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

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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Talent Management For The Customer-Obsessed Organization

Employees are the lifeblood of a customer-obsessed enterprise. No matter how advanced a company's technology, how big its data, or how trendy it’s marketing, businesses today simply cannot succeed without employees who devote themselves to customers. However, many companies struggle to build a customer-obsessed workforce because they:

  • Hire for skills and experience. Siloed hiring managers focus primarily on job candidates' technical skills and experience and seek little input from applicants' potential colleagues. Knowing how well candidates can code, lift boxes, or write marketing copy is important. However, skillset alone doesn't tell employers if applicants are willing and able to use their skills and cooperate with their coworkers in customer-obsessed ways.
  • Have weak training programs. Most training programs consist of long and dry classroom, online, and coaching sessions rather than short and engaging sound bites that employees can access when they need to. Even worse, training focuses solely on employees' job responsibilities, businesses processes, and operation of technical systems — topics that rarely help employees become more customer-obsessed.
  • Fail to recognize and reward customer obsession. Our data shows that although 42% of companies claim that excellent customer treatment is one of their core values, only one-third of companies actually hold employees accountable and tie employees' incentives to customer experience (CX) metrics.
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Federal CX Professionals: Your Time Is Now

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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The US Customer Experience Index for 2016, Part 2: CX Plus Digital Equals Disruption

In a previous blog post about the Customer Experience Index for US brands In 2016, Harley Manning contrasted the rising tide of CX quality with the stagnation among top brands.

In this post I'll explore another big finding from our research: CX-fueled digital disruption. In this year's CX Index results we found that:

  • Wireless service providers continue their advance, floating all digital boats. This year we saw an advance by the wireless service providers that help enable digital disruption through their networks: The high, low, and average scores for the industry all went up. Just as telling, seven of the 11 brands in our rankings improved while the remaining four brands' scores stayed the same. This general upward movement pushed the industry into fifth place overall.
  • Over-the-top (OTT) services crush incumbent TV service providers. This year, for the first time, the CX Index includes OTT service providers — companies like Hulu and Netflix that distribute video over the internet through a subscription model instead of through a legacy pay-TV provider. In their debut, even the lowest-scoring OTT service provider beat the highest-scoring cable company. OTT providers' universal superiority signals a huge threat to the revenue streams of traditional subscription TV services.
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Yes, Federal CX Professionals, They Are Out To Get You

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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The Public Is Still Skeptical Of Federal Digital Customer Experience

The White House has been trying to improve the federal digital customer experience (CX) since 2011. But when I published my first report and blog on the topic in 2015, the situation was still dire. A Forrester survey had just shown that, for instance:

  • Only two-fifths of the public agreed that the federal government should focus on offering more digital services.
  • Fewer than a third of Americans wanted federal mobile apps that tailor safety alerts and other government information to the user’s location.
  • Just two-fifths of people were interested in a single-sign-on credential for federal websites.
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Federal CX Pros Must Start Preparing For The Presidential Transition Right Now

It's been eight years since the last presidential transition. Since then, we've seen real progress on the federal customer experience (CX) front, including the creation of the "customer service" cross-agency priority goal; the launch of 18F, the US Digital Service, and similar digital services shops; and the appointment of chief customer officers at four agencies.

Unfortunately, the next presidential transition could derail it all. The new administration might have different management priorities, misunderstand CX and its value, or simply want to undercut the current administration’s achievements. Improving federal CX may be good politics for nearly every conceivable incoming president, but that may not be enough. Some presidential transition experts bemoan times when neither good politics nor effectiveness were enough to save existing initiatives from a new administration's desire to appear different. As one expert put it, "Never underestimate the power of crazy."

Formally, the transition won't begin until the next president is chosen. In reality, work on the transition has already begun. The current administration has already refocused from rolling out new initiatives to securing its legacy; many senior executives are already planning their retirements or looking for work in the private sector.

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

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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Customer Experience News: This Week In Congress, July 20th, 2015

Welcome to the second installment of this series on Congressional action that could affect federal customer experience (CX). As I said in my first post, the purpose of this series is to help federal CX advocates track bills that could affect federal CX. That way, we can suggest improvements, help good ideas become law, and plan for what happens when they do.

This week, let’s look at H.R. 1831, the Evidence-Based Policymaking Commission Act of 2015. It’s a performance management bill would create a 15-member executive branch group called the Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking, consisting of experts in “economics, statistics, program evaluation, data security, confidentiality, or database management.” H.R. 1831 would empower the commission to:

  • Study and make recommendations on how administrative data on federal programs should be combined and made available to improve program evaluation and improvement.
  • Make recommendations on how to incorporate outcomes measurement and impact analysis into program design.
  • Consider whether a “clearinghouse for program and survey data should be established.”
  • And “decide what administrative data is relevant for program evaluation and federal policy-making and should be included in a potential clearinghouse.”
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Three Ways To Improve Federal Digital CX On A Shoestring Budget

Have you read the results of the Government Business Council’s new “Digital Disconnect” survey?

The results are fascinating, and I could go on for quite some time about them (just ask my dogs, who have been listening to me rant about the survey all morning). However, at the moment, I will focus on the result of just one question.

That question is: “Which of these pose a significant challenge to your agency’s ability to digitally optimize its public services?” The top selection was “budget constraints.” About 64% of respondents said budget is a challenge to improving digital public services.

No way am I going to say that budget isn’t a problem. It’s a huge problem. That’s why Congress needs to fund the digital services groups and other digital customer experience (CX) initiatives that the administration advocates. But too often I hear budget used as an excuse for not doing anything, despite the reality that feds can make real digital CX gains on a shoestring budget and that good digital CX is often actually cheaper than bad CX.

A few weeks ago, I blogged about how feds can use CX guerrilla tactics to make gains without budget, personnel, or authority. Back in April, I wrote about overcoming the top five excuses for not improving federal CX, and budget was among them.

Today, I’d like to mention a few more ways that federal agencies can improve their digital CX on the cheap. Here they are:

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