Why a good digital experience can boost trust in federal agencies

When people go online to get information, their expectations have been set by their daily activities. For most, that involves going online and purchasing items ...

“Why isn’t this like Amazon?”

When people go online to get information, their expectations have been set by their daily activities. For most, that involves going online and purchasing items for retailers who have developed entire businesses around providing a positive, digital experience. Amazon is selling the same goods you can buy elsewhere, but it’s the ease of use and how quickly you can find what you want that set it apart from competitors.

With that in mind, federal agencies need to understand the mindset of the average person. For better or worse, they expect an “Amazon-like” experience every time they go searching for information. It’s a high bar to clear, but a worthy one to attempt.

The Biden administration indicated their awareness of the situation when President Biden signed an executive order in December entitled, “Transforming Federal Customer Experience and Service Delivery to Rebuild Trust in Government.”

The key part of the EO is the critical intersection of technology and customer service, as it states, “We must use technology to modernize Government and implement services that are simple to use, accessible, equitable, protective, transparent and responsive for all people of the United States.”

The pathway to improving CX

The first step for federal agencies in reviewing and analyzing their current CX posture is to view the process through the eyes of someone trying to get information. Remember, they are comparing a visit to FEMA.gov to a visit to Amazon.com, even though those are two very different things.

Agencies must understand that one of the key components of a successful customer experience is meeting the customer where they are. This includes a focus on convenience, as for example the majority of people looking for information in 2022 are doing so from a mobile device, whether a smartphone or a tablet.

Second, they are seeking information and want it in a clear and quick manner. When someone logs into Amazon for even a second time, the site already has captured information about the user, their interests and goals. A similar process should be in place for federal agencies when people are contacting them again for information. For example, if they have already needed FEMA assistance in the past, it should be a smooth, seamless transition when they log in again for help because the agency should have all their information at the ready.

It’s critical to view the process through the eyes of the citizen, as we’ve seen over the years that the main challenge to increase engagement is a better integration of case and service management. It doesn’t work without that.

When it doesn’t work, that’s when the public’s trust in government starts to erode.

The technology driving CX

As an agency works to improve their customer experience, it’s about utilizing and implementing the right technologies in the right places to meet the mission. In 2022, that’s not about stop gaps and temporary fixes. It’s about completing a digital transformation to a new technology posture that accommodates the present while prepares for the future.

At its core, central to customer experience is an infrastructure that can support needed legacy IT while also providing an opportunity to add emerging technologies. From our work, we’ve seen the tremendous value when technologies like automation, artificial intelligence, machine learning and advanced analytics are to an agency’s infrastructure. It allows agencies to broaden its capabilities, provide better service, and boost the trust that citizens have in its government.

This doesn’t work without a true partnership between federal agencies and government contractors to implement new technologies and advance new strategies for meeting the mission of serving citizens. We have seen this in action since March 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic sent the amount of government services needed soaring through the roof.

How it works

There are a litany of examples that highlight the importance of CX when it comes to building trust, and arguably the most high-profile example was the roll-out of the COVID-19 vaccines by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It would not have been successful by simply throwing people at the problem and answering every single call. Instead, an integrated data driven platform was designed that included voice, SMS and an Intelligent Virtual Assistant.

FEMA is another example, as they adopted the term “FEMA Flexible” to describe its critical response requirements. Since 2017, the agency developed a team that uses web-based real-time reporting to keep apprised of disaster situations. Additionally, the agency created a high-level dashboard that quickly provides insight to leaders and implemented flexible support solutions that allow for scalability.

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services also understands the importance of trust as it manages the review of appeal requests, coordinating data collection, and general case management for millions of insured Americans. To meet their mission goals, CMS leveraged emerging technologies and advanced analytics along with application development and modernization. The biggest success came from creating a simplified online appeal submission and today 80% of appeals are received online resulting in faster processing times.

Millions of Americans reach out to the government in their time of need.

By delivering excellent service when needed, a federal agency can build trust with its constituents.

Scott Barr is senior vice president for federal consulting at Maximus.


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