Providing good customer experience is hugely important and impacts all other government services. But for many agencies, improving customer experience remains a low priority. In a recent GovLoop survey of public employees, only 56 percent of respondents said that CX was a priority across all departments. However, this mindset has started to shift with advancing technology and growing citizen demands and expectations.
In a recent online training, “Gov Makes CX a Priority,” GovLoop heard from Jodi Thompson, Sr. Principal Business Consultant at Genysys, and Robert Genesoni, Chief of Customer Engagement, Customer Service & Public Engagement at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The speakers shared tips on how to overcome legacy infrastructure challenges, implement new customer experience solutions and make the business case for customer experience investments at your agency.
First, Thompson clarified the terminology around customer experience. Customer service refers to the “individual moments where you connect with the customers, whether through a digital channel, online chat or mobile application.” Customer experience is “the individual customer’s touch points across the lifecycle of his or her interaction with an agency.” The sum of all these experiences is known as the customer journey.
Though many organizations recognize the value of good customer experience, there are a number of obstacles to actually prioritizing and achieving better CX. Thompson and Genesoni outlined the three biggest challenges to delivering good customer experience at government agencies and discussed ways to overcome them:
1. Budget constraints
According to GovLoop’s survey, only 22 percent of public employees reported having a strategy and budget in place to transition from legacy systems to more integrated and robust CX solutions. But Thompson emphasized that this 22 percent is doing something important that sets them apart.
“What these agencies have is an established vision of outcomes they’re trying to achieve,” she said. “They’re thinking about how to reduce customer effort and increase first contact resolution. They’re not just reducing customer experience to productivity or moving people through a queue.”
“Because of limited budgets, we all have to determine agency priorities,” Genesoni said. “But take a look at exactly what you want to accomplish and start small. It’s important to have a long-term vision or roadmap, but focus on working in chunks and getting those quick wins first. Once you have those smaller successes, this also helps you get buy-in from agency leadership.”
Thompson also suggested starting with simple math and getting down some numbers. For example, think about the cost of a typical helpline phone call. If an employee is able to spend a few extra moments with a customer and resolve his or her issue on first contact, how many repeat calls are deflected? How much time spent checking voicemails is minimized? How much money could this save across your agency?
Ask yourself where and how you are spending your time and where certain services could be automated. Identifying the inefficiencies can help you build a business case for more investment in CX people and technology.
2. Lack of the right CX resources
In the survey, the most frequently cited resource gaps preventing employees from creating better customer experiences included time to focus on improvement instead of day-to-day tasks and adequate technologies to facilitate better customer experiences.
Thompson emphasized the importance of providing employees with the tools to succeed at their job and meet customer expectations. “Employees are the customers’ front door to your agency,” she said. “But we’re finding that they have to put out fires and that often takes precedence over longer-term goals.”
In other words, employees are spending most of their time and energy resolving immediate problems, losing opportunities to learn valuable insights and work toward providing better overall customer experience. Organizations need to work to “create capacity for employees wherever they can,” suggested Genesoni. “Use technology to free up your resources and time.”
One way to reduce inbound volume is investing in more self-services – tools or self-help channels that customers can use on their own to find information or resolve their issues. USCIS, for example, offers a personal account experience (myUSCIS), a virtual English- and Spanish-language assistant who can answer questions and help customers navigate the USCIS website, The agency also offers Info Pass (an appointment scheduling tool) and a way to check case statuses and updates online.
With such self-services, your agency can move toward proactive customer outreach and engagement to deflect call volume. Instead of placing the burden on the citizen base, the agency should work to provide regular status or reminder updates, and periodically reach out to customers through the channel of their choice. These simple changes can not only improve customer experience and satisfaction, but also open up time for employees to work on more complex, mission-driven issues.
3. Absence of metrics
Only 26 percent of organizations reported that they continually measure the impact of CX. But having hard data is crucial if you want to make a strong case for investing in CX at your agency.
“To start gathering metrics on where your agency stands on customer experience, apply a CX maturity model or seek out help from private consulting. Look for white papers, case studies and proof points to start those conversations with executive leadership. Having stats and data can help you make a better case and advocate for those changes you want,” said Thompson.
It’s also important to have different types of metrics in mind when it comes to designing a CX strategy. Agencies are often used to looking at quantity or productivity measures, but crafting better customer experience requires thinking more about the end-to-end customer journey. Instead of managing a queue or checking a box, the process of routing calls should be driven by the goal of providing the best fit, meeting the customers’ needs, resolving the issue the first time and increasing customer satisfaction.
Genesoni noted that USCIS employs a number of different metrics to measure its progress and receive feedback. “We do a lot of hallway testing, go to people’s homes to gauge their satisfaction and send automated surveys to customers asking how they feel about new technologies and what changes they would like to see.” He mentioned the growing presence of social media (Twitter, Facebook and YouTube), and the importance of reaching out to younger audiences through those channels as well.
A common mistake that agencies tend to make is simply replicating the status quo. “Agencies get comfortable with what they know, but it’s important to ask the right questions and think outside of the box,” said Genesoni.
Digital tools are a significant part of CX investment, but “technology cannot dictate what we need to achieve from a customer experience perspective. Use technology to help you achieve your vision, instead of having technology be the driver of your decisions,” said Thompson.
Despite the constraints and challenges, there are a number of opportunities to change the conversation and move toward better customer experiences from government. Thompson ultimately predicted a bright future for CX in gov: “We’re seeing an outward-focused shift. Customer experience is going to be the new norm.”