During a recent discussion of the Age of the Customer and how it applies to government, one of the participants from a government agency essentially asked why they should care. The argument was “If I’m providing passport services why does customer experience matter to me? My “customers” can’t walk out that door and find another passport services provider.”
Needless to say I was taken aback – not shocked really, this is the government after all and not traditionally known for accessible or user friendly services. But personally my experiences have never been as bad as the stereotype of government. In fact, I just received a new passport in 2 weeks, having been told that it might take 3 – 6 weeks. And, at least the rhetoric of late has certainly embraced, in principle, more customer centricity in government. But here it was, the government monopoly argument rearing its ugly head. At least to play devil’s advocate, suggesting that the sentiment did exist somewhere in the organization.
Digital government is big in Washington. Next year, the White House plans to spend $35 million more on the US Digital Service, $105 million for digital services teams at 25 agencies, and tens of millions more for digital channels throughout the federal government. And that’s just the latest tranche, piled atop hundreds of millions in digital government spending in recent years.
Unfortunately, it looks like federal agencies are more excited about digital government than the public is. As I detail in my recent report, “Washington Must Work Harder To Spur The Public’s Interest In Digital Government,” public interest in digital government is tepid at best. In fact, a Forrester survey shows that only two-fifths of the public agrees that the federal government should focus on offering more digital services. And the news isn’t any better for specific big digital initiatives that are getting many agencies excited. For instance, only two-fifths of the public is interested in a single sign-on credential for federal websites, and fewer than a third of people want federal mobile apps that tailor safety alerts and other government information to the user’s location.
Why is public interest in digital government so weak? I go into greater detail in my report, but the bottom line is that people:
Don’t have good experiences with digital government as it exists. For instance, our surveys shows that fewer than half of Americans consider federal websites to be easy to use or well organized, and only about half of the public considers their content to be relevant or professional-looking.
The Social Security Administration’s (SSA) Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program had a problem: It was paying out way too much in unearned benefits to program participants. This was happening because participants weren’t reporting their income often enough. As participants’ incomes went up, their SSI eligibility went down — but they continued receiving SSI benefits based on the lower income they had previously reported.
SSA used fundamental customer experience (CX) techniques to solve this problem. As a result, it ended up fixing not one problem, but three.
First, SSA and its contractor performed basic quantitative and qualitative customer research to discover why people weren’t reporting their income. The reason wasn’t fraud — it was convenience. SSA had made it too difficult for beneficiaries to report their income, so they weren’t doing it as often as they should. But how to make it easier? Solid CX design methods presented the solution: a mobile app.
It’s been a rough nine months for federal cybersecurity. The huge Office of Personnel Management (OPM) hack is just the latest in a series of incidents that make people skeptical of Washington’s ability to protect their personal information. Since last fall, we’ve witnessed hacks of the:
OPM. Last week’s cybersecurity failure at OPM wasn’t its first run-in with hackers. In March 2014, hackers broke into OPM networks in an attempt to exfiltrate information about security clearances. Federal authorities claimed to have blocked the hackers from the network, but last week’s OPM cybersecurity failure should make us skeptical.
Government Publication Office and Government Accountability Office. These two offices got hacked at the same time as OPM last year.
US Postal Service. On November 10, 2014, the USPS confirmed an intrusion into its network that resulted in the compromise of the data of more than 800,000 employees.
State Department. On November 17, 2014, the State Department said that its unclassified email systems had been compromised a month earlier. Three months after the initial intrusion, the State Department was still unable to eradicate the effects of the attack.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. On November 12, 2014, NOAA confirmed that hackers had breached four of its websites.
President of the United States. The same attackers that breached the State Department in November 2014 compromised the White House's unclassified email system about a month later and gained access to President Obama’s email.
A few weeks ago, I advised federal agencies to build better digital customer experiences. I had no idea how polarizing the post would be, so I’d like to return to the topic of digital customer experience (CX) again this week.
Even the US Digital Service (USDS) thinks federal agencies need better digital CX. Last year, the USDS published a US Digital Services Playbook, a series of 13 plays to help federal CIOs create better digital customer experiences. (The playbook would work equally for agencies’ digital services teams, if they ever get funded.)
Notably, the Playbook doesn’t open with CIO staples like cloud services or automated testing or procurement. It starts with four CX plays that remind federal CIOs to begin every project with an outside-in customer-centric perspective.
These four CX plays are good advice. Federal CIOs who follow them will produce measurably better CX. That's because these guidelines, which are drawn from basic but proven best practices, correctly advise CIOs to:
"Understand what people need." Play No. 1 challenges CIOs to think from the outside in by putting "the needs of people" before the "constraints of government structures or silos" when designing new experiences. This guidance provides federal CIOs with the mandate they need to push back against rigid organizations and complex regulations that paralyze CX improvement efforts.
Hundreds if not thousands of leading corporations have created chief customer officer (CCO) positions in recent years to help them become more customer-centric. Now US federal government agencies are toying with the idea of adding CCO positions and four have already taken the plunge. In my first Forrester podcast, I spoke with hosts Sam Stern and Deanna Laufer about how federal CCOs can help achieve their agencies' missions and dispeled common objections to creating federal CCO positions. For more of my federal CCO research, check out my Executive Q&A: Federal Chief Customer Officers report on forrester.com or my blog post on the subjectRead more
Last month I wrote a short blog post introducing the new US Digital Services Playbook. I'm happy to announce that we're going to be publishing a series of short reports that take a closer look at the CIO's role in implementing the plays in the playbook.
The first of these client briefs, published today, summarizes why we believe CIOs should study the playbook and incorporate its plays into their team's standard operating practices.
The remaining briefs will take each of the four play categories and drill down into the implications for the CIO and their teams.
Vacations are over – or at least mine is – but I’ve brought home some of mine for homework. Yes, I did a little work while on vacation. While in Costa Rica this summer, I had the opportunity to meet with the country’s Director of Digital Government, Alicia Avendaño Rivera.
Governments worldwide recognize the power of “going digital.” The recently announced US Digital Service and the appointment of its dedicated Administrator illustrate a commitment on the part of the US Federal government. Yet the US is merely joining others who have made similar commitments to transforming government with a focus on efficiency, effectiveness, transparency and empowering citizens and businesses through new digital technologies. Alicia Avendaño has served as Costa Rica’s Director of Digital Government since 2009.
Costa Rica Digital Government initiatives address four main goals:
G2C: Government to Citizen – citizen oriented services
G2B Government to Business – rapid and transparent business services
G2G: Government to Government – efficient and interconnected services
Infrastructure – favorable ICT infrastructure and legal framework
Last March, we published The Future Of Business Is Digital and predicted that all businesses must evolve to become digital businesses. Since then, many CIOs in government agencies have asked about the role of digital in government. And yesterday, on The White House Blog, the president made it clear where he stands: The future of government is digital!
In announcing the creation of the US Digital Service, President Obama is reinforcing the need to bring greater agility to federal technology management in service of citizen taxpayers who foot the bill.
"A core part of the President’s Management Agenda is improving the value we deliver to citizens through Federal IT. That’s why, today, the Administration is formally launching the U.S. Digital Service. The Digital Service will be a small team made up of our country’s brightest digital talent that will work with agencies to remove barriers to exceptional service delivery and help remake the digital experience that people and businesses have with their government."