HHS Websites Will Get Customer Experience Scores in 2021

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As part of the updated digital strategy, Health and Human Services Department program offices will be getting graded on a “CX scale.”

Program offices at the Health and Human Services Department will be getting graded on the accessibility and user-friendly state of their websites with a new customer experience score to be rolled out this year.

HHS digital leads have been working to update the department’s digital strategy since this summer, and the CX scale was proposed as part of that effort, Christen Geiler, HHS program analyst and digital transformation specialist, told Nextgov.

“We want to make sure that we can measure and show everyone’s progress,” Geiler said. “To capture that and see, you know, ‘Site A’ has got tremendous success but ‘Site B’ might be struggling. ‘Site A’ might be a great resource for lessons-learned and possibly templates, best practices—all that information could be shared across the entire department.”

Geiler said the idea for a CX scorecard came about with the creation of the HHS Digital Strategy in 2017. The current iteration of that plan only carries through fiscal 2020. So, as Geiler and others got to work this summer updating the plan, they looked to established data sources—like the General Services Administration’s Data Analytics Program, or DAP, which pulls analytics from any government website the code is included on—and established metrics like those in the 21st Century Integrated Digital Experience Act, or IDEA Act.

The team looked to the IDEA Act for the first set of eight key performance indicators, or KPIs. Per the 2018 legislation, federal websites must:

  • Be accessible to individuals with disabilities in accordance with section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
  • Have a consistent appearance.
  • Not overlap with or duplicate any legacy websites and, if applicable, ensure that legacy websites are regularly reviewed, eliminated and consolidated.
  • Contain a search function that allows users to easily search content intended for public use.
  • Be provided through an industry-standard secure connection.
  • Be designed around user needs with data-driven analysis influencing management and development decisions, using qualitative and quantitative data to determine user goals, needs and behaviors, and continually test the website, web-based form, web-based application or digital service to ensure that user needs are addressed.
  • Provide users of the new or redesigned website, web-based form, web-based application or digital service with the option for a more customized digital experience that allows users to complete digital transactions in an efficient and accurate manner.
  • Be fully functional and usable on common mobile devices.

HHS offices reported to leadership on each of those metrics, giving the digital strategy team a solid place to start.

“From there, the goal was to leverage the available standards that we have—tools like Google Insights and DAP,” Geiler said, which offer data points like page views, bounce rates and the types of devices being used.

Getting widespread adoption of DAP tools was a key priority for the team, she said, as that allows for automated data collection, streamlining the process and limiting significant data calls for offices. However, despite an Office of Management Budget mandate from 2016, not all HHS websites were using the analytics platform.

Geiler ran a DAP implementation drive from June through Nov. 1, pushing offices to include the code in all of their websites.

“The digital community was so fantastic and worked diligently to get the code on their pages,” she said, noting HHS now has a strong presence on the analytics dashboard. “That was the first element of automating and doing data capture.”

From there, the team wants to build visualization tools to help offices interpret the data better and gain true insights.

“We wanted to quantify that data. We wanted to make it useful,” Geiler said. “Visualization will really help display the information in a way that’s easy to understand and allow site owners to make decisions. Being able to see how specific pages and platforms and client tools—things that are beneficial for the organization—and, eventually, maybe, do information sharing across the offices.”

The digital strategy team has already gleaned some insights from the data, Geiler said.

“Looking at the data that was submitted for the IDEA Act, it’s remarkable,” she said. “There’s no terrible websites. The HHS digital community is amazing.”

The scores won’t be published publicly, Geiler said, though they might be circulated among HHS leaders—such as the HHS Digital Council—in order to compare notes and help offices with lower scores learn from those who are ranking higher.

“You get your score and we can see the score and we can also see areas in the department that possibly, as part of the digital strategy, we can work toward improving in those areas,” she said. “If everyone is struggling with a particular aspect of modernization, we’d be able to focus our attention there. We’d also be able to do a lot of information sharing and hopefully improve customer satisfaction and performance.”

The team has yet to decide how often the scores will be released. For instance, agencies and departments report to OMB on customer service metrics annually; the House Oversight Committee issues the FITARA Scorecard four times a year; and the DAP dashboard is up-to-the-minute.

Given time constraints on program offices and the need to do some manual data calls, the HHS CX scores will likely be issued annually, Geiler said, though that has not been finalized.

Delays in the digital strategy development process—largely due to COVID-19 and the presidential transition—have led to delays in rolling out the CX scale, Geiler said, meaning many of the details are yet to be decided. For instance, she said the scores will likely be attached to program offices, rather than individual websites, at least to start.

“It’s probably offices at this point because organizations have so many websites,” she said.

The makeup of the scores themselves remains up in the air, as well. The team is looking at several possibilities, including number and letter grades, though Geiler said she’s partial to a “green, yellow, red” scale.

Going forward, Geiler said she expects to see the CX scorecards rolls out in the May to June timeframe, though she won’t be there to see it—she’s retiring from public service on Friday and taking a job in the private sector.

“I have a great team, some folks who I know are continuing to push along the project,” she said.