Improving Customer Experience from the Inside

Conversations about the way individuals interact with government services are often centered around the end user — and rightfully so. Can people access what they need on your website? Do they get accurate information from your call center representatives? What are their pain points?

But simply asking these questions isn’t enough. Transforming the way your agency serves the public is an inside job — one that starts with challenging internal mindsets and processes.

“It [customer experience] is the heart and soul of what we do at Federal Student Aid,” said Kaegy Pabulos, Senior Manager of Mobile Experience for the Customer Experience office within FSA. Pabulos and his teams are focused on understanding how customers are interacting with digital products and platforms and trying to design experiences that are nimble and agile.

Speaking at Tuesday’s GovLoop and Carahsoft Citizen Experience & Engagement Seminar, he explained that while tools like analytics are vital for providing insights, they only get agencies so far in understanding customer experience issues. The next step? Actually addressing them. For the Education Department’s FSA office, that has come in the form of a mobile app that makes clear to parents and students who is responsible for filling out what portions of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

But there are some instances throughout the 154-question FAFSA form where context is missing, and people don’t understand why they are being asked to answer particular questions. Pabulos explained there are some questions that are required by law, such as parental and student income information, but admittedly the reasoning is not always made clear to end users.

“Legislation that comes flying at us is typically driven by users complaining because something doesn’t make sense to them,” said Marcy Katz Jacobs, Executive Director, Digital Service at the Veterans Affairs Department (VA).

Katz Jacobs views these situations as opportunities to figure out the root problem and design services with users in mind. The goal is to explain to users what they need to know in a way that makes sense and can help prevent the same problem in the future.

But there isn’t a line item for tackling these sorts of issues in government. There oftentimes is no dedicated budget. No agency is funded to say financially, “we will look at every dollar invested through the lens of our customers,” Katz Jacobs said. Because funding and efforts are siloed, the question becomes how do you connect the dots across an organization when everyone has their own motivations and metrics that they track.

“I would encourage everyone who is responsible for a piece of the [customer experience] puzzle to think about what is the thing that happens before and what is the thing that happens afterward,” in terms of their role in providing a good experience for customers.

At the VA, there are upward of 7,000 IT employees, excluding contractors, yet no one within the IT department has the job title of product manager or human-centered designer. Those are two key roles in improving user and customer experience (CX), yet “we don’t have people who are driving products with that mindset.” Katz Jacobs is working with leadership to change that.

Bob Withers, Director, Public Sector at New Relic, encouraged agencies to use data to drive improved CX. For starters, if there is no service level agreement or SLA between agencies and their CX providers, then they don’t really have a metric to drive improvements. “You have to make it [using data] very easy.” Today, customers expect to see improvements in minutes or even seconds, and that’s a change that agencies must adapt to.

But that requires a new way of thinking — and in some cases training. Across government, there is a growing demand for online training around topics such as CX that give employees the experience of learning in different ways and at different levels, said Michele Galvin, Senior Federal Representative at LinkedIn Learning. When leaders take the initiative to engage with courses and share that with their teams, that helps to create a culture of learning, Galvin added.

“There are a lot of different ways that people learn,” she said. The key is making learning easy and accessible for employees to digest, in the way that works best for them.

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