Plan Your Summer Vacation Around Customer Experience Inspiration

It's finally here. That time of year when seemingly half of the federal workforce flees DC 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 re-energized. 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-vs-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

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

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

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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The OPM Hack Is Bad News For Federal Customer Experience Improvement

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.
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How To Implement The Customer Experience Advice In The US Digital Services Playbook

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.
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Federal Agencies Must Treat Customer Experience As A Business Discipline

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.

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How Governments Can Improve Everyone’s Customer Experience

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.
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Federal Agencies Must Focus On Emotion To Create Great Government Customer Experiences

Think about the last time you went through airport security. Or applied for federal benefits. Or paid your taxes.

How did those experiences make you feel? What specific emotions did they invoke in you? Did you feel comforted, hopeful, and valued — or insulted, frustrated, and nervous?

Questions like these are the most important things for federal customer experience (CX) professionals to ask themselves, and our CX Index™ proves it. As my colleague Megan Burns writes in her new CX Index report, “Emotion is the biggest lever you have to pull” to improve CX. In fact, organizations at the top of the CX Index elicited positive emotions about 20 times as often as orgs at the bottom of the Index.

Every customer experience has three dimensions, called the “three E's” of CX: effectiveness, ease, and emotion. Our research shows that the emotions a customer experience elicits influence the quality of the experience more than ease and effectiveness in practically every industry — including government.

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How To Beat The Top Five Excuses For Not Improving Your Government Agency's Customer Experience

Naysayers love to complain that real customer experience (CX) improvement is only for the private sector because government is subject to unique and insurmountable pressures. Don’t believe these cynics. Many major corporations must overcome the same hurdles, and some federal agencies are finding ways to break out, too. Use this list of comebacks to subdue government CX skeptics the next time they start raving about:

  • Entrenched organizations. Even the most stagnant agency can change. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is taking a wrecking ball to its ossified structure with a major CX pivot that includes an overhauled organization; revised policies and procedures; and personnel changes that include the appointment of a chief customer officer. Private sector companies in perennially paralyzed industries like airlines are also breaking free. Delta Air Lines has soared in our CX Index thanks to major innovations to its policies, procedures, technical capabilities, and training.
  • Complex regulations. Healthcare companies groan under the weight of federal and state regulations, yet some companies in this industry find new ways to provide outstanding CX while working within the system. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan shot up more than 20 points in our CX Index last year by simplifying technical terminology and making interactions clearer for customers. Despite being hamstrung by outmoded regulations and congressional meddling, the US Postal Service just tied for first among the 18 federal agencies on our CX Index.
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