Empathy, continuous feedback are keys to CX success

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COMMENTARY | How human-centered design can optimize outcomes for customer experience initiatives.

Amid a government-wide push to improve customer experience — catalyzed by the CX Executive Order and the President’s Management Agenda — agencies are launching projects to comprehensively redesign service delivery from a human-centered perspective. 

For example, the Social Security Administration and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced a new pilot project to improve the experience of accessing content and information on SSA.gov and Medicare.gov. 

To do this, the agencies are conducting user research to inform the design of user website journeys and work to reduce the time it takes for applications to be approved. This strategy aligns with what is known as human-centered design, an approach to problem-solving that develops solutions by involving the human perspective in all steps of the process.

Critical success factors for HCD

As federal agencies seek to implement CX pilot projects, they must consider the pain points of the population in question. For example, intuitive and easy digital workflows will be pivotal for SSA and CMS’ target demographic. 

Similarly, educating the American public about the nuances of Medicare and social security is paramount, so users applying for benefits have a strong understanding of the process upfront. Organizational silos and barriers between federal health agencies and contractors present additional hurdles. Invariably, there will also be cost and resource constraints.  

While the litany of challenges may seem restrictive, the HCD approach offers many remedies to these obstacles. When kicking off any CX initiative, organizations should prioritize citizen and agency feedback to ensure all actions are driven by needs. This feedback should be continuous and often.  Procedural adjustments must be reviewed and enhanced alongside IT changes.  

Often, HCD is considered in terms of the citizen’s experience, however, CX can’t be comprehensively addressed without also resolving challenges to employee experience during the HCD research and design process.

By engaging users directly — via interviews, surveys, or focus groups — researchers can discover pain points or bottlenecks and can collect the data necessary to inform what changes are needed. These conversations should be with all stakeholder groups to ensure the implemented solutions are beneficial for all.

Employees that are highly trained, equipped with necessary tools, and who feel valued by their employer are far more likely to deliver the best service to the citizens that depend on their service. A 2021 report found that organizations with strong EX are 2.4x more likely to delight customers.

However, it’s not feasible to have personal discussions with the millions of Americans who depend on government websites and services. Advanced data management platforms can help sort through and extract actionable insights from the troves of available data. 

Above all, HCD reminds us not to make assumptions but to directly and continually ask about or observe the user’s experience. 

Agile feedback loops are the key to future-proofing

Agile feedback loops are imperative to ensure changes to technological or procedural processes are working as intended and adding value for citizens. Once quantitative and qualitative data from all stakeholders is acquired, centralized, and analyzed, potential solutions to address the findings can be prototyped. It’s crucial not to assume that the first solution will work perfectly — the prototyped solution should first be tested with a representative sample of the population. 

This fast, tight feedback loop enables solutions to be optimized based on user experience before being deployed for use by the entire American public. This practice also reduces the likelihood that the solution has unintended and unforeseen negative consequences.  

While it may seem redundant and unnecessarily time-consuming, continual feedback loops ensure long-term success and help to future-proof solutions, which is well worth the upfront investment. 

HCD calls for an empathetic perspective, and that is what makes it so impactful for CX. Empathy is important to consider in HCD and CX because it provides greater insight into human motivations and needs, which then facilitates the creation of impactful products and services. Federal agencies and organizations in the private sector are beginning to realize the importance of empathy for CX, which will help agencies reap the benefits of HCD. 

With federal government customer satisfaction at a historic low, it’s crucial that agencies continue to emphasize improvements to CX. True HCD principles and values must be leveraged to make meaningful change and improvements for our citizens.

Rita Breen is agile and human-centered design practices director at National Government Services.

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