Customer experience has become a priority of increasing relevance for agencies as they strive to meet expectations created by the private sector. What tools can agencies use to better user experience and deliver measurable results – and how can they best use them?
Gaye Adams, Director of Executive Services at the Maryland Governor’s Office, addressed how her agency works towards improving customer experience in an interview with GovLoop. Adams oversees the Constituent Service Office and ensures that the needs of the state house are taken care of. She identified her top priority as customer experience and prides herself and her agency on the fact that they put themselves on a timeline to respond quickly and get things done. She took on her role in June 2017.
In the following interview, she elaborated on the various aspects of solid customer experience at her agency, and how success is allowed for partly through collaborations with local offices. Customer experience is also measured through surveys.
The responses below have been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.
GOVLOOP: What have you accomplished so far to enhance customer experience?
GAYE: The customer experience is not tricky, but it is hard to measure. Usually, when people call us, they’re upset. So we’re trying to get feedback from constituents after they’ve contacted our agency. They can fill out a survey to tell us how the experience was. We try to monitor what we do based on the several questions that we have in the survey.
We do surveys, and our Governor’s Office of Performance improvement does the statistical measurement. Every month we get a printout of how that month went, and we know where, how many calls, and how many surveys were filled out. Those surveys are broken down into positive, negative, and indifferent. Then we take action on the actionable feedback. The responses that are opinion, we just let the agency know. But we’re definitely looking into expanding. I want to see if we can conduct customer experience surveys, not just customer satisfaction surveys. So while the customer’s answer may have been answered, their issue taken care of in a timely manner, they may have been frustrated by the process. We’re always trying to get that feedback to see how we can best serve the constituents of Maryland, and how we can be better.
GOVLOOP: I’m curious as to the governance and strategy around CX. Which executives within the office are responsible for CX, and how do you organize supporting resources and establish how decisions are made throughout the organization?
GAYE: Here at the governor’s office, I’m responsible for customer service. Additionally, there are customer service liaisons at every agency. The people at the governor’s Office of Performance Improvement are actually like the statisticians; they take care of the data. We meet regularly to discuss ways to improve and share success stories.
We’ve worked really hard here at the governor’s office to streamline the process of customer experience. We spent a year on operations, during which we streamlined the process in house. This was to ultimately cause less aggravation for the constituent and reduce the number of touchpoints they have to go through. When they call us, we want to be able to put them on hold, get them where they need to go and connect them with a live person. That’s the ultimate goal: we want to have the issue in the hands of the experts as quickly as possible.
We spend a lot of time building relationships with agencies and counties, trying to understand who the go-to person is at county executive offices or council members’ offices. We just introduce ourselves, tell them who we are, and say “Hey we have a constituent of yours, and this needs to go to you.” We build on the trust that we’re doing our best for the constituents and not just handing off an issue.
GOVLOOP: How do you foster a culture that is linked to customer experience within the agency?
GAYE: That is what we’re working towards now. Each agency has unique situations and issues pertinent to them. We are sending very specific people, very specific instances, and very specific cases to specific agencies. That’s why we meet every month.
The quantitative change, ensuring the data, is harder. The reason it’s difficult that is because each agency has a budget, 90 percent of which is typically spoken for already for the next year. We have to be very careful because it’s really not our money; it’s the constituent’s money. You have to look at all the factors and ask if this is really going to help.
It’s nice when you get a bunch of people together, going through your office process, kind of your roadmap, and see how you got to your end result. You have to create those highways and pathways so that people can look and find ways outside of the box to improve their efficiency in-house.
The people we hire are customer service oriented, and they’re not really politically oriented. Their goal is to take care of constituents, and they take it to heart.
GOVLOOP: What exactly is your strategy for hiring and retaining such talented individuals?
GAYE: We do like our employees to have a college background. But that doesn’t always make for the best person for the job. So they can still be in school or close to graduating or getting their grad degree. They have to have a demeanor of service, which will show up in their resume. Any service-related work done in high school and college tends to be a nice signal point for us. Server, cashier, anything with customer to customer experience. Those people understand what it’s like to get yelled at if service isn’t provided that is up to par. Even if it isn’t the server’s fault, they still have to face the customer and accept the criticism, and still provide good service.
When we interview, we ask what I call “millennial questions.” You know, what’s the biggest challenge you ever faced and how did you overcome it? What do you do in a situation where someone is rude? How do you handle that?
We try to see what type of person and problem solver they are. We usually choose people who are willing to solve puzzles, the ones that will sit and dive into an issue and really go the extra mile for the constituent while we have them on the phone, while they’re engaged, instead of pawning it off to someone else.