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Why Every Federal Agency Should Have A Chief Customer Officer

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Chief Customer Officers (CCO) are becoming commonplace in the private sector, with more than 2,000 of these C-level execs in the US alone. Should federal agencies follow suit? The answer is unequivocally yes. As the only senior exec whose primary goal is to represent the interests of the customer, a CCO can help a federal agency become customer-centric by refocusing its people, processes, technologies, policies, and data on the customer experience. In fact, the role of the CCO was created specifically to solve the types of problems that are common at major federal agencies.

There are currently four CCOs in the federal government – in the Department of Veterans Affairs, General Services Administration, Export-Import Bank, and Federal Student Aid. All four are part of their agencies’ senior leadership teams, and come with private-sector experience. In my conversations with other federal agencies, I’ve been happy to learn that many others are exploring the possibility of adding CCOs to their senior leadership teams. But rightfully so, most want to ensure adding a CCO is the right move for their agency. Common questions include:

What skills and experience are ideal for a new CCO? CCOs should be problem-solvers with experience working across silos, knowledge of the agency, and high standing among other senior leaders. They don’t need to be CX experts from the start – they can study the role of customer experience professionals at a strategic level, and hire staff trained in the various specific skills necessary to mount a strong CX effort. Ideally, the CCO should be a longtime agency careerist with experience in multiple offices, and a well-deserved reputation for successful collaborations.

What authorities, budget, and personnel are appropriate for a federal CCO? Forrester recommends the matrixed model already in use by existing federal CCOs and many corporations. This means the CCO has small teams and budgets to exercise direct control over just a few enterprise wide activities, like voice of the customer programs. Most authority then comes from cooperative dotted-line relationships with activities like technology management and business process engineering. GSA’s CCO has a team of five CX experts, ownership over the voice of the customer program, close partnerships with offices throughout GSA, and an ‘adopt and hand back’ program through which other GSA offices give the CCO temporary control of activities for CX renovations.

What should a federal CCO do during the first 90 days in the role? The beginning of employment is a delicate time for any new federal executive, and a new federal CCO specifically risks getting swamped by a flood of unresolved CX problems. To stay afloat, a CCO should stay focused on three high-level activities during the first 90 days: assessing foundational CX programs; planning and prioritizing strategic initiatives; and building an internal brand.

There will likely be many naysayers along this journey – so it’s important not to get bogged down in common reasoning as to why federal agencies don’t need a CCO. Watch out for arguments like – ‘CX is everyone’s job, so we don’t need a CCO’ or ‘people are required to use our products and services, so we don’t need to worry about CX’. Agency heads can help smooth the way by addressing skepticism, and even hostility from those who don’t understand the CX discipline early on in the CCO’s tenure.

The reality is – every federal agency can benefit from this single executive who will always put the customer first. The sooner your agency gets on board, the sooner your customers’ will reap the benefits.

Rick Parrish is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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