Insight by Zendesk

How agencies are improving customer service in the pandemic era and beyond

Customer service, and how to keep improving it, have become important modernization goals for federal agencies. What constitutes state-of-the-art customer service is constantly evolving. What was once a telephone, in-office, or postal mail exchange has expanded to online and mobile.

To answer questions or complete transactions, agencies need a multi-channel, multi-mode approach, coupled with back-end automation. Key to great customer experience is speed, accuracy and – when human-to-human interactions occur – systems than ensure all of the needed data is available to agency operators instantly.

To get a handle on how agencies are dealing with the new customer service imperative, Federal News Network brought together a panel of government and industry experts.

A key takeaway from the discussion is that improving customer service is not merely an IT exercise, although the technology staff is certainly important to program execution. It requires support from the top of the agency, and must involve the program or mission owner as well as the people on the line delivering the service.

Developing new services or upgrading existing ones also requires a bi-directional approach. That is, you must start from the outside by taking the customer’s or constituent’s view of what it is they expect. And then work from inside to align the data, applications, and processes to meet those expectations. Often that requires pulling data from multiple systems and integrating it in a way that empowers better service delivery.

Panelists also noted how the pandemic has stress-tested government services delivery. It sparked an increased in demand for services from citizens across the board, and it’s caused agencies to update process to accommodate the fact that office-based employees were nearly all teleworking.

Still another takeaway is the importance of establishing measurable metrics for customer service, using transaction data to see how you’re doing, and continually refining processes based on what the data says.

Agency Accomplishments in Customer Experience

Veterans told us … they were concerned about the safety in the medical facilities. Using all the capabilities of the data tools and technologies, we developed an app, for instance, that enables veterans to sit in their car and be notified when their appointment is ready. So they don't have to wait in a facility.

Multi-Channel Integrations for Customer Experience

We used to have literally on the order of 60, 70, 80 websites. We're now down to a single website that we've consolidated to studentaid.gov. You can get everything you need, from learning about the student aid programs, to applying for the student aid programs, to repaying your loans. All of our websites are mobile responsive. So whatever device you want to use, it'll give you a better experience.

Artificial Intelligence and Customer Experience

Our customers are saying, ‘I can't go to my IT department every time I have to make a change or add information to my knowledge base. Or change routing because the way we're routing this particular inquiry is not working.’ [Agencies] need the ability to have business people, administrators be able to do that very quickly and agilely. That crucial in being able to adjust [and] continuously increase customer satisfaction response.

Listen to the full show:

Panel of experts

  • Ed Walters

    Chief Customer Officer, General Services Administration

  • Dr. Lynda Davis

    Chief Veterans Experience Officer, Department of Veterans Affairs

  • Chris Greene

    Deputy Chief Operating Officer for the Student Experience and Aid Delivery, Federal Student Aid, Department of Education

  • Maria Country

    Regional Vice President, Zendesk

  • Tom Temin

    Host, The Federal Drive, Federal News Network

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