Federal CIO: Diversity, Accessibility Are Key to Improving Customer Experience

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A diverse workforce and focus on accessibility will be central to administration’s efforts to improve customer experience.

On the heels of new guidance on encouraging diversity, equity and inclusion and an update to administration policies on improving customer services, the government’s lead technology official stressed the need to combine these goals into one, holistic push.

“As the nation’s largest employer, we in the federal government must be a model for diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility, where all employees are treated with dignity and respect,” Federal Chief Information Officer Clare Martorana said Wednesday during the ACT-IAC CX Summit. “Citizens deserve a seamless, secure customer experience when they interact with our government. And it’s our job, behind the scenes in federal IT to make that happen.”

Martorana noted the importance of delivering quality services: failure in one area can have detrimental ripple effects.

“When we don’t meet their expectations, it actually undermines their trust in government. We undermine trust both in our competence and the extent to which we understand and care about those in need of our service,” she said.

That means government services—digital or otherwise—have to work, but also must work for all people, whether of differing backgrounds or abilities.

“When Americans spend hours just to fill out an online form or it doesn’t work on their phone or they don’t have internet access or, if they do but the site is not accessible because they are vision impaired, they feel that the government doesn’t serve them,” Martorana said. “Users from all walks of life, with all types of abilities, have a right to be able to use a federal website to apply for benefits, manage a claim or contact customer support. That means we need to take seriously Section 508 accessibility standards when we design digital experiences. It has to be as important as designing security into all of our products.”

Being accessible and diverse also means meeting customers where they are—an important refrain for CX practitioners. For agencies, that will mean taking “a digital first approach but it’s not digital only,” Martorana said. “It is an omnichannel customer experience.”

Ensuring DEI and accessibility issues are addressed in government services will also require hiring a more diverse federal workforce, Martorana said.

Combining the new DEI and customer experience mandates will mean “focusing on the workforce,” she said. “Making sure that we are recruiting people from across the country, from all different walks of life is an actual critical step in designing good customer experience.”

Martorana cited her time at the Veterans Affairs Department, noting the customer there—American veterans—are a cross-section of diversity. Similarly, the VA workforce is made up of a large number of veterans, reflecting the population they serve.

“We are focused on making sure that we have a diverse workforce, an equitable workforce, an inclusive workforce,” she said. “And, also, the nerd in me will continue to focus every single day on accessibility.”

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