Good customer experience starts with effective digital programs

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Cloud-based CX platforms can integrate data from multiple sources to give government IT managers a single source of truth on the effectiveness of their services and programs.

A recent study asked consumers to rate how well different industries, from airlines to grocery stores, understand and adapt to their needs. The federal government scored at the very bottom of the list, with only 33% of customers rating it as “good.” The Biden administration has ambitions to change that: As 2021 came to a close, President Joe Biden issued a key executive order requiring agencies to improve customer experience (CX) and service delivery for the American people. This EO recognizes that bad experiences lead to decreased trust.

Government has seen a steady decline in trust over the past 20 years and can no longer afford to ignore the role customer experience plays in this trend. Agencies must immediately act to place the customer at the center of the design and delivery of policies, programs and services.

The first step federal agencies must take to achieve compliance and accelerate improvement is implementing the right technology to make a meaningful and sustained impact. Collectively, government departments spend 9 billion hours on paperwork every year. To provide a simple, seamless and secure customer experience, agencies must modernize digital interactions, reduce administrative burdens and strengthen their use of timely, holistic customer experience data.

Commercial firms have long deployed cloud-based, CX platforms that collect customer feedback, evaluate experiences and deliver actionable insights to decision makers. CX platforms can integrate data from multiple sources to provide government IT managers and other decision-makers a single source of truth on the effectiveness of their services and programs. Advanced CX platforms also help agencies develop customer-facing tools and technologies that are easier to use and lead to the experiences citizens now expect in their interactions with service providers.

IT systems must focus on the user experience

Government’s current IT infrastructures and information environments do not consistently gather user feedback and insight. A modern CX platform can collect and analyze all the experience data — which includes the thoughts, feelings and intents of customers — from a broad range of channels through which customers interact with government services. These channels include websites, SMS, call centers and social media. Bringing omnichannel data together in one place provides a view of the entire customer experience instead of a single touchpoint. This is critical for uncovering pain points along the customer journey – also called “experience gaps” – and identifying specific improvements that can be quickly deployed to prevent further pain.

Insight can come from asking questions like, "Where does the customer journey start?" Hint: it’s usually not on the agency’s website homepage. Though that “digital front door” garners some attention, customers are likely beginning their service journey elsewhere, like word of mouth through social media, or instructions received in the mail.

Other questions to ask include: Is information easy to find and understand? Is the customer’s experience fractured from the start or is there a clear path to help them navigate across organizational boundaries for a smooth experience? Do barriers to access vary by customer characteristics, and what are the root causes of those differences? What do customers know before they reach you, and how did they learn it? Is communication effective, or does it cause mistakes and frustration? What communication is coming from other organizations that impact a customer’s journey?

An effective CX program can track all these insights using a variety of methods, including digital intercepts, voice analytics and more traditional feedback surveys. Innovative CX management platforms also provide automated workflows to speed responsiveness to customer needs and instill a culture of human-centered action across the organization.

The complete CX picture: Operational and experience data

There are two primary forms of data that IT managers should take advantage of: operational data and experience data. Operational data includes traditional measurements of success, such as the amount of time needed to fill out a government form or how many times the user was asked for the same information. Relying only on operational data to identify needed changes can inadvertently cause technology designers to miss the critical role that human behavior and sentiment play in creating outcomes. This can cause decision-makers to solve the wrong problem — and even make the experience worse. For example, digitizing forms without understanding how customers will interact with the digital interface can lead to service failures. This is why subjective feedback and behavioral insights are so critical for experience management.

Bringing both experience and operational data together in one place is the only way to create a complete picture of the customer’s experience that is both data-focused and behaviorally anchored. This clearer understanding gives IT professionals the insights needed to take actions that will reduce friction, increase trust in government and improve customer lives the most.

The force multiplier: Cross-agency collaboration to close experience gaps

Customers do not experience life events in a way that neatly fits into specific agency silos. For example, an adult experiencing unemployment may also qualify for housing assistance, student loan support and mental health resources. Wherever users go to search for information and services, they should be guided through the process of identifying and applying for the entire suite of services they need. Agencies that share service recipients should map the entire life experience journey together to identify experience gaps that are caused by siloed data and lack of interagency communication and coordination. Strong collaboration with other agency IT teams can also serve as a way to share solutions, further enhancing the CX-tech approach across the entire community of service providers.

Accompanied by strong data solutions and a set of IT tools designed for effective customer experience management, the CX movement in government will provide fresh insights for every agency along with an opportunity to deliver on the government promise of citizen service. When IT leaders listen to people through the entire CX lifecycle, they can reduce organizational risk, speed up timelines and improve program performance.

Sydney Heimbrock is a former executive at the Office of Personnel Management and the current chief industry advisor for government at Qualtrics.

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