If intentions ruled, the federal government would have the highest customer experience ratings anywhere

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The Biden administration has made customer experience offered by federal agencies a management imperative. Yet satisfaction scores keep trending down. The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation ITIF, has analyzed the situation and found one thing the government needs to strengthen is how it measures digital services effectiveness. The ITIF’s policy fellow, Eric Egan, joined the Federal Drive with Tom Temin.

Interview transcript: 

Tom Temin: So, how do you measure digital services? Effectiveness? How does industry do it? Is there anything that the government can learn from how the private sector does it?

Eric Egan: As customers of various digital services,  we all kind of experience every day when you’re going through a website at a bank and  a survey prompts, after you’ve completed some service and you’re able to provide some feedback. And that’s kind of an active capture of customer feedback through a survey method. But best practices also kind of capture passive feedback from customers using digital services. So that could be abandonment rates on pages, and  time spent on a particular screen flow, all that kind of valuable data that agencies could gather to understand what’s happening when a federal customer is using their website, both in a passive way, but then also  understanding, listening to their feedback directly in terms of what their user experiences is like on a website.

Tom Temin:  If 100,000 People are trying to do the same thing, and everybody gets hung up at the same step, chances are it’s that step; not that 100,000 people are idiots. Well, does the government do that? They talk about it a lot, but do they have those kinds of monitors built into the digital services they do offer?

Eric Egan: It’s varied quite a bit. So you kind of hit the nail on the head around talking about, on the one hand, everyone knows customer satisfaction  is at least,  those who pay attention to the federal government, in federal IT, that it’s been dropping, and they’ve struggled with it for years and years, and a lot of agencies have quite good websites. And they’ve integrated surveys, and they’re able to collect these responses, but it’s, it’s  a  surprisingly small portion of federal agencies, in broadly, but also these high impact service providers, which are designated because they provide really critical services and because of their size, the customer base. So you have some veterans are doing this well, but not as many as they should be doing. As I mentioned, kind of the passive gathering  of using data to understand what users are doing while they interact with the website. The federal government has the data analytics program that are US analytic. It gathers information, and it has that structure in place, but it didn’t seem like they’re really taking full advantage of that program, or the data that they could be gathering.

Tom Temin: Because surveys are good insofar as they are there. But usually, it’s only people that are upset, that are gonna even fill out the survey. So that could give you a skewed picture,o to or maybe you just want to hear from the people who are upset, because if everyone else gets through, then you’re okay.

Eric Egan: Yeah, that’s a great point. And the other thing, too, is a good portion of the customer experience, customer satisfaction data that federal government’s gathering right now. It’s through phone surveys. And if you call the IRS, very rarely, we’re able to actually talk to someone, when you call the IRS,  you’re not even given the opportunity to leave a phone survey. So it’s the way they’re kind of measuring data is just kind of full of holes right now, both on how they’re measuring traditional channels across the board for customer experience, but also the lack of measuring digital experience as well.

Tom Temin: We’re speaking with Eric Egan, he is policy fellow at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation. And often when agencies talk about modernizing and going to digital services they talk about the first step is reorganizing and streamlining the business processes, lest you automate a lot of complication that you no longer need. Do you sense that perhaps that step isn’t maybe being done that thoroughly so that the services that are deployed, maybe aren’t as optimal as they could be?

Eric Egan: That’s a good point as well. I think a lot of this though,  is just really modernizing and getting things up to speed and very basic sense. One of the findings from the report was that two of the HISP websites were still not in any way mobile accessible. And in this day and age that’s kind of makes a website useless, right? For the vast majority of us, and particularly those federal customers who may be accessing these services typically do so from a smartphone. So to have a website that doesn’t address, adjust a screen size or allow you to search is really problematic. And for that  it’s you know, it doesn’t require a lot of back-end full reorg of your business processes. It’s just modernizing the thing. You can do both, depending on how the modernization effort and and when what you want to do with the website. That’s an opportunity to realign your business processes to be more efficient and have a have a website reflect that. But other cases, it’s just bringing these things from 1999 to 2022.

Tom Temin: I would think, too, that if you optimize your website and optimize your process for getting services digitally, for the mobile platform, it’s also a good way to improve your cybersecurity, since the security via mobile applications, using facial recognition, or some other biometric and few cases is preferable to sticking a password in a traditional website.

Eric Egan: Yeah, that’s a good point as well. And so much of cybersecurity too, is just kind of around user error. So the better more intuitive user experience you have, you’re also kind of shoring up cybersecurity that way, just making things simple, easy, you know, you can use kind of embedded modern website design to make sure that people aren’t entering their social security number in a text box or something else. It’s those little things can can kind of go a long way.

Tom Temin: And going back to at least the George W. Bush administration, and every successive administration, they’ve talked about what is now called the “single front door to the federal government.” Nobody’s ever been able to achieve that. But that’s still in the Biden administration’s management agenda that if not single, no wrong front door that needs to translate into the digital services, also. Any evidence that it’s actually happening?

Eric Egan: You’re totally right. The idea of usa.gov is an ambitious one. And really being, as you say, kind of a front door, I think  it’s best in class. If you look in, you know, the UK Government, for instance, when you’re accessing some service within the UK, it the look and feel of the different departments and the different agencies seems like you’re in a single place. You’re interacting with one entity and that entity is the federal government. Right now, if you go from the Social Security Administration’s website, to IRS to the patent office that designed the font, the color, the navigation, the way that you can search on these things is all really different. That’s kind of a problem. That’s a user experience problem. And I think starting with the this digital front door, you know, usa.gov, where you’re at least able to have a navigational hub, I know kind of a door to the different different areas within the federal government that a customer may want to access. It’s definitely a good idea. But it does still seem to be  in the lip service category of  how are we,  without taking those other steps of standardizing things, taking advantage of the existing shared services. T..he US web design system, a lot of the things that GSA has produced login.gov, search.gov. So these are common things, the digital front door itself if  you access it, and it’s really just a redirect to a bunch of differently styled websites. I don’t know that it would be as effective. So it it’s got to be a more holistic approach. I would say.

Tom Temin: Eric Egan is policy fellow at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation. So progress, but still work to be done, you might say,

Eric Egan: Definitely a lot of work to be done.


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