3 agencies praised for making customer experience top priority

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The Trump administration has recently placed what’s come to be known as customer experience high on its priority list. A report from the Partnership for Public Service and Accenture detailed ways several agencies have successfully overhauled their business processes to better optimize customer service. But there is still work to do.

The three agencies highlighted in the report — the Veterans Affairs and Agriculture departments, as well as what is called the Flood Insurance and Mitigation Administration — were praised for the way they transformed their business practices to meet the needs of their customers.

“It’s a nonpartisan issue. Everybody wants the government to do with it’s supposed to do, better,” Mallory Barg Bulman. vice president for research and develop at the Partnership for Public Service, said on Federal Drive with Tom Temin. “You want to make sure that our agencies are really meeting their customers’ needs. What that ends up translating to is better services, better compliance with government laws and rules and regulations, as well as a more cohesive experience working with the federal sector.”

All of these agencies have one thing in common: They host a tremendous amount of customer data.

USDA, VA have improved customer service

VA processes over 1 million disability and pension claims each year. They have had to adopt policies and programs that benefit more than 8 million veterans.

Mallory Barg Bulman, Partnership for Public Service

USDA alone is comprised of 17 agencies with more than 380 different programs — making it one of the most high-touch agencies in terms of customers. Barg Bulman said it is also an interesting case, because more than 90 percent of their stakeholders and workforce live outside of the D.C. metropolitan area. Yet, the agency was able to make significant changes across the board.

“What USDA has done is they’ve sought high-level federal leaders within the field to be ambassadors to the customer experience and what they have done is found people who have proven leadership ability, problem-solving skills, trusted relationship and what Joe Doyle,  head of customer experience at USDA, called bias for action,” she said. “They really make sure that those champions are situated across USDA. Within several months, they have really created a plan to make sure that they’re better incorporating what farmers want into the work of USDA.”

FIMA, a subset of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, works to reduce personal hardship and economic distress associated with flood-related disasters, including that from hurricanes. It also reduces the stress placed on the nation’s finances after a major disaster.

Barg Bulman said they worked to transform the idea of who their customer is in order to hone in on what their stakeholders really needed in terms of protection. They developed improvements to their system based on what the policy holder’s needs are, focusing less on the fund itself and more on the needs of the policy holders.

“We saw in just one year the organization had a seven point increase from 53 out of 100 in 2016 to 60 in 2017,” Barg Bulman said.

She said the agencies have pivoted from being just goal-oriented to being actively engaged and customer-focused, and that has served them well thus far.

Best practices, recommendations

The report outlined three best practices for agencies that may want to follow the leader. Barg Bulman said every agency should:

  • Develop a department-wide strategy for improving customer experience.
  • Expand employee perception of who their customers are, and what they expect.
  • Make sure the leadership has clarity and feedback from the customers.

Currently, VA is one of the only agencies to use customer feedback to measure themselves.

“This is an opportunity to really improve the line of sight, making sure that you are truly engaging with your employees about who [are] the customers, what are their perceptions and what they expect from you,” she said.

It starts from the top down. If any agency wants to make their programs more citizen-focused, the report said they must: measure what matters to the customer, test long-held assumptions, empower the workplace in the field and set aside the time and resources for improvements based on customer feedback.