Agencies turning to ‘customer journey maps’ to tackle service woes

As more agencies begin to take a closer look at their customer service operations, some organizations, such as the Veterans Affairs Department and the Smithsoni...

As agencies begin to pay greater attention to customer service, more organizations are developing customer experience “journey maps” to help them better understand and respond to their constituents.

And they’re starting to shape the way agencies understand and react to their customers.

The Veterans Affairs Department, for example, has spent the past two years plotting the veteran’s journey.

“We’ve designed the entire life cycle of a veteran, from the day you get sworn in until the day we bury you in one of our national cemeteries,” VA Secretary Bob McDonald said during a Sept. 20 keynote speech at Government Executive’s customer experience summit in Washington. “We then understand each one of the touch points with the VA, and we then analyze that touch point, see what the experience looks like and see how we can improve it.”

At each point in the veteran’s journey, the department thought about and documented what feelings or reactions that person might have about their experiences with VA.

For example, one event in the veteran’s life cycle details his potential thoughts and experiences as he leaves active duty and begins transition assistance program. Another describes a veteran’s feelings as he uses VA mental health support services.

“This is not an attempt to do market segmentation; I don’t want you to think that,” McDonald said. “But it’s really an attempt to try to understand the psychographics, not just the demographics, of our veteran population.”

VA identified a variety of “personas” based on conversations it had with veterans services organizations and listening sessions with groups of veterans to learn about real-life experiences and their concerns.

“What we have to do is we have to make sure our service is where they want it, when they want it and how they want it. That means for World War II veterans, we have to do everything on paper. That means for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, we have to do everything digitally and on a smartphone.”

It’s part of the department’s MyVA transformation strategy to improve veterans’ experience and McDonald’s push to look at every aspect of the department through the eyes of a veteran.

The department is also asking veterans to rank how effective their interactions were with VA, how easy it was to get what they needed and how they felt during the experience.

Veterans’ trust in VA has risen over the past year or so, McDonald said. About 59 percent of veterans who responded to the department’s satisfaction surveys between April and June of 2016 said they trusted VA, compared with 47 percent in December 2015.

“It’s very easy to give up trust,” McDonald said. “One bad experience will do that. It’s very hard to earn it, but we’re on our journey and we’re measuring the right things.”

A new customer journey map for the Smithsonian

The Smithsonian Institute is also turning to the customer journey map to design better trip planning tools for its visitors.

“It’s a fundamental, fun, collaborative, analytic way to understand your customer’s ecosystem,” Samir Bitar, director of the Office of Visitor Services at the Smithsonian, said.

At first, only Four of the Smithsonian’s 19 museums had facilitated seasonal, extensive visitor surveys in the past, Bitar said. But for the first time, the Smithsonian collected nearly 33,000 survey responses from its visitors.

Next, the Smithsonian plotted out a visitor’s entire museum experience, from the time he or she arrives, to the path he takes through the exhibits and leaves.

“Whether or not the Smithsonian acknowledges the before and after, it exists,” he said. “It’s real. Our visitors are doing that, and we have not traditionally put resources there, either studying or helping. This new paradigm helps us to articulate and then, of course, to allocate resources along the way to improve the visitor experience.”

Based on that work, the Smithsonian used survey data and journey map feedback to make major changes to its websites. Each museum has its own site, often with hundreds of pages.

“If a visitor comes to the website, a general visitor not a scientist, not an artist but a general visitor, they’re coming there to plan. For them to find how to plan a visit was impossible. That was the number one depressor of satisfaction and engagement. We don’t know how to make sense [to see] if our website’s pretty, and we don’t know how to get what we want.”

The Smithsonian will launch a new online trip planner tool within the next 30 days, Bitar said.

“It is visitor-centric. Right now our organizations are organization-centric. You have to go to each of the websites to discover what’s on view, plan your visit — paper-pencil kind of thing. Instead, we’ve designed a pretty sexy user interface. It’s easy to use and [has] three steps. You tell  us when you’re visiting, which day of the week, for how long and select from a list of topics, from art to zoology.”

The tool filters out programs, events and exhibitions that match the visitor’s interests and timing.

“Do you want to shop? Do you want to eat? Do you need to use a wheelchair or baby stroller? And then we put forward an actual itinerary,” he said. “Start at 10 a.m., finish by 4 p.m. Walk this direction to Air and Space, walk up this floor, walk down this floor,  leave, walk two blocks. It’ll take you two minutes to get to the Hirshhorn. Walk up here. [It’s] understanding how they make their way through a building [and] across the National Mall.”

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