The Biden administration is trying to set a higher bar for public-facing services across government — with a new focus on providing a “digital-first” experience.
To meet those goals, several officials across the Office of Management and Budget, as well as agency leaders on customer experience, said they’re looking to improve the day-to-day experience of federal employees.
Loren DeJonge Schulman, OMB’s associate director of performance and personnel management, said Thursday that better customer service starts with making sure the federal workforce has the tools and support it needs.
“We have to not only build trust with our customers. We have to trust our employees as well. And that means listening to them — listening to our frontline employees who are sometimes the best source of information and advice on how do we get better,” DeJonge Schulman said at the ACT-IAC CX Summit in Arlington, Virginia.
OMB, in recent guidance on delivering a “digital-first public experience” across government, points to better customer services across government as a way to improve public trust.
But DeJonge Schulman said agencies need to start by building trust with their employees.
“They’re also the ones that we have to empower, to take risks and try new things. So, building that trust loop with them is just as important as building that trust loop with the customers as well,” she said.
AI for better digital services across government
OMB is also looking at artificial intelligence and automation tools to improve federal services online.
Federal Chief Information Officer Clare Martorana said AI tools are already being used to rewrite federal website content for search engine optimization.
She added that about 82% of all customer journeys for government services start with a search engine
“AI is changing everything. AI is actually rewriting your content, your government content in your search results. If you haven’t been paying attention to that, you’d better start paying attention to it, because they’re actually rewriting your benefits content,” Martorana said. “It wasn’t good enough in plain language to be able to guide somebody to that one answer fast.”
Andy Lewandowski, digital experience to the Federal CIO, said OMB is rolling out “digital experience indicators” across federal websites.
Those indicators will provide OMB with data on how well agencies are meeting some of the 100 actions and requirements to provide a digital-first customer experience.
The indicators will help track how well agencies are standardizing features of their websites governmentwide, making their websites accessible to people with disabilities, as required under Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act.
Lewandowski said only about 60% of federal websites and federal experiences are fully accessible.
“None of this is revolutionary. This memo has essentially codified 10 years of really great design and delivery work in this community in the civic tech community in the digital service delivery community,” Lewandowski said.
Of the 100 actions outlined in the OMB memo, Lewandowski said metrics for about 30 of those goals can be automated, “not for compliance, but to indicate that agencies actually are delivering according to the requirements in the memorandum.”
He said OMB has piloted automated digital experience indicators for about 20 of the 100 indicators.
“We can’t manage what we can’t measure. So we need real-time data and insights in order for us to actually allocate the political support and the budget support to say, ‘Yes, we think it makes sense for you to digitize this paper form, versus actually, that would actually cost more money in the long run.”
Noreen Hecmanczuk, the digital experience adviser to the Federal Chief Information Officer, said higher federal employee satisfaction starts with the onboarding of new employees, and making sure new hires understand how their work impacts the public.
“The employee experience is unbelievably important … customer journey maps should be part of every interview when you’re onboarding employees to an agency. It should be a part of every town hall meeting, when senior leaders are checking in,” Hecmanczuk said.
Simchah Suveyke-Bogin, chief customer experience officer at the Agriculture Department, said high-impact service providers like USDA see customer experience as a key driver of all aspects of its mission.
“We’re trying to figure out how do we build it more intentionally into the framework for how we operate — how we operate financially, how we operate from an HR perspective — and how do we try to fit customer experience into all aspects of how we do the work,” Suveyke-Bogin said.
As part of these efforts, Suveyke-Bogin said USDA executives are now evaluated on CX improvements as part of their annual performance reviews.
VA links employee satisfaction to better veteran care
New research from the Department of Veterans Affairs shows a positive relationship between employee engagement at VA health care facilities and patient experience.
VA data shows that a 10% increase in its Employee Engagement Index scores resulted in a 4% average increase in overall hospital ratings. That same increase in employee satisfaction led to a 3% average increase in patient trust score.
John Boerstler, VA’s chief veterans experience officer, said the department’s CX mission is to help employees “thrive with VA,” and to improve workforce retention.
“It makes sense, because you can’t have a world-class experience without a world-class employee experience,” Boerstler said. “We’re investing, doubling down on employee experience … and then, of course, it’ll reflect in the customer experience scores.”
Boerstler said the department’s CX priorities for 2024 also focus on reaching out to veterans who are new to the VA. That includes not just service members transitioning out of active military duty, but also “untethered” veterans who never signed up for VA health care or benefits.
The VA estimates half of the 18 million U.S. veteran population aren’t signed up for VA health care or benefits
“How might we reach more of those under or untethered or unenrolled veterans who haven’t sought services, especially with the PACT Act and the toxic exposure legislation? It opens up a whole new grouping of eligibility for these veterans in their families,” Boerstler said.
Eitan Naftali, the director of employee experience at VA’s Veterans Experience Office, said the department launched a trust and experience survey last year, focused on making sure the department gathers feedback from all demographics of its workforce.
“Now we have a random sample every quarter, where we’re drawing from the voices of our team members. And from a scientific perspective, we’re absolutely sure that it is representative of the voices across all those administrations and staff offices,” Naftali said.
Naftali said the VA is measuring employee experience along eight metrics — including trust, responsiveness, empowerment, recognition, purpose, and overall belonging.
He added that VA is “creating a world-class employee experience program, where our team members, they feel valuated and they feel empowered to serve our veteran community with pride.”
“That’s the foundation on how we move forward,” Naftali said.
OMB to hold governmentwide CXO summit in early 2024
To underscore the cross-cutting nature of what it takes to improve customer experience, OMB in early 2024 will hold a summit of multiple “CXO” councils.
Martorana said the summit will bring together the Chief Human Capital Officers and Chief Financial Officers Council, as well as tech experts across government, to tackle some common challenges.
“As CXO councils across government, we are working together on the most important issues that face our government, and that we can deliver for the American people,” Martorana said.
“We are convening the CXO councils together, so that we are able to take our security issues, or AI issues, or [digital experience] issues, or CX issues, and pull us all together,” she added.