The Opportunity to Exceed

I’ve been quiet on the Digital Government Strategy because – well, OK, I’ll be honest…while I think there’s a whole lot of good in it, I also have some problems. First, it didn’t look anything like I expected it to look, after all the issues we discussed in the National Dialog on Improving Government Websites. While some of those issues were mentioned in the discussion, few made the action items (the closest are the 3 milestones under section 6). It is much more weighted toward technology than communications and customer service (and for the record, I believe customer service and being “customer-centric” is our reason for being…not the 3rd of four guiding principles).
I also was surprised that it didn’t connect better with other administration initiatives, particularly the OMB guidance on Streamlining Delivery and Improving Customer Service Executive Order which required – among other things – designation of a customer service lead at each agency and a customer service task force. The connection to digital government seems obvious, but the Strategy didn’t even mention including the customer service lead on the agency strategy teams. Also, I’d love to see all OMB documents be models for plain writing – this one isn’t (I’m sure the folks with PLAIN and the Center for Plain Language would be happy to help).
Still, the strategy is a clear step forward for cross-government coordination and improvement; and that’s a very good thing. And the people working on it are among the most passionate and creative in the federal government. I know they’ll work hard to make right things happen.
The biggest positive in the strategy, in my view, is the emphasis on an having an effective governance structure. That has been a huge problem in web management from the very beginning, and I have written about it many times. So I was really looking forward to seeing OMB’s guidance on digital governance. They didn’t disappoint.
Guidance was issued last week, and it’s both thoughtful and thorough. Kudos to OMB and the Digital Services advisory group! It even touched on that gap between other administration initiatives by suggesting that the open government, plain language, and customer service officials be part of the agency governance teams. It gives clear step-by-step directions, without being overly prescriptive. Well done! If agencies follow this guidance, I think government communications will improve vastly. At least those that involve digital interfaces.
But I wonder: why stop there? Since you’re going through the process anyway, why not be more visionary, more bold? Why not use this as an opportunity to exceed OMB’s expectations and create a governance structure that will ensure great communications – and better customer service – through alldelivery channels, not just digital?
It’s not much of a stretch. Digital government already includes websites, social media, mobile apps, and open data. Plug in publications, telephones, correspondence, and personal contacts through walk-in traffic and meetings/professional conferences and you’ll have the whole shebang. The processes may be different but the goals are the same. A single governance structure will let you ensure consistency through all delivery channels. As important, the people who manage those delivery channels bring to the table more information about your customers – who they are, what they want, how they ask for it; and we all know that the number one ingredient for great customer service is knowing and understanding your customers.

OMB and the Digital Services team have done a great job laying guidance. You have many options, as you figure out how you will manage the delivery of customer services through technology. Why not exercise the option to exceed expectations – and make all communications and customer interactions more successful – by creating a governance structure the embraces all delivery channels? Wouldn’t that be the right thing to do?
Exciting times! Can’t wait to see what happens next.
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Andrew Krzmarzick

Great post, Candi. You really think these issues through thoroughly and present the challenges clearly and thoughtfully.

I’m wondering: do you know of an agency that is doing a good job of integrating all of these pieces into a comprehensive, congruent plan (and effective execution)?

Candi Harrison

There are some agencies that have many of these pieces under one management umbrella – GSA, FAA, and others. I think the hard part is getting the delivery channels to focus on what they have in common, share information about customers routinely, and make sure they’re all saying the same things. I think the folks who manage correspondence and the people who do face-to-face customer service out in the field often get left out of this strategic thinking, and that’s a shame. I’ve sat in field offices and watched and listened to customer interactions – both really good and really bad. It’s all important.

I think we’ve got to get people thinking in terms of the broader goal – great customer service, rather than delivery channels (websites, call centers, publications, correspondence). It’s going to take leaders who keep pushing the vision and who cause delivery channels to come together to realize what they have in common and how they can work together to achieve the best customer service possible.