Those of us who work in the federal government know very well that our agencies offer a wealth of information, tools and services to the American public. Our challenge is to make sure Americans of all stripes know what we have available to them. To do that, we have to communicate through a variety of channels.
Let’s start with Congress. Yes, they are the oversight body for your agency, but they also, like you, aim to provide excellent customer service. Have you thought of Congress as a way to connect the public to your agency and its services? I’m passionate about reaching people who don’t know that we’re available as a resource or who may not readily have access to the information or services the federal government provides. And that’s exactly the context in which I think about communicating with Congress because they have a direct line to their constituents, the very people we at Census think of as our ultimate customers.
To illustrate my point, let’s go back to “Angie,” the childhood friend I mentioned in my last post. When she’s trying to figure out how to apply for a small business loan to open a new salon, she might not know that Census can provide helpful data. But she may look to her congressperson or district office to see if they can help. And when Angie and anyone like her call their representatives or send them a tweet, we want to be sure these customers get the exact same services and answers the Census Bureau would offer.
Long story short: Communicating with Congress regularly presents a big opportunity for federal agencies to connect the public to the services, tools and products that provide great value. Here are a few things to keep in mind when you reach out to congressional staff:
Remember your ultimate customers. Regardless of the products or services your agency provides, you and Congress have the same goal: serve constituents. So when you’re communicating with congressional staff, remember that you are there to brief them and their constituents. Think about the kinds of concerns constituents in a particular state or district might have — maybe it’s finding a new place to live or questions about public safety or transportation.
Once you’ve honed in on the types of things a lawmakers’ constituents need or might want to know, you can provide targeted trainings and briefings that enable congressional staff to offer a useful service. Teach them how to use your tools and how to navigate your website so they can direct constituents to the information they need the most. For example, Census Bureau staff conducts trainings at district offices on how to look up small business facts on Census.gov. Then Congressional staff can easily and quickly answer constituent questions about the local economy or how to access data to apply for a small business loan.
Make yourself useful. Lawmakers and their staff are busy people. Present concrete ways the services or products you provide can help the communities they represent. From homeless shelters to workforce training programs to community development funding to Alzheimer’s research — these are all programs the federal government funds that benefit local communities. Informing congressional staff about the services your agency provides is another way to help both of you provide assistance to the people we serve.
Be customer-centric. Put the information into the hands of lawmakers’ staff in ways that are easily shareable with their constituents. If your agency has apps or user-friendly tools geared toward customers, rather than dry bureaucratic memos, lawmakers will be more likely to share your information with their constituents. For example, the Census Bureau built My Congressional District specifically to help lawmakers pass information on. This embeddable app provides quick and easy access to demographic, social and economic statistics by Congressional District. Many lawmakers feature it on their homepages.
No matter your budget — whether it can accommodate trainings and app development or just a simple newsletter for congressional staff — communicating with federal lawmakers goes a long way toward connecting more people to the services your agency provides. Come back next week as I talk about some of the most challenging customers to reach, the very people federal lawmakers — among others — can help us communicate with.
Jeannie Shiffer is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.