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Designing federal customer experience for life’s complexity


February 8, 2023

Too often, customer experience focuses on the customer’s needs only in the moment – how can this specific feature or service be optimized for this specific interaction?

Yet, people’s needs are not isolated within static moments in time. Rather, people are living complex, constantly evolving lives. Their past experiences and future intents influence what they value, do, or need. Context matters: Someone’s priorities or behavior may change day-to-day, based on any number of competing factors.

To design truly impactful experiences, organizations must assess people holistically, and better understand all the different factors influencing their needs and decisions – before, during, and after an interaction. This approach to customer experience is called life-centricity.

It’s particularly important as new research from Accenture found that people’s lives are increasingly dynamic and even unpredictable – 72% of consumers say that external factors such as inflation, social movements, and climate change are impacting their lives more than in the past. And 60% of consumers say their priorities keep changing as a result of everything going on in the world.

The federal government is beginning to recognize the importance of more holistic customer experience. The White House has put renewed focus on human-centered and inclusive design, most prominently with the Executive Order on Transforming Federal Customer Experience and Service Delivery to Rebuild Trust in Government and the Executive Order on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility in the Federal Workforce.

Significantly, the White House’s focus on building more streamlined federal customer experience around five “key life experiences” underscores the government’s commitment to more seamless, efficient, and intuitive processes that are designed first and foremost around a user’s journey, rather than around an agency’s organizational chart.

As these efforts progress, agencies must focus on delivering excellent public service experiences that acknowledge, work, and evolve with the full scope of customers’ complex lives. Life-centricity is a key ingredient.

Enabling life-centricity

A life-centric approach to customer experience takes a broader view of customers, situating them within the larger journey they are on and delivering the most relevant solutions for those contexts.

Furthermore, life-centricity acknowledges that a customer’s stated intents and demonstrated behaviors may not always align, and their short-term and long-term needs may contradict due to rapid change and societal pressures.

As an example, let’s imagine Stephanie. Stephanie may indicate on a survey that she most prefers to interact with federal services via digital channels. She is independent, fast-moving, and her job keeps her very busy; she values the convenience of simply doing it herself. One day Stephanie loses her job, and she suddenly feels overwhelmed and upset. Her preferences shift, and she grows frustrated with the impersonal nature of digital channels. At this time in her life, she would prefer an in-person channel that can provide personalized support while making her feel like she is being cared for as a human.

Life-centricity helps to reframe these tensions not as contradictions to choose between, but rather as opportunities to address – how can an agency design their processes to meet seemingly opposing needs, both now and in the future? How can an agency’s CX remain flexible and agile amid people’s changing lives?

Life-centricity is a necessary lens for conducting truly human-centered design. After all, complexity and change are inherent to the human condition. By designing experiences with a life-centric approach, the government can expand its perspective and improve its service delivery—to proactively optimize for all the forces that may be shaping a customer’s life.

A framework for life-centricity

Agencies looking to incorporate life-centricity into their CX can use a practical framework to understand the major steps involved: See, Solve, and Simplify.

1. See people’s complex experiences—the full range of their needs and values.

This means taking the time to do in-depth, continuous, inclusive, and thoughtful user research. Resist the urge to categorize users’ needs into strict, stagnant categories.

Instead, gain an evidence-based understanding of people by observing them beforeduring, and after an interaction. Document trends across users, score their experiences, and compare. Watch for contextual cues that influence how people behave, signal a shift in priorities, or drive to a different outcome. While an agency may not be able to control the entire journey, they can design solutions that factor in context for more meaningful outcomes.

2. Solve for diverse people and scenarios.

Methods such as strategic foresight and systems thinking can provide a framework for broadening an agency’s perspective on all the possible factors influencing a person’s life and decisions.

And test for change. Reduce the risk of big ideas before and while implementing change by prototyping whether it passes multiple tests of desirability, feasibility, inclusivity, and viability across platforms and experiences, to ensure it’s meeting the needs of all users, in all contexts. Each time, ask – is this something people want? Does it work? Who does it benefit, and who is left out? Is it sustainable?

3. Finally, simplify experiences for users – this requires orienting processes and operations around their needs, not solely your own.

Reimagine how internal teams work and build their strategy around the customer’s story. Consider tools like journey mapping and ecosystem mapping to understand the big picture and design wins for your customers and organization, together.

Co-create solutions with collaborators across teams and across agencies. Others might own a different piece of that before, during, and after journey, but working together is critical to creating seamless CX. Setting up a governance structure that can securely enable data sharing and collaboration across siloes will be key to enabling this.

Looking ahead, the government needs to embrace a life-centric approach that helps agencies meet customers’ complex, multifaceted, and changing needs. By seeing people’s interactions with government as one moment in the context of their full lives, we can evolve past the idea of one-size-fits-all products or services and deliver more flexible, inclusive, and helpful options.


Lauren Oliver

Principal Director – Accenture Federal Services, Experience Practice