Expectations for government services continue to rise as innovations in other sectors provide people with modern, simple, intuitive interactions. In one survey, 85% of respondents said they expect government to meet or exceed commercial service standards.2 Government services that fail to meet these expectations further erode much needed trust and confidence in government.
Though the pandemic generated a shock to government, it only highlights the need for greater agility when engaging with the public. For government to meet current challenges and long-standing requirements, it needs to shift its service delivery approach in three ways. As the government defines its top management priorities going forward, these three service delivery principles offer a framework for advancing customer experience improvements and building on recent progress.
- Agencies must understand and address customers’ changing needs far more quickly than they have in the past.
- Employees must be able to deliver services from anywhere, to anywhere.
- Agencies need to offer digital self-service options for more complex interactions, not just for simple transactions.
In our second annual “Government for the People” report, the Partnership for Public Service and Accenture Federal Services take an in-depth look at 11 key services the federal government delivers directly to the public, and have added three new services from last year’s report. Links to each service’s profile are below:
For our research, we interviewed more than 40 leaders who oversee federal services and examined customer feedback data the government publishes. We also analyzed how easy it is to understand and navigate selected agency webpages, and reviewed actions agencies are taking to prioritize customer needs. In addition, we interviewed the caseworkers from congressional offices who help constituents navigate federal services. Our work was informed by input from a quarterly customer experience roundtable we host with more than a dozen agencies, as well as by leading commercial practices.
Key findings and recommendations
The old ways won’t work anymore.
Faced with the challenge of delivering services during an unprecedented crisis, many agencies quickly adopted new strategies to meet changing customer needs. These enhancements should be embraced as the new normal for how government works, not just something it does during a crisis.
Three service delivery principles can help agencies improve customer experience during the pandemic and beyond.
- Quickly understand changing customer needs and pivot accordingly.
- Empower employees to deliver services to anywhere, from anywhere.
- Accelerate self-service capabilities.
We found that the government made progress since last year in addressing feedback and improving the customer experience. Yet some practices that would help agencies meet customer needs should be adopted more widely, including:
- Setting key performance measures based on customer feedback.
- Assigning a senior executive to lead on customer experience.
- Collecting, analyzing and sharing customer feedback publicly.
- Providing support and answering questions on social media.
- Focusing on the experience of people who help others navigate federal services.
- Managing customer experience as an enterprise-wide effort.
Customer experience should remain a centerpiece of the President’s Management Agenda, using the following government-wide strategies to improve services.
- Set an ambitious, government-wide goal to improve customer trust in government.
- Create a team in the White House to manage customer experience efforts with a government-wide perspective.
- Establish a standardized position description for customer experience strategists in government.
A changing approach to delivering federal services
The coronavirus pandemic abruptly changed how customers access and the government provides services, while also radically shifting demand. Agencies had to pivot quickly, and in some cases, they adopted new service delivery strategies to meet changing customer needs. These enhancements, and the processes put in place to execute them quickly, should be embraced as the new normal for how government operates, not just something it does when facing a crisis.
Some agencies are relying more on virtual or, under the new pandemic lexicon, “contactless” services. For example, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Veterans Health Administration prioritized increased access to telehealth services.
Other organizations, such as the IRS and the Office of Federal Student Aid, provided support for people who were struggling financially due to the crisis—delivering millions of economic stimulus payments and helping people understand new options around student loan repayments. Other agencies also found ways to help customers keep important tasks moving despite new constraints, as people continued to seek immigration benefits, apply for farm loans, pass through airport security and customs, and reserve campsites on federal lands.
Some federal services adjusted successfully for this new world, with customers facing only limited hiccups. For other services, the challenges mounted and led to backlogs and delays, often because technology constraints and reliance on paper-based processes made shifting to remote work difficult.
Three key service-delivery principles can help agencies adapt to this current world. The coronavirus elevated the importance of these principles—for the current circumstances, but also for long into the future.