A useful way to think about work: Sometimes you’re the customer, sometimes you’re the supplier. The most effective executives enjoy money and perks. But they know they lead best when serving — their employees, their external constituents, even their vendors. Line staff employees might have to meet quotas or productivity goals for the enterprise. But they also have the right to expect the enabling resources, including respect, to do their jobs.
I want to talk about this in the context of the customer experience drive that’s spreading across the government. Those on the front lines live with these initiatives and probably know what works best.
An airport trip brought this home for me recently. I’m among the millions enrolled in the Transportation Security Administration’s successful PreCheck program. This long-running plan serves national security, improves customer experience in screening, and promotes the economy and efficiency of government. Not a bad record.
So successful, though, the Pre lines are sometimes as long as the lines of poor schlubs who don’t have Pre. Now there’s an ugly little feature from a commercial plan called Clear. If people want to shell out $100 or whatever for pretend VIP treatment, fine with me. Although trust me, fly private just once and you’ll see what a low-rent commodity this service actually is.
But here’s the thing for feds. At several airports, the Clear people cut in line right at the TSA initial check point, before the screening, escorted by a hapless employee whom Pre passengers immediately take for a dirtbag. He’s just doing his job. Yet what a klutzy way to spoil what TSA has tried to do with Pre from a CX standpoint. I don’t know whether TSA management is aware of the ill will this situation engenders, but I’m sure the TSA Officers on the lines would have some suggestions — like getting the Clear people to pay for their own lines and and pay a TSA Officer dedicated to it. Why louse up the Pre program?
Airlines themselves provide endless customer experience lessons. I can say this as someone who’s been flying since before magnetometers. In the latter day, airlines have incentivized everyone to drag six tons of drek on board with them, making boarding and sitting in the plane nightmarish. Did anyone ask the flight attendants what they think of these policies?
What about when federal employees are the customers? A stumble in customer experience could even land you in court! The Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board finds itself the target of a potential class action lawsuit. IT and contractor Accenture Federal Services. As Drew Friedman reports, the botched rollout of a new access and account management system for TSP account holders prevented some from completing certain functions. In the year since the deployment, the board and Accenture have fixed most of the problems, but the taste of bad customer experience lingers.
The IRS showed what can happen when frontline employees have what they need, knowing what it is their customers — tax return filers, that is — need for a decent customer experience. It managed to conduct a normal filing season, according to statistics compiled by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration. IRS operations never run perfectly, but relative to a year earlier the IRS reduced backlogs, prevented more fraud cases, handled way more queries online, and correctly handled four times as many phone calls. IRS management and Congress wanted this, but IRS regular staff did it.