances and factions but can speak on behalf of the customer. This person is charged to oversee and enact the change needed to better serve citizens, taking it past the “fluff” and developing tangible services with the customer at the center. 

The VA was one of the earliest agencies to dedicate a senior position to this. As Chief Veteran Experience Officer, Dr. Lynda Davis has the primary role of ensuring the veterans they serve are given a positive experience. The department has a dedicated CX office that achieves senior-level visibility, and the GSA has been working with the Housing and Urban Development Department to focus on creating a CX program within an agency that’s never had one

Lesson 4: Ask, then Listen

This lesson is really two simple steps: ask your citizens for feedback, and then actually listen to it. Without customer input, you only have your perspective on the experience your agency intends to provide, which can be shaded by your own experiences, biases, and blinders. To understand how things are interpreted, we have to get to the source: the citizens. 

Agencies like the VA, Postal Service and Agriculture take customer feedback very seriously, and are implementing software programs to gather feedback and use it to inform their modernization strategies. Recently, Agriculture developed a Farm Loan Discovery Tool based on customer input. Reviewing feedback, whether gathered via software tools or field research, agency leaders can view their organization as their customers do, learning what’s working and what isn’t. From there, they use their own agency knowledge to determine how and where to make improvements.

Zachary Trojak is a principal for public sector at Medallia, Inc.