A Core Discipline to Build Public Trust: Customer Experience

An underlying challenge that agencies face in this increasingly digital world, accelerated by COVID-19, is the ability to understand the human experience of accessing government services and benefits.

“Government cannot treat us like humans if they don’t understand our experiences,” said Lee Becker, Vice President, Solutions Principal at Medallia, who formerly worked at the VA.

Customer experience (CX) helps organizations better understand the human experience of their customers across multiple channels and transactions. However, it can be difficult to achieve for the following reasons.

1. People

Agencies are not consistently tapping into firsthand, frontline talent.

Building trust within the organization is foundational to how agencies build trust with constituents. Employees are the touchpoints between the agency and the customer. They deliver the experience and have firsthand knowledge of how customers respond.

“Arguably, the employees are our most important customers,” Becker said. “If the agency takes care of the employees, the employees will take care of the mission.”

The frustration many employees face is that they want to help improve things but feel like they’re not listened to by leadership or are hindered by the nature of bureaucracy and red tape. Agencies have to start building trust by first listening to their employees and harnessing the talent and innovation they have to offer.

2. Laws and Regulations

Laws sometimes inhibit agencies from providing a 21st-century experience.

Laws, regulations and policies are meant to help government be trustworthy and fair. But sometimes, they can get in the way of providing an easy and efficient interaction, which can negatively impact trust. One regulation in the health care system, for example, requires a survey of patients’ perspectives around care to be paper-based. This results in a slow, clunky process to understanding patients’ experiences.

3. Technology

Agencies don’t always have real-time technical capabilities to understand CX.

Understanding the experience is more than administering a survey. It’s a “fundamental approach in committing to listen to and take action for the needs of citizens and residents in live time,” Becker said.

Traditional surveys are not able to listen in live time because they often take months to put together, administer, gather results and share, at which point they are too dated to offer robust insights into the experience today. For instance, before the VA hardwired CX into the department in 2015, it was unable to meaningfully account for veterans’ experiences despite having over 140 different survey capabilities. The data was simply too dated and without actionable insights.

The Solution: 4 Tools for CX Success

1. Tools to Empower Employees

Agencies should provide tools that help answer the question, “How do we give our employees permission to be amazing?” Becker said. What are the skill sets and authorizations employees need to solve problems and nip customers’ troubles in the bud? In other words, tools should empower employees. And these include technical tools, as well as workforce training and professional development.

2. Data Centered on Experience

Agencies are often better equipped to answer operational questions, such as how long claim processing took, than experience-based questions, such as whether the processing was easy, effective or emotionally resonant.

Through gathering data centered on the human experience — tone of voice, expression, feedback, etc. — agencies can have the insights they need to start actionably improving CX.

3. Customer-Centric Technology

Technology should ultimately be customer-centered to aid agencies in both understanding constituents and delivering services to them.

Having near real-time capabilities can help agencies move from being reactive to proactive. Creating a customer-centric experience requires organizations to go beyond damage control and putting out fires, to surveying and tending the environment before fires erupt.

4. Engagement

You can’t build trust using data, tools and technology without engagement. How can you know what issues are top priorities for your customers? The only way is to ask.

Reach out to communities using the resources available to you, and don’t stay in a government bubble. Oftentimes, those resources can be through partnerships with other agencies and organizations that are already engaging with communities.

This article is an excerpt from GovLoop’s recent report, “Humanizing Mission Delivery to Build Trust.” Download the full report here.

Photo credit: Josephine Baran on Unsplash

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Brianna Cummings

Solution #2 is vital: you can’t improve customer service if you don’t understand the customer’s perspective.