To Skyrocket the Government Customer Experience, Harness the Data

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Agencies can transform their data into actionable insights that drive meaningful and practical change to better serve their customers.

“The customer is always right.” This saying has driven businesses for decades, influencing how organizations approach internal operations and deliver services to their customers. Now, that same mantra is driving the U.S. federal government to modernize, simplify and improve how it serves its customers.

The Transportation Security Administration, for example, has adopted social media as a way to offer customer assistance, general information and even job postings. Meanwhile, the General Services Administration has piloted and launched automation workshop programs featuring tools like Amazon’s Alexa or Apple’s Siri to widen the scope in how citizens can access government services.

As modernization requirements, like those found in the President’s Management Agenda and the 21st Century Integrated Digital Experience Act (IDEA), push federal agencies to reevaluate how they interact with their customers, delivering a better customer experience has become a top priority. While agencies know customer feedback is a valuable and powerful resource that can lead to improved customer experience, harnessing the data to drive practical change can pose a challenge.

With the intent of helping government achieve its modernization goals, NIC, a digital government solutions provider, is working to supply agencies with a tool that will help them meet ever-increasing expectations and deliver customer experiences that are comparable to leading private-sector organizations.

The tool, known as Voice of the Customer (VOC) listening technology, modernizes the collection of customer feedback data and transforms it into an enterprise view of an organization’s customer service posture. The resulting VOC insights enable leadership to look inward and make informed business decisions that not only fill service gaps, but also support organizational change management. This creates a culture of continuous improvement agency-wide and, as a result, better customer experiences are delivered.

“Across the private sector, companies are embedding VOC listening programs into their customer experience strategies to better understand the needs, wants and desires of their customers,” says NIC VP Angela Fultz Nordstrom. “Likewise, federal agencies can use VOC to transform agency operations and drive a better customer experience.”

For example, through its role as the lighthouse agency for the administration’s IT Modernization Centers of Excellence (COE) initiative, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is working to fundamentally change how it delivers services to its customers. After an initial planning and assessment phase in 2018 that identified key USDA modernization goals, GSA partnered with NIC to implement a VOC program that would serve as the foundation of their customer experience strategy.

Secretary [of Agriculture] Sonny Perdue has often talked about his desire for the USDA to deliver a Disneyland-like experience to its customers,” says Fultz Nordstrom, noting this means surpassing the customer service bar set by private sector customer service. “USDA’s vision for customer service is driven from the top down. The VOC program at USDA is taking customer service data and giving it a new dimension — enabling leadership to make powerful, educated business decisions that positively impact customer experience and satisfaction.”

While IT modernization is a central factor to the USDA’s strategy, the USDA recognizes that to truly affect a better customer experience, there is a cultural shift that must also occur. “It’s not just about IT. It’s about changing the culture for us — asking people to think differently about how they receive services and how they deliver services,” says USDA's CIO Gary Washington. Washington says they could see the start of a “cultural intervention at USDA,” sparked by COE initiatives.

To adapt to changing customer needs and expectations, often set by private sector interactions, agencies need a solution strategy that can be institutionalized by agency operations, sustained by employees and scaled when needed. And the USDA is doing just that, says Washington. “Right now, we’re already planning for sustainability,” he notes. “It’s one thing to implement these solutions; we have to sustain them and make them an institutionalized part of the way we operate.”

No two agency missions are the same, but they all have customers. And to deliver a better customer experience, customer feedback data is critical. The challenge, however, lies beyond just soliciting and obtaining feedback, but rather in using the feedback to affect positive change within an agency that leads to improved customer experience and satisfaction. That’s where VOC can help any agency, regardless of mission, guide their customer experience strategy.

“What does the customer need?” asks Fultz Nordstrom. “It’s exciting to hear federal agencies asking that question and really focusing on making interactions with government more like those private sector experiences to which we have all become accustomed. All of this customer data is coming in — from internal and external customers — and VOC is the umbrella that takes the data and presents it in a way that executives can see it, understand it, and act upon it.”