CXDC 2016 Q&A with The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)

Rick Parrish

CXDC 2016 is just around the corner, and we have an incredible agenda featuring 25+ Federal CX leaders and top Forrester analysts. 

I asked two of our speakers from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) – Sarah Brooks, Director, Insight & Design and Julia Kim, Chief of Staff, Veterans Experience – to chat about some of the ways VA is improving the customer experience (CX) for veterans.

Rick: The CX team at VA has been very busy! What two or three CX improvements over the past year are you most proud of? Why?

Sarah and Julia: It has been busy! Especially when we are trying to build the office while also doing the work. We are proud of many things (more than we can put into a blog post!), but here are a few things we’ll highlight:

  • Reframing the Disability Compensation and Pension application process from Veterans’ points of view. There were only five people in our office, and Secretary Bob asked us to look into this thing that he was getting a lot of calls and emails about. What we found is that VA is not managing our Veteran-facing touchpoints during this process – in fact, we have very few front stage touchpoints at all. We have done a lot of work to optimize the back stage (see figure 1). We were not thinking about how to help Veterans understand what was happening and why it was happening. This was our first exposure to what has become a recurring theme at VA.
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Federal CX Professionals: Your Time Is Now

Rick Parrish

This post is part of a series dedicated to the challenges, opportunities, and realities of federal customer experience. Interested in learning more? Check out our recent webinar to learn why CX success is vital for government success.

In my last post, I explained how forces arrayed against federal customer experience (CX) improvement hinder Washington’s efforts. Luckily, there’s a way out of this quagmire. To overcome anti-CX forces and achieve all the advantages of better federal CX, customer experience professionals should:

  • Form an unstoppable coalition. Don’t try to fight alone. Instead, join forces with like-minded feds to share information, challenges, and solutions. Start by leveraging the large network of the General Services Administration’s CX Community of Practice, which has over 500 members from more than 70 federal, state, and local government organizations. Then tap into the bureaucratic muscle of the senior program managers, OMB staff, and other officials on OMB’s new Core Federal Services Council, the “government-wide governance vehicle to improve the public’s experience with federal services.”
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Yes, Federal CX Professionals, They Are Out To Get You

Rick Parrish

This post is part of a series dedicated to the challenges, opportunities, and realities of federal customer experience. Interested in learning more? Register for our complimentary government CX webinar next week, and be sure to join me as I host Forrester's first-ever CXDC Forum on Sept. 12th in Washington, DC.

It's been 23 years since the White House first told federal agencies to improve the experiences they provide to customers. Yet three presidents, two executive orders, and a bevy of memos and committees later, federal customer experience (CX) is still in crisis. In fact, federal agencies have:

  • The lowest average score on Forrester's CX Index. The federal average of "poor" was worse than all 17 private sector industries we rated and far below the overall average of "OK." In fact, even the weakest performers in most industries still outscored the government average. The National Park Service and US Postal Service, the highest-rated federal agencies, scored only as high as the average for banks.
  • A near-monopoly on the worst experiences. Seven out of the 10 worst organizations in the CX Index – and five out of six in the "very poor" category – were US federal agencies. Only internet service providers and TV service providers came close to matching this level of underperformance.
  • Shockingly bad websites. Forrester's Consumer Technographics survey shows that only 53% of customers agree that federal websites are "exactly what [they] should be." Fewer than three in five customers consider federal sites easy to use or well organized.
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Improving The Reality Of Government: AR And VR Use Cases

Jennifer Belissent, Ph.D.

Since Mobile World Congress, where the reality on the show floor was often either virtual or augmented, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the practical uses of AR and VR – particularly in government and a smart city context. It’s not just all fun and games, is it?

The example of changing a roller coaster experience with new settings delivered via VR glasses is really cool. Yes, you can imagine repeating the ride to experience catapulting through medieval battle, flying through a tropical jungle, or bobsledding down alpine slopes. But the practical side of us – or at least me – wants to know what else there is. And, fortunately, I have a colleague who has already been thinking of these things.

A few months ago, I had the pleasure of collaborating with JP Gownder on a presentation for Forrester clients in Geneva.  I presented on the ways to derive value from data and opportunities to leverage new insights service providers – clearly something top of mind for many of our clients. But alas JP’s presentation was much cooler, providing examples of how to derive real value from new technologies including AR and VR.  Since then I’ve being thinking about how the two are related.  And, in fact, they are.

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The Data Digest: Citizen Engagement Will Put Smart Cities On The Map

Anjali Lai

“It takes a village” – but when it comes to building smart cities, it takes far more than that. Developing smart cities requires strategic partnerships, creative business models, change management – and according to my latest report, co-authored with my colleague Jennifer Belissent – citizen buy-in. In order for smart city technology to take hold, governments must incorporate citizens’ perspectives into their strategy long before giving their plans the green light.

Gathering citizen perspectives on so nascent a concept is a classic challenge; however, current attitudes and behaviors signal citizen readiness for smart cities. For instance, as US and UK online adults become aware of smart city solutions, they grow deeply intrigued. And, according to Forrester’s Consumer Technographics® survey and behavioral tracking data, online adults’ current device activities lend themselves to participating as engaged digital citizens: 

US and UK citizens are equipped to interact with their community and governments through new technology, which suggests a readiness for smart city applications and services. However, citizens are conscious of the fact that this smart city sophistication comes with tradeoffs, like threats to data privacy and the risks of relying on one digital system.

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What Should Washington Do About The Public's Lukewarm Attitude Toward Digital Government?

Rick Parrish

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.
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Plan Your Summer Vacation Around Customer Experience Inspiration

Rick Parrish

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:

  1. 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?
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Customer Experience News: This Week In Congress

Rick Parrish

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:

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How The Social Security Administration Hit A CX Trifecta With A Mobile App

Rick Parrish

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.

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Guerrilla CX For Government

Rick Parrish

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.
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