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The most important customer

 

OVERVIEW

A better customer experience simplifies and speeds how citizens get government services—and it can advance missions.

One of the best ways to make government work better for the American people is by improving the customer experience with government services. This means making it a top priority to simplify and speed the way people get help with their taxes, obtain benefits, make their way through airport security and get the myriad other services government provides.

Astute federal leaders recognize what the private sector has long known: The benefits of improving the customer experience go well beyond satisfied customers. It also can advance the mission by increasing efficiency and lowering the cost of providing services.

In researching these efforts in government, the Partnership for Public Service and Accenture Federal Services found many examples of how providing a better customer experience can help agencies achieve important goals.

Offering impactful examples from federal and other agencies, this report highlights the dramatic improvements that can be achieved and provides recommendations on ways to advance reforms.

BENEFIT 1: SAFETY AND SECURITY

A customer focus can promote public safety and security.

Agencies that work to enhance public safety and national security often rely on information from citizens to help keep the country safe. When agencies make it easy for citizens to supply that information, government is more likely to get what it needs.

Case in point: The State Department created a convenient, online process to report lost or stolen passports, making it more likely that citizens would file a report. This simplified the process for citizens, but also improved national security by preventing criminals or terrorists from using these missing passports.

The effort has been so successful, the department plans to add other digital services, including an online appointment system to reduce wait times in passport offices, and an online passport renewal option.

"After launching an online option to report lost and stolen passports, the State Department saw a 46% increase in the total number of reports worldwide."


BENEFIT 2: REDUCING WASTE

A customer focus can reduce waste.

Agencies that distribute public funds often need information from citizens to make accurate payments.

Case in point: The Social Security Administration saved taxpayers money by reducing improper benefits payments, in part by making it easier for citizens to report changes in their income.

SSA is now working to eliminate the need for some citizens to report their wages at all. Congress authorized the agency to explore data-sharing agreements with private-sector payroll providers that keep wage data on 60 to 70 percent of the US workforce.

With employee and employer permission, these providers could share wage data with the agency automatically, making reporting more accurate and timely, and taking the monthly reporting burden away from some Social Security recipients.

"SSA’s mobile wage app is a great combination of its agency-wide focus on reducing improper payments and its mission to provide world-class customer service."


BENEFIT 3: DELIVERING VALUE

A customer focus can help deliver maximum value to citizens.

Improving services to citizens while also streamlining the federal workforce will require creative ideas. But doing more with less could be challenging given that the federal workforce has been flat for decades even as government agency missions have expanded, and the population they serve has grown.

Leading commercial practices, such as expanding the use of digital, self-service channels, can help agencies improve the customer experience even with fewer employees.

Case in point: The short-staffed IRS struggles to answer tax questions that citizens phone in, leaving millions of taxpayer calls unanswered.

By continuing to invest in online self-service options, the IRS could reduce the number of calls, lower costs, deliver a better experience for taxpayers and increase compliance with tax laws.

BENEFIT 4: EASE REGULATORY BURDENS

A customer focus can reduce the burden of government regulations.

The administration also wants to reduce the burden and cost of government regulations. One way to accomplish this is to make it as simple as possible for businesses and taxpayers to comply with federal regulations.

Case in point: The New Zealand government offers a successful model for reducing the regulatory burden. It launched an initiative called “Better for Business” to lighten the regulatory load and streamline compliance for companies.

Based on the results of surveys and interviews with business leaders, the government found several ways to make life easier. One change links government databases and provides businesses with a single identification number, so they do not have to submit the same information to multiple agencies.

This initiative has reduced compliance costs for businesses by 12 percent. The government estimates that the identification numbers alone will save businesses $60 million.1

1 William D. Eggers and Pankaj Kishnani, Compliance without tears: Improving the government to business experience, August 24, 2016. Retrieved from: http://bit.ly/2nwDC1w.

RECOMMENDATIONS

Momentum is strong to improve the customer experience with government services.

Several agencies have taken important steps toward making government more customer-centered. Their efforts and those of the U.S. Digital Service have already begun to pay off. Seize this momentum and quickly take the following actions to deliver results for the American people:

  • Make it a top priority to improve the customer experience with government.

  • Revise the Paperwork Reduction Act to allow agencies to meet the needs of today’s citizens.

  • Establish a customer experience dashboard for government.

  • Build partnerships that cross organizational boundaries.

Focusing on the customer experience with government services can help the current administration accomplish many of its goals—none more important than ensuring that government meets its citizens’ needs. It is also important to recognize that lack of attention to the customer experience can lead to major embarrassment or worse.

By making the customer experience a top priority, the federal government can avoid potential problems and deliver on its most important promise—to make government work better for the American people.

BACKGROUND

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. Our 2016 report, “Government for the People: The road to customer-centered services,” acknowledges that federal agencies have strengthened customer service, but highlights four priority challenges for true citizen-first services that they can address.

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CONTACTS

Chris Zinner

Chris Zinner

Managing Director, Accenture Federal Services

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Kathy Conrad

Kathy Conrad

Director, Digital Government

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