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What the Feds Have Learned About CX Since the 21st Century IDEA

A flood of recent initiatives suggests that the federal government is more focused on strengthening the customer experience (CX) it provides to citizens than ever before.

The list of key efforts is long, and two major ones launched in 2018 that are still making waves across federal CX governmentwide: The President’s Management Agenda (PMA) and the 21st Century Integrated Digital Experience Act (IDEA).

Take the PMA, which President Trump’s administration released in March 2018.

Trump’s PMA aims to modernize federal IT, data and workforces to improve agencies’ ability to achieve their missions, serve citizens and steward taxpayer dollars.

The PMA also established Cross-Agency Priority (CAP) goals for each of its modernization targets, with the CX version aiming to boost federal digital services, customer satisfaction, trustworthiness, and communications.

When the 21st Century IDEA became law on Dec. 20, 2018, meanwhile, the moment seemed like a similar milestone in federal IT modernization.

After all, the 21st Century IDEA seemed tailored to force agencies to provide the level of CX that citizens routinely receive from private sector companies.

For instance, the law set deadlines for when agencies must modernize their websites. It also set similar due dates for digitizing agencies’ paper-based processes. Additionally, the law scheduled timelines for agencies to adopt digital forms, electronic signatures and several modern features for their websites.

Months later, however, the impact of the 21st Century IDEA remains unclear as the cutoff for meeting several of the law’s biggest targets have come and gone. With many of the law’s time limits passing in June 2019, what have federal agencies learned about CX since the law’s creation?

The answer exists in the federal government’s latest review of its CX practices. In June 2019, the team managing the PMA’s CX CAP Goal released a fresh report on the project’s progress.

This Q1/Q2 update shows that agencies are learning new lessons about improving their CX during a time when multiple federal efforts are focused on improving these services governmentwide.

Understanding this update, however, requires a quick refresher on the 21st Century IDEA’s implications. The section below explains why the 21st Century IDEA looked like such a gamechanger for federal CX upon becoming law.

Great Expectations: Why the 21st Century IDEA Initially Looked Groundbreaking

Rep. Ro Khanna (D-California) introduced the 21st Century IDEA in May 2018, with the measure quickly earning bipartisan support because of its details.

“I wanted to make sure that when every American interacts with their government, they have a positive experience,” Khanna said while discussing the 21st Century IDEA with GovLoop in February 2019. “Too many folks felt their experiences with government were outdated and not user-friendly; websites felt clunky, forms needed to be printed out, signed, and then faxed.”

Khanna’s proposal attracted enough support to pass the House in November 2018. The law then made it through the Senate in December 2018 before President Trump signed it into law later that month.

The 21st Century IDEA immediately pushed for website modernization by stipulating that all agencies’ pages must maintain a consistent appearance within 180 days of the law’s enactment. This rule effectively set a deadline for agencies to comply with the law in late June 2019.

All federal websites are now required to have search functions, avoid overlapping with legacy pages online, function on common mobile devices, and provide secure connections.

Furthermore, the 21st Century IDEA tasked the head of every executive agency with submitting a plan to accelerate electronic signature usage among their workforces within the same 180-day window.

Next, the 21st Century IDEA additionally tasked agencies with maintaining digital versions of all in-person and paper-based processes. These digital versions must be both online and mobile-friendly, and the law also forces agencies to make any paper-based form available to the public digitally within two years.

Finally, it demands that agencies make any new or redesigned website, web-based form, web-based application, or digital service accessible to people with disabilities within 180 days of the law’s enactment.

Despite these good intentions, however, it remains unclear if the 21st Century IDEA has any teeth to clamp down on agencies who aren’t meeting the law’s standards.

Has the federal government thus learned anything about CX since Trump turned the 21st Century IDEA into law last year? If the CAP program’s latest update about its CX goal is any indication, the answer is yes.

The Lessons Learned from CAP’s CX Goal

The Q1/Q2 update the PMA’s CX CAP Goal team released on June 24, 2019 shared the results of the group’s survey of 25 High Impact Service Providers (HISPs) across 14 agencies. These HISPs were identified because of the “scale and impact their customer-facing services have on the American public.” Teams from all 25 HISPs completed a CX Maturity Self-Assessment in November 2018 before sharing the results with the CX CAP Goal team.

The team’s findings reveal four key themes about federal CX that are emerging across multiple agencies. They are:

1.) Citizens are often experiencing life events when they interact with federal agencies. Take traveling overseas – citizens who do so must first get passports from the State Department (DOS).

2.) Citizens are frequently stressed while making complex decisions during their encounters with federal services. For instance, recovering from a natural disaster is a complicated, anxiety-inducing event even without confusing and overwhelming federal information.

3.) People are often navigating federal services on someone else’s behalf. Children with disabilities, elderly parents and neighbors all sometimes have intermediaries engaging with federal agencies for them.

4.) The quality of federal websites isn’t always the source of confusion. For instance, incentives, policies and communication methods can all become outdated and disorient citizens using them.

The CX CAP Goal team also shared four common barriers to adopting better CX practices that they heard from most HISPs. They are:

A.) CX is often not a priority for agency leaders or staff at every level. The result is that some agencies struggle with strengthening their CX even if they can change statues or have budget dollars for improvements.

B.) Program implementors don’t always deeply understand their customers or their needs. Unfortunately, this means some agencies lack the citizen feedback, research and user testing needed for satisfying alterations.

C.) Frustrated employees sometimes don’t deliver the best CX to citizens. This takeaway suggests a link between strong CX and employee engagement; Dissatisfied workers, for instance, may struggle to provide citizens with fulfilling encounters.

D.) Discovering quality CX talent and services is difficult. The federal government lacks a “human centered designer” job series, meaning that managers aren’t always positive about how to spend their tight budget dollars on potential CX hires.

Where CAP Goals and the 21st Century IDEA Intersect: Federal CX

Although the CX CAP Goal team’s update doesn’t mention the 21st Century IDEA, the group’s findings suggest many agencies are thinking about elements of both initiatives.

“We’re using these findings to prioritize the development of centralized resources and support to help improve the customer experience government-wide,” the update concludes.

If implemented, there’s no denying that the 21st Century IDEA requirements would dramatically improve federal CX. And although the law’s deadlines might have seemed invisible earlier this year, the CX Cap Goal team’s update proves federal agencies are inching towards better CX for citizens.

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Avatar photo Blake Martin

I’m glad to see more agencies taking a hard look at CX across government, and I think employee engagement/buy-in is a great place to start. Making sure employees hold CX in high esteem and are engaged to avoid a negative/unfulfilling interaction is easier said than done, but this is something that leadership should certainly be emphasizing at every step of the way.