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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Plan Your Summer Vacation Around Customer Experience Inspiration

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

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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