At 3 agencies, here’s what customer experience overhaul looks like

Members of the public don’t often have much of a choice when it comes to doing business with the government — whether that’s filing an annual tax return or renewing a passport.

But under one of the goals of the President Management Agenda, more than two dozen public-facing program offices have released new data on their annual workloads, and are looking at ways to transform their approach to customer service through long-term strategies.

The 25 agency program offices, designated as high-impact service providers by the Office of Management and Budget, on Thursday released their annual customer experience action plans.

Each plan posted on Performance.gov focuses on two near-term goals agencies can accomplish within a year, and includes a self-evaluation of how they’re performing on five metrics — measurement, governance, organization & culture, customer research and service design.

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Several agencies focused their strategies on consolidating their call centers to streamline over-the-phone service, improving their digital services and retraining employees to be more receptive to customer needs.

Those plans, which agencies spent much of fiscal 2019 crafting, stem from OMB’s updated Circular A-11 memo last year.

The PMA’s focus on overhauling customer experience, like its other cross-agency priority goals, stem from a central premise that the government has to catch up with private sector’s level of service to the public.

Last year, Forrester Research gave the federal government the lowest overall ranking on its Customer Experience Index — a score worse than airlines, rental car companies and television service providers.

1) IRS looks to stay ahead of fraudsters

The IRS, despite an overall decrease in the number of identity theft cases, seeks to reduce the amount of money it pays out to fraudsters by 2% this year, and then by 1% each year after that until 2024.

In order to reach that goal, the IRS will continue to meet with its Security Summit working group, which includes members from the tax software industry, tax preparation firms and state tax officials , to discuss ways to improve taxpayer authentication.

While the number of taxpayers who report identity theft has dropped by 71% between 2015 and 2018, IRS officials wrote in their FY 2020 customer experience strategy that a “growing sophistication” of identity theft cases makes them harder to detect.

The IRS expects to implement new identity theft filters early in calendar year 2020, in order to flag bogus tax returns as early as possible.

“This means fewer fraudulent returns enter the processing system, which translates into fewer taxpayers reporting themselves as victims of identity theft and fewer fraudulent refunds being issued,” the IRS plan states.

In fiscal year 2018, the IRS processed more than 250 million tax returns and paid out nearly $464 billion in refunds.

2) State Dept. looks to retrain passport workforce

The State Department’s Passport Services is looking to retrain its employees on customer-service skills by fiscal 2022, citing negative customer feedback that has found that “customers sometimes feel that we are not as responsive or empathetic to their needs as we should be.”

According to the 2018 American Satisfaction Index, 4% of respondents had a complaint with Passport Services. Of those, nearly a third said complaint didn’t get resolved “to their satisfaction.”

In order to reach this goal, Passport Services will release a library of in-person and web-based customer experience training courses that will get annual updates.

Passport Services in FY 2018 issued 21.1 million passport books and cards. About 42% of U.S. citizens hold a passport.

But the National Federation of Federal Employees recently pointed out that the number of passport specialists has dropped from 1,457 to 1,237 over the past two years, while the workload has increased 36% over the past three years.

“Our agency is woefully understaffed,” Rob Arnold, president of NFFE Local 1998, said in July. “Without staff increases, this problem will continue to get worse. Delays in issuing passports will get longer with each passing year, and many Americans are not going to get passports in time for their international travel.”

But recent data released by the State Department tells a different story. Passport Services in the first quarter of fiscal 2019 exceeded its performance metrics for routine service and expedited requests.

The office spent less than seven business days on routine passport requests and completed expedited requests in less than three days.

3) USCIS sets sights on digital services

The Department of Homeland Security’s Citizenship and Immigration Services, having gotten feedback about the need for “efficient and easy to use self-service tools,” has plans to roll out more robust online services.

Before fiscal 2022, USCIS officials expect to launch online capability for “all major USCIS forms” that will allow customers to check on the status of their applications.

The agency has already made significant progress in moving its application processes online. Florence Kasule, a digital services procurement expert with the U.S. Digital Service, said her team recently worked with USCIS to help immigrants complete the process online.

Kasule, speaking on Sept. 11 at FCW’s digital transformation summit in Washington, said her work with USCIS had a personal connection, since her family from Uganda went through the naturalization process early in her life.

“I remember my parents diligently working through over 200 pieces of paper to get through the naturalization process, for them and for all of us as their children. And now, that process is all digital, it’s all online,” she said. “It’s amazing for me to know that those who are applying for citizenship through the naturalization process can actually track their process online.”

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