VA To Codify Customer Experience As Part of Core Values

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The need to consider ease, effectiveness and emotion in all decisions will become part of the department’s Code of Federal Regulations.

The Veterans Affairs Department has been working to improve the experience it delivers to its customers—America’s veterans—and is set to enshrine a set of customer experience principles as part of its core values and ethics.

On Monday, the Office of Management and Budget will publish a final rule in the Federal Register officially adding the principles to the VA Core Values and Characteristics section of the Code of Federal Regulations, or CFR. The section will be renamed to reflect this, as well, with the new title “Core Values, Characteristics and Customer Experience Principles of the Department.”

“Maintaining a sustained organizational commitment to, and institutionalized focus on, the voice of the customer is a critical component of modernizing VA to meet the needs and expectations of veterans, their families, caregivers and survivors,” according to the rule change set for publication Monday. “Codifying these principles will ensure that they receive the proper emphasis at all levels within VA, are clearly understood by the workforce, and, most importantly, become an enduring part of the VA culture.”

While the emphasis on customer service has been pervading the department, Lynda Davis, chief of the Veterans Experience Office, noted priorities could change under future leaders and administrations.

“The commitment to a culture of ensuring the highest experience for our customers—who are our veterans, families, caregivers and survivors—that has to be permanent. That can’t be changing,” Davis told Nextgov.

The idea to include customer experience as a core department value came from Deputy Chief Veterans Experience Officer Barbara Morton, according to her boss.

“It was Barbara’s idea to ensure that [Secretary Robert Wilkie's] vision of a sustained commitment to customer experience in the VA was hardwired into everything we did in terms of our policy and practices,” Davis said, noting the CFR is “the fundamental, permanent backbone of the department.”

The added sections centralize the department’s efforts to improve customer experience around three legs:

  • Ease: VA will make access to VA care, benefits, and memorial services smooth and easy.
  • Effectiveness: VA will deliver care, benefits and memorial services to the customer’s satisfaction.
  • Emotion: VA will deliver care, benefits, and memorial services in a manner that makes customers feel honored and valued in their interactions with VA. VA will use customer experience data and insights in strategy development and decision-making to ensure that the voice of veterans, servicemembers, their families, caregivers, and survivors inform how VA delivers care, benefits, and memorial services.

The “3 Es of CX” is a framework developed by the research firm Forrester, Davis said, calling it “the best way to measure trust that industry has established.”

Forrester’s principal analyst for customer experience, Rick Parrish, said he was encouraged by the pending regulation change, especially the focus on the third E.

“Unfortunately, government organizations discuss emotion very rarely. Instead, they focus on Ease and Effectiveness,” he said. “But no matter how easy and effective a customer experience is, it won’t be great unless it leaves customers feeling the way they need to feel.”

Specifically, Parrish said the use of specific words like “honored and valued” show the department is empathizing with its customers.

“Too often, even private-sector companies that focus on emotion simply pick emotion words like ‘delight’ or ‘happy’ or ‘joy’ without really studying which emotions are most important to CX quality,” he said. “It looks to me like VA has avoided that pitfall and chosen specific emotions that it knows will create great CX.”