Federal agencies are at an inflection point when it comes to customer experience. Trust in government is low, increasing the importance of delivering positive, engaging, and useful experiences. At the same time, people have increasingly high expectations for seamless and personalized interactions.
Core to the customer experience is how government communicates with its stakeholders. Accenture and the Partnership for Public Service’s 2021 Government for the People research found that more inclusive customer listening and stakeholder engagement is critical to improving equity and access.
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Agencies must understand customers’ diverse needs and preferences, and use those insights to deliver the right information, at the right time, to the people that need it, using the channel they prefer.
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The President’s Management Agenda and recent federal directives like the Executive Order on Transforming Federal Customer Experience and Service Delivery to Rebuild Trust in Government elevate the importance of addressing long-standing CX and customer engagement challenges to a new level. With this new focus, OMB is collaborating with agencies to identify gaps and bolster their efforts – and they are doing so in way that can help agencies across the maturity spectrum.
How can agencies use this high-priority, federal-wide focus on CX to transform their communications? Here are three key strategies:
Use data to increase impact.
High-performing communications requires relevant, actionable data and strong analytical insights, to help you understand what your customers are saying and how they are interacting across channels. The following steps are crucial to improving the value of your communications’ data and analytics:
Turn social media monitoring into action: Social media can no longer only be a channel for pushing out one-way content. Instead, think of it as a direct path to engage in conversations and to improve your customer service operation (answering questions, pointing to information, etc.). Be responsive to insights learned from social media and have the processes in place to quickly share and act on them.
Proactively monitor for misinformation and reputational threats: We’ve moved to a 24/7 information cycle that is filled with false information, assumptions, and innuendos that can make it difficult for people to know what is real. Government agencies need to be able to act quickly when they see information that isn’t accurate. Proactively monitor and assess for misinformation, so you can then respond with factual, authoritative content across all channels before it impacts core mission services and erodes trust with key stakeholders.
Use data to improve equity. Federal communicators often own and have access to a lot of aggregated information about customers that can help identify gaps and improve equity among underserved populations. Ultimately, data challenges assumptions and can help remove bias from decision-making to enable more equitable services across all customer segments. Enterprise data analytics dashboards are a powerful tool for this – when developed around communications channels, they can provide transparency to how your agency operates and help align internal stakeholders across the organization to address needs.
Deliver the right message, at the right time, to the right audience.
Delivering content effectively requires expertise. Many communicators end up in a reactive stance, publishing messaging and content without a clear overall strategy in mind. If this is you, try building a content strategy and calendar that allows you to proactively work toward larger goals and objectives.
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The first step to succeeding with content is truly knowing your audience – the journey they take with your product or service, how they can be grouped together, and their overall mindsets and needs. Try to pinpoint what is most important to them and tailor their experience with individual content campaigns. Technology can assist and makes it easy to conduct A/B testing of messaging before launching a full campaign to optimize ROI.
Even the highest-quality content may not resonate with customers if it’s not delivered in their preferred format. Evaluate the ROI of each channel, from social to print to email and more; ultimately, each content type has advantages and disadvantages. After content is published, you can iterate by creating a feedback loop – collect qualitative insights from customers to understand what worked best. Did they receive the information you intended to give? You can track your journey to greater ROI by setting broad key performance indicators, such as audience growth, content shares, or time spent on page, that measure how you’re doing.
Develop relationships with partners and stakeholders.
It’s quite complex to build effective partnerships with community and civic organizations, especially as a government agency. Yet, these third-party partners, or trusted voices, are key to delivering information to and ultimately building trust with many communities.
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Third-party partners, or trusted voices, are key to delivering information to and ultimately building trust with many communities.
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The 2020 Census is a great example of how the Census Bureau built a network of 400,000 local, national, and tribal government partners to communicate the importance for their communities to participate and respond to the once-a-decade headcount. Using historical census response rate data and an enterprise Customer Relationship Management system, the agency was able to build, implement, and track a network of partnerships being formed with third-party organizations interested in helping the Census Bureau to get an accurate count in their community. This partner-led outreach significantly increased the trust the public had in the 2020 Census and that their responses would make a difference.
This is of particular importance with historically underserved populations, who may not have access to federal services, and/or have experienced situations that instilled distrust in government. It’s essential to work with local, civic stakeholders and philanthropic communities to better understand your challenges on the ground. These partner and stakeholder conversations are key to opening and maintaining a positive dialogue.
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How can you best build trust and partner with community leaders?
- Listen closely to community leaders’ needs and recommendations. They understand the local issues that affect their communities. While partners and stakeholders may not always agree with you, they can often surprise you in how they speak up on your behalf when you need them the most.
- Focus your initial partnership efforts on removing barriers to accessing services, particularly for underserved groups. Your first step should be building up understanding with these partners of the barriers they face. Do you have data that can help build a strategy to fill those gaps? If not, how can you collect it and how can they help?
- Make it easy to share customizable content. These partners might not have a lot of time or resources to help get your message out and advocate on your behalf. Make it easy for them across both traditional and digital channels. Create partner toolkits with rich content in the form of messaging, FAQs, newsletter copy, social media posts, blogs, and videos. But remember it needs to be something they can easily take, edit, and make authentic to their own voice.
Now is a key moment for federal agencies to level up their communications capabilities. OMB is asking all agencies to report out on their progress in achieving improved and equitable customer experiences with real and quantifiable measures. These three strategies are essential to achieving greater, measurable value from your communications and ensuring the campaigns and messages you are delivering are reaching and resonating with all your customers.
Thank you to Kathy Conrad (Digital Government Lead) for her contributions to this content.