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.
It's finally here. That time of year when seemingly half of the federal workforce flees Washington, D.C., for a well-deserved vacation. It's a magical time for those of us who stay behind: Less traffic shortens our commutes, the Starbuck's and food truck lines are shorter, and fewer people at meetings means more decisions get made.
But the feds heading out for vacation are happy, too. They hope to return refreshed and reenergized. This year, I hope they will also come back inspired with new ideas for improving the federal customer experience (CX). To help them find that inspiration, I've put together this list of travel tips:
Fly JetBlue. JetBlue was the highest-rated airline in Forrester's CX Index. It's a solid omnichannel experience across digital touchpoints on multiple devices, and the airline's employees are friendly, helpful, and empowered to fix customer problems as they occur. The company creates a chummy atmosphere, rather than the us-versus-you environment that some airlines exude. As you enjoy the great experience, remember that it has been created despite structural hurdles that include a large and partially unionized workforce, a highly-regulated market, and razor-thin profit margins. If an airline can overcome these barriers, why can't your federal agency?
Each Congress considers over 10,000 bills, and virtually none of them ever explicitly focus on customer experience (CX). However, some bills do have implications for federal CX. And although just 3% of bills ever become law, federal CX advocates should stay informed of proposals from the start. That way, we can suggest improvements, help good ideas become law, and plan for what happens when they do.
That’s why I’m starting this new weekly blog series. Every week while Congress is in session, I’ll take a look at a few new bills that could affect federal CX and offer my initial thoughts on each. I hope my views start a weekly conversation about which bills seem most promising for federal CX and the overall role Congress should play in improving the federal customer experience.
Let’s begin by taking a look at two bills that House leadership recently assigned to committee:
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.
Federal customer experience (CX) professionals are trying to wage a conventional war against bad CX. But they usually don’t have the budget, personnel, or authorities they need to win big, decisive battles. That’s why federal CX pros should consider changing their approach and use some proven CX guerrilla tactics instead. To make the most of their limited resources, federal CX pros should use their available data, foster rapid-fire experimentation, and create memorable moments that build coalitions. Here’s how.
Make The Best Use Of Available Customer Data
A formal voice of the customer program with both quantitative and qualitative feedback mechanisms is ideal — and you’ll definitely need one eventually — but you don’t need anything that fancy to start improving your CX. Instead:
Aggregate and use the customer data you already have. Most federal agencies have way more customer data than they realize. Even a motley collection of one-off surveys, website and social media analytics, call center logs, and customer emails can be mined to uncover pain points. Don’t worry about painting a photo-realistic picture of your customers. Just aim for a few broad brush strokes that can guide basic CX improvement.
Go for big impact by exposing the unfiltered voice of the customer. If you don’t have the data to impress decision-makers’ left brains with intricate multivariate regression analyses, awe their right brains with dramatic quotes and stories of major customer problems. All the numbers in the world aren’t as powerful as listening to a call center recording of a crying mother or reading an email from an irate retiree.
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.
By now we all know that federal customer experience (CX) is disastrously weak and that improving it will boost both agency operations and the health of the political system.
We’ve also seen some pockets of hope popping up, as I predicted a few months ago. For instance: The Department of Education’s new portal is complete, the Department of Veterans Affairs My HealtheVet site now offers online tracking for mail-order prescriptions, and BusinessUSA.gov combines thousands of pieces of information from several federal agencies into a single site for entrepreneurs and business owners. Other improvements are still in the works, like 18F's upgrade of the Department of the Treasury's My Retirement Account website and the Office of Personnel Management Innovation Lab's redesign of USAJobs.gov.
These isolated projects are good, but not good enough. It’s time for federal agencies to get beyond one-off tech tasks and the find-and-fix mentality to truly institutionalize CX improvement throughout their organizations. And that means treating CX not as a sideshow, but as a real business discipline. To do this, agencies must systematically perform the practices associated with all six CX disciplines — strategy, customer understanding, design, measurement, governance, and culture. Right now, federal agencies are failing in all of these areas.
I spend a lot of time talking about the poor quality of federal customer experience (CX) and the effects it has on the public. I’ve already talked about how federal agencies averaged the lowest score in Forrester’s Customer Experience Index (CX Index™). In fact, most of the worst performers in any industry were federal agencies and even the top agencies — the US Postal Service and National Park Service, which tied for the top spot — achieved scores far below private-sector leaders like USAA, Amazon, and JetBlue.
However, today I want to emphasize the national harm of bad private-sector CX. US consumers have hundreds of millions of frustrating interactions with companies every day, and that adds up to:
Degraded quality of life. About 50% of US households reported bad experiences, and 68% suffered customer rage in 2013, according to this study.
A weakened economy. Waiting for in-home services such as cable, TV, or appliance installation and repairs takes each US consumer out of the workforce for two days each year, costing $250 per person and the entire economy as much as $37.7 billion annually, according to another study.
Stymied business innovation. Poor CX also saps budgets that companies could otherwise use for research and development, capital investments, or other imperatives. And CX improvements translate into big bucks. Sprint saved $1.7 billion per year by avoiding problems that had prompted high traffic to its call centers.
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
The perennial call for public sector reform has not slackened. The pain of austerity measures and the pressures for increased efficiency heighten that call. And, the hype around “smart cities” amps up the pressure for municipal leaders faced with decisions about which problems to attack first, and which tools are most appropriate. But most organizations are not starting from a clean slate. That’s exactly the issue. In most cases we’re talking about reform, about doing things differently, not starting from scratch.
When we asked government leaders what their top priorities are, improving the customer experience comes in on top: 68% report the customer experience is either a high or critical priority. But reducing costs is right up there with it. That’s the age-old do-more-with-less mantra. And, from a technology perspective their top priority is to upgrade or replace legacy systems, which might not sound like the wiz bang “smart” technology we’ve been hearing so much about. But it’s likely the smartest thing these governments can do; and when they do, they should do it together.