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OMB setting a higher standard for customer experience in government

OMB’s Andy Lewandowski and Amira Boland tell Federal News Network how agencies are making digital-first public experiences a priority.

Federal agencies are setting a higher standard for public-facing services across all channels – whether it’s online, over the phone or in-person.

More than two years after President Joe Biden signed an executive order to improve federal customer experience, the Office of Management and Budget is bringing agencies together to take their CX improvements to the next level.

“The expectations are higher than ever for digital-first experiences,” Andy Lewandowski, digital experience adviser to the Federal Chief Information Officer, said in a recent interview.

Agencies are focused on providing better public-facing services to keep pace with the level of service that private-sector businesses are already giving their customers.

Lewandowski said the government needs to meet its customers, and make public-facing services more user-friendly and accessible online and on mobile devices.

“That’s the public experience in the consumer space on a daily basis. And then the public comes to government, and there’s a gap,” Lewandowski said. “So fundamentally, what we are doing in OMB, across the federal customer experience in digital delivery, is we’re trying to close that gap.”

Agencies made substantial customer experience improvements last year.

The Internal Revenue Service, for example, reduced the average call wait time from 28 minutes to three minutes.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and the Department of Housing and Urban Development are also taking steps to reduce the number of forms individuals must provide when applying for benefits.

Amira Boland, OMB’s federal customer experience lead, said more than 10 agencies have created teams focused on improving customer experience.

“I think we’ve really proved that this isn’t a flavor of the month … I think we’re really starting to see this take hold and be business as usual,” Boland said.

OMB last September issued guidance on delivering a “digital-first public experience,” outlining more than 100 agency actions and requirements.

To accelerate this work governmentwide, the Federal Chief Information Officers Council is launching a new Digital Experience Council in early 2024.

Lewandowski said the council will coordinate how agencies are implementing OMB’s recent memo.

“This is not a one-time memo. This is like a visionary document that says the public needs a digital-first government experience,” Lewandowski said.

Lewandowski said OMB is also rolling out “digital experience indicators,” to keep track of where agencies are making progress in implementing key elements of the memo

“These are going to be indicators that tell us, are agencies beginning to implement the requirements in the memo? So it’s some oversight. And then, once we get these indicators out there, then we’re going to move towards optimization,” he said.

Site-scanning tools from the General Services Administration are being used to automatically determine whether sites have search capabilities on par with specifications in the 21st Century Integrated Digital Experience Act (IDEA).

“That’s step one. In the future, we want to then ask ourselves, ‘How can we optimize the experience? Is the user who uses that on-site search actually getting to the right information and the right tools and services,’ Lewandowski said. “We think that this digital experience indicators work, which is a data-first implementation approach is going to really change the game with agencies and how they implement this guidance long term.”

Insights from High-Impact Service Providers

Agencies designated as High-Impact Service Providers (HISPs) are leading the customer experience transformation.

The Transportation Security Agency is focused on improving its customer experience at a time when it’s seeing a record volume of interactions with the public.

In 2019, TSA launched a customer feedback survey, which found travelers didn’t understand what was going on when their bag was selected for secondary screening.

“They saw in their customer feedback data, that that was a big pain point,” Boland said.

TSA, as part of its CX action plan, developed training for transportation security officers on how to communicate to passengers selected for secondary screening.

“They had so many people show up because they realized that that was a thing, that officers weren’t sure what to do or how to handle it,” Boland said.

TSA made this training optional at first, but is now part of every TSO’s initial training.

These improvements are leading to higher satisfaction scores. Recent survey results show that 94% of people are confident in TSA officers to keep air travel safe, and 93% are satisfied with their security screening experience.

“That is such a great story – they started collecting customer feedback, they responded to it, they designed, they scaled that solution. And now they’re seeing the impact of that in their data,” Boland said.

Tapping into TMF

Agencies across the government are tapping into the Technology Modernization Fund to financially support their customer service projects.

OMB announced in June 2023 that TMF will award $100 million to projects that cut wait times for public-facing federal services, as well as excessive paperwork and other barriers.

“It’s really helped turbocharge digital service delivery across our federal agency,” Lewandowski said.

National Transportation Safety Board received a TMF investment to centralize data around accidents and help local municipalities better respond to the needs of their local communities.

The Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management is getting help from OMB to make the best use of TMF funds meant to digitize paper land records dating back more than a century.

The Department of Veterans Affairs, a lead agency on customer experience improvements, received a TMF investment to help them digitize forms even faster.

“We’re not digitizing forms in bespoke ways and small program offices, but we’re taking a holistic enterprise view. So [there’s] a ton of terrific work across federal agencies. It’s been a big year,” Lewandowski said.

Discover more about how to elevate your customer experience in the “Excellent, equitable and secure customer experience: A closer look at high-impact service providers” series. 

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