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To Better Serve Citizens During Life Events, the Public Sector Must Improve Cross-Agency CX: Part 1

Part 1: Why Is Federal CX So Hard?

The Biden-Harris President’s Management Agenda (PMA) has one consistent theme across all priorities: improving customer experience (CX). Since cross-agency CX is clearly one of the biggest challenges in improving citizen services, it’s sensible that the PMA’s second priority is delivering excellent, equitable and secure federal services and CX.  

To put this priority into action, the PMA has identified five different life experiences that touch multiple agencies. Whether it’s approaching retirement, recovering from a disaster, navigating the military-to-civilian transition, managing parenthood or facing a financial shock, the PMA aims to facilitate collaboration across agencies to help ensure seamless CX for U.S. citizens.

And it makes sense.

These very common life experiences, which touch just about every citizen, require the support of multiple agencies. However, there’s little coordination between agencies when citizens attempt to navigate these demanding life events. Even worse? There is no real motivation or incentive for agencies to even care. Why should agencies take on the burden of coordinating an improved customer experience?

The case for improved CX in the commercial sector is more straightforward: Happier employees mean lower costly turnover. Customer acquisition costs go down when great experiences lead to referrals or brand evangelists. There’s a clear effect on the bottom line when a company provides a pleasing experience — customers come back and they tell others about the good experience, increasing sales and market share.

In the public sector, however, effectiveness is much harder to measure. But it needn’t be this way.

We need to take a step back to truly understand the value that improved CX can have on government programs. It’s important to remember that while the public sector aims to solve big, complex problems for its citizens, federal agencies don’t exist to run programs. They exist to solve problems and meet missions. For example, the Agriculture Department’s Food and Nutritional Agency (FNS) does not exist to administer the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for women, infants and children. Its mission is to get more healthy food into the mouths of hungry women and children.  

What these mission-oriented agencies are trying to achieve is equally important to how they achieve their goals. And yet, programs are set up and measured by how fast and how well they administer and oversee grants. Instead, they should be measured by their impact and how well they serve Americans’ complex needs that touch multiple federal agencies.

While grant administration is extremely important, especially when you’re talking about billions of dollars going out to underserved communities, we must shift measurement from being efficiency-based to effectiveness-based. We need to change the funding models of programs and include outcome-based measures and encourage collaboration and data sharing across agencies. That is the first step to improve CX.

The second point to consider if that sustained investment on that return on investment (ROI) may not be achieved within a single budget cycle. Which may actually be biggest challenge to cross-agency CX: how funding works.

The President’s Budget Cycle is a lengthy, tried-and-true, and transparent process for doing the people’s work. It does not, however, incentivize any single agency – or even department within a single agency – to work together to improve CX. Rather, it is focused on investments with a finite ROI, that achieve cost savings, and lower risk. These are admirable goals, but, altogether, they don’t drive cross-agency collaboration to improve CX when citizens are experiencing a life, or even life-altering, event.

To create a more seamless, effective experience for citizens, federal agencies must change the way they view and evaluate customer experience. Come back in two weeks where we offer three tactical recommendations that are absolutely doable and will make an immediate impact on cross-agency CX.

Jennifer Folsom is a dynamic, high-energy leader with a proven record of growing all sizes of professional services firms while growing a family. She is the Vice President of Growth at ICF, a Washington, DC- based global management consulting firm. A human capital expert, she leverages a people-centered approach to drive revenue in organizations from start-up to Big 4. Jennifer loves her work but knows that living your whole best life is the ultimate key to success.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio

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