Three Ways To Improve Federal Digital CX On A Shoestring


Have you read the results of the Government Business Council’s new “Digital Disconnect” survey?

The results are fascinating, and I could go on for quite some time about them (just ask my dogs, who have been listening to me rant about the survey all morning). However, at the moment I will focus on the result of just one question.

That question is: “Which of these pose a significant challenge to your agency’s ability to digitally optimize its public services?” The top selection was “budget constraints.” About 64% of respondents said budget is a challenge to improving digital public services.

No way am I going to say that budget isn’t a problem. It’s a HUGE problem. That’s why Congress needs to fund the digital services groups and other digital customer experience (CX) initiatives that the administration advocates. But too often I hear budget used as an excuse for not doing anything, despite the reality that feds can make real digital CX gains on a shoestring and that good digital CX is often actually cheaper than bad CX.

A few weeks ago I blogged about how feds can use CX guerrilla tactics to make gains without budget, personnel, or authority. Back in April I wrote about overcoming the top five excuses for not improving federal CX, and budget was among them.

Today, I’d like to mention a few more ways that federal agencies can improve their digital CX on the cheap. Here they are:

  • Stop wasting time and money on the most underused digital channels. Federal agencies spend big money and personnel hours on digital channels that just aren’t getting enough traffic. Cut these channels loose and use the savings to improve more popular channels or build new ones that customers will actually use. I won’t embarrass anyone by calling out their favorite project by name, but it’s pretty easy to find examples of federal websites, mobile apps, and other digital channels that aren’t seeing much use.
  • Get smarter and more decentralized about social media. It’s cheap to engage with customers on social media, and a question answered on Twitter means one less call to an expensive contact center. To do it right, follow in the footsteps of Federal Student Aid (FSA) and NASA. FSA doesn’t waste resources throwing all its information out there on every social platform. It saves time and money while improving CX by targeting different customer segments on the social media sites that they use. For instance, FSA talks to high school students on Snapchat and their parents on Facebook. NASA doesn’t try to run its entire social media empire from one office with an army of staff. The majority of NASA’s many social media accounts are run by real program managers and scientists who engage with the public as part of their daily routine.
  • Make the language on your websites clearer. Even if budget limitations prohibit you from improving the usability of your website, you can at least make it easier to understand. Agencies may think they’re already using “clear communication that the public can understand and use,” as the Plain Writing Act of 2010 requires, but I have some forthcoming research that will torpedo that belief. Check out plainlanguage.gov or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Clear Communication Index to help you boost readability.

I’ve yet to find a federal agency that couldn’t benefit from these three pieces of advice. And it was all free.

Now it’s your turn, dear readers. If you have any more advice on how federal agencies can improve their digital CX on the cheap, please add it in the comments section!

Rick Parrish 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.

Leave a Comment


Leave a Reply

Francesca El-Attrash

Thanks for the post Rick! You’re right, it’s a fascinating study. I’m curious as to which specific, underused channels government is wasting time and money on? I know you didn’t want to call out anyone, but is there at least one or two particular platforms you definitely wouldn’t recommend?

Rick Parrish

Glad you enjoyed my post! There is no particular channel across government that is a waste of money, but here are two examples of what I’m talking about that aren’t embarrassingly specific:

1) There are nearly 250 apps listed in the federal mobile apps directory. If you go down the list and check the Android and iPhone app stores you’ll see that more than a few of these apps are hardly downloaded at all. And that makes sense, given that they are addressed to niche markets or aren’t especially good ideas for apps to begin with. Some of these apps could be discontinued and their budgets reappropriated for better uses.

2) There are about 300 US diplomatic facilities around the world, and virtually every one of them has multiple social media accounts. It’s easy to say that social media outreach doesn’t cost much — in fact, I said it myself in my blog post — but it does cost personnel hours and sometimes fees for in-house a/v crews and such (as with Youtube videos, for example). Even simple random searches in various social media platforms yield diplomatic social accounts that aren’t getting any love from the public at all. This is especially the case for many diplomatic Youtube accounts.

3) Some agencies still have different websites for different customer sets. That’s old design thinking and very inefficient. Federal Student Aid designed a single portal to replace over a dozen websites, and did it quite inexpensively. The result is a much better FSA customer experience and a savings of about $7 million per year. Veterans Affairs is in the midst of a similar redesign, and they will no doubt save big, too.

I got into issues like these in greater detail in my report “Washington Must Work Harder To Spur The Public’s Interest In Digital Government,” which you can find here: