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Road to citizen-centered government services

Federal agencies have strengthened customer service, but they can address four priority challenges for true citizen first services.

Overview

Everyone expects great customer service. In the federal environment, customer service is often tied to services that people rely on—even services that can save lives.

While the federal workforce has developed some citizen first customer service practices, the federal government falls short on delivering the customer experience that citizens expect and deserve.

  • How customer-centered is the federal government overall?

  • What does customer experience success look like?

  • What practical actions can leaders take to enrich citizen first customer service?

Produced through a collaboration between the Partnership for Public Service and Accenture Federal Services, this report is part of a multi-year effort to explore how government can meet the challenge of improving the customer experience.

Offering front-line perspectives from federal leaders themselves, this report highlights customer service successes and pinpoints areas where agencies can make progress to provide consistent and effective customer service to all. That’s government for the people.

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Challenge 1: Data

Federal agencies need to improve their use of feedback and customer data to drive decisions and investments

The leaders we interviewed said they have plenty of customer experience data and, in most cases, the right data to understand citizens’ needs. However, our research revealed many cases in which leaders have incomplete or outdated data that were not useful in identifying the cause of customer problems.

Even leaders who were confident they had the right data acknowledged challenges in drawing insights from those data and acting on them. And even those who were able to draw insights expressed concerns that staff could not always improve services because of legal or budgetary restrictions. In fact, 85 percent of federal leaders surveyed hold staff accountable for customer service quality.

Recommendations

  • Agencies should gather and analyze customer experience data, and use insights from those data to guide decisions and investments.

  • Agencies should embrace customer feedback.

  • Agencies should share customer experience data with the entire organization, using tools to visualize, analyze and display data in an engaging way.

  • OMB should require agencies to collect comparable customer experience data on government’s most important services and transactions in order to assess customer satisfaction across agencies and target improvements to where they are needed most.

  • Congress should consider customer experience data when making funding decisions.

  • Congress should revise the Paperwork Reduction Act to remove unnecessary barriers to collecting customer experience data.

“They just didn’t have the information to take action and [weren’t] empowered to take action. They used a lot of anecdotal information but not data.”



PHAEDRA CHROUSOS

Chief Customer Officer
General Service Administration

Challenge 2: Governance

Federal agencies need a clear customer strategy and a senior leader responsible for the customer experience

Agencies typically have taken a piecemeal approach to improving the customer experience. For example, an agency may have separate strategies for online services, contact centers and field offices. And these services are often the responsibility of multiple leaders so that no one leader has visibility into all the interactions that affect the customer.

To be customer-centered, agencies need clear, organization-wide strategies for the customer experience and leaders responsible for carrying out those strategies. Five of 12 federal agencies surveyed lack a detailed, up-to-date strategy to improve customer experience.

Recommendations

  • Agencies that provide services directly to the public should have a current, publicly available customer experience strategy that articulates who their customers are, the experience the agency wants to provide and the top priorities for improving services.

  • Agencies should consider establishing an organization-wide customer experience office led by a senior official.

  • Whether or not a customer experience office is established, agencies should engage a wide range of leaders in efforts to improve the customer experience rather than relying exclusively on a small team.

  • OMB should convene all agencies that provide services directly to the public and support them in creating, implementing and annually updating a publicly available customer experience strategy, as outlined above.

“When you say ‘the customer experience,’ no one knows what that means. Everyone can have a different view, which isn’t helpful. Now we’re talking about three elements; predictability, consistency and making it easy to be a customer.”



TOM ALLIN

Chief Veteran Experience Officer
Veteran’s Administration

Challenge 3: Communication and Engagement

Federal agencies need new ways to communicate with customers to ensure that services are in touch with the public’s needs.

Customer-centered organizations are in constant communication with the people they serve. But many federal agencies have overlooked the need to routinely conduct customer outreach and communications. When agencies do communicate with the public, it is often a one-way interaction rather than a dialogue. For example, few agencies have in-depth conversations with customers about how the agency should design new services or improve existing ones.

Agencies face challenges in quickly adopting new communication channels, such as social media, to engage with customers. While all Cabinet-level agencies have social media accounts, agency policies sometimes put onerous restrictions on staff about how they use the accounts to interact with citizens, according to interviewees.

Recommendations

  • Agencies should develop customer outreach and communication plans when designing and delivering new services.

  • Agencies should consult resources such as the U.S. Public Engagement Playbook and the U.S. Digital Services Playbook throughout the design process.

  • Agencies should use social media strategically to communicate with citizens.

  • Agencies should communicate with customers using plain language.

“We talk to customers about three times before we put anything out. We start the design process with the customer at the table.”



KIM BALDWIN-SPARKS

Deputy Associate Commissioner
Office of Electronic Services and Technology
Social Security Administration

Challenge 4: Federal Workforce Management

Federal agencies need to build a workforce that is fully prepared to create a great customer experience.

Every agency needs a skilled, engaged federal workforce that understands its customers and is prepared to serve them. To build this workforce, agencies need to hire the best people, train and prepare staff to serve customers, and hold employees accountable for the quality of service delivery. While most leaders interviewed said their agencies are doing these things well, our research revealed challenges in creating a more customer-centered federal workforce.

While strong, front-line customer service employees are critical to success, the workforce that serves customers goes beyond the employees who interact with customers directly. It also includes those who create policies and regulations, design products and services, and supervise everyone involved.

Recommendations

  • Agencies should expand their commitment to build a customer-centered culture among all employees, not only those who have direct contact with the public.

  • Agencies that provide direct services should ensure that customer service skills are evaluated during the hiring process.

  • Agencies should prepare employees to deliver excellent customer service.

  • Agencies should determine the customer experience they want to create and then design performance plans and metrics that align with that vision.

  • Agencies should view increasing employee engagement and commitment as a key strategy for improving the customer experience.

“Wherever you work in the organization, you’re impacting the customer.”

ABRAHAM MARIÑEZ

Chief of Staff
Customer Experience Office
Federal Student Aid
Department of Education

Research & Analysis

The Partnership for Public Service is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that works to revitalize the federal government by inspiring a new generation to serve and by transforming the way government works. The Partnership teams up with federal agencies and other stakeholders to make our government more effective and efficient.

The Partnership for Public Service and Accenture Federal Services are engaged in a multi year effort to explore how government can meet the daunting challenge of improving the customer experience. In our 2014 report, “Serving Citizens: Strategies for Customer-Centered Government in the Digital Age,” we outlined a vision for improving the customer experience by making citizens’ needs the driving force behind the design and delivery of services, and highlighted successful federal initiatives that have done just that.


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