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Efforts to improve customer experience and build trust risk failure if agencies don’t put in the time required to fully understand customer needs and how constituents perceive their interactions with government.
Customer experience (CX) professionals are at risk of failing in their efforts for improvement, a Forrester analyst says.
“That is fundamentally because of a lack of a journey-based approach to what they do – looking at specific customer journeys and making people accountable for that journey,” said Riccardo Pasto, principal analyst of CX at the research firm. “We haven’t seen many – very few, I would say – organizations using that approach.”
He’s referring to the practice of journey mapping, which Forrester defines as “a methodology to deepen customer understanding, break down siloed behaviors and inject customer thinking into the design process.” It’s a visual representation of what customers do to get the government services they need.
“The only CX professionals or agencies that will be successful in navigating CX will be the ones that tackled the customer journey,” he said. “Instead of just looking at digital [solutions] or launching this new mobile app or chatbot or whatever, they will actually spend time understanding the customer journey and will focus on one or two key journeys that they want to improve over the course of next year and pull the relevant technology in order for them to improve that journey.”
Another challenge CX workers face is the sheer size of the government. “We all know that the machinery of government is a big one, and it is very difficult for CX professionals in government to actually steer that huge elephant,” Pasto said. “In many cases, government agencies are the biggest employers in their jurisdictions…. With a lot of people working, it’s very difficult to steer that ship, so this is a big problem for CX professionals.”
One positive is that workers want to make improvements: Government employees ranked improving CX high on their list of business objectives – it tied for second place with strengthening regulatory compliance in Forrester’s “Priorities Survey, 2022.” At the same time, however, only 22% of government employees said they have a strong understanding of what customers want, and 16% report prioritizing customer needs when making product or process decisions, according to Forrester’s “Future of Work Survey, 2021.”
As lead author of “A Three-Step Approach To Jump-Starting CX Transformation In Government,” a report Forrester published Aug. 2, Pasto lays out a plan that can help. The first step is about building executive support for transforming CX. Too often that comes after a crisis, but tying CX to building trust can help get leaders on board before a problem gets out of hand.
“Trust and customer experience, they go hand in hand, so they elevate each other,” Pasto said. “Improving customer experience quality can help in improving trust and once that trust is elevated, you have more leeway with customers…. It’s a positive cycle that kicks in. You show value, and because of the value, people trust you.”
And because both trust and CX are fundamentally about perception, understanding customers’ needs and how they perceive their interactions with government are crucial components of CX. “The only way to influence those perceptions is to do a good job when it comes to customer experience, and that always starts with customer understanding,” Pasto said.
The second step in the report is to “focus on engaging hearts and minds.” A sub-step of this is teaching all employees – not just the core CX team – what it means to be customer-centric. Journey mapping fits here, as do metrics that link interaction, perception and outcome; building diverse teams; and using agile collaboration methods, according to the report.
“The biggest challenge right now is not adding more data and running more surveys. It’s actually what do we need to do with that?” Pasto said. “That should be the starting question. What are we trying to achieve, and then we work backward.”
In other words, determine the outcome, how perception data can affect it and what operational data is needed to understand how to elevate perception data, he said.
The third step addresses technology that can facilitate CX improvement. The report, which looks at government CX worldwide, recommends training employees in human-centered design and agile methodologies to combat skills shortages and influence engagement. It points to an Australian agency that is “building a data warehouse and in-house analytics capabilities to create a single view of its customers and to analyze data to understand injury indicators and the triggers it can put in place to predict incidents.”
In the United States, CX has become a top priority, nudged along with initiatives like President Joe Biden’s 2021 executive order on transforming CX. But that impacts more than just federal agencies. It’s top of mind for state and local entities, too. For example, improving and digitizing citizen experience ranked No. 2 on the National Association of State Chief Information Officers’ “Top 10 Priorities” list for 2022.
Stephanie Kanowitz is a freelance writer based in northern Virginia.