Every agency and department in the federal government has a core mission that is vital to its success. And to execute on those missions, government organizations must actively engage with the constituents they serve. To “sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations,” for example, the U.S. Forest Service must deliver recreation passes and permits to people who want to visit our national forests. “To promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access,” the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) must manage the loan applications, financing, and repayment program for federal student aid recipients.

Yet many government services have notoriously poor reputations for service delivery, fraught with long lines, long “hold” times, and long waiting periods for application results. What level of service do citizens expect? When they are dissatisfied with the services they receive, who is responsible for improving the customer experience? What interventions are most effective? The solution begins with investing in the government workforce.

Raising the Bar on Citizen Customer Service

Citizen expectations evolve with the times and today’s citizenry is more mobile and more digitally connected than ever before. They expect their government to provide informed, empowered, and accessible digital customer service.

  • Informed Support. Our youngest generations have grown up on Google and YouTube, with answers provided at the click of a button. Residents expect government workers to be knowledgeable about their agency and the services they deliver.
  • Empowered Assistance. “The customer is always right.” That tenet is a timeless cornerstone of customer service, even with modern caveats about where organizations choose to draw the line about what they will – and will not – do for customers. Still, people expect that service representatives will be empowered to do the right thing to resolve their concerns, even if the solution is outside the normal service delivery path.
  • Digital Access. The Society of Human Resource Managers (SHRM) created this infographic showing that mobile workers are expected to make up roughly 75 percent of the U.S. workforce by 2020. Mobile residents expect 24×7 digital access to information, applications, and answers to frequently asked questions.
  • Social Engagement. Though companies and government organizations initially thought of social posts as a way to share updates and engage with industry thought leaders, it didn’t take customers long to use those channels for their complaints and kudos. Residents see social accounts as completely valid ways to reach out for help – and they expect fast responses. This link offers one set of examples of excellent social customer service, setting the bar for citizen expectations.

Improving Customer Service for Citizens

Compared to most commercial industries, the federal government delivers a poor level of customer service. In fact, the only industry that federal services outperformed in Forrester Research’s 2018 Customer Experience (CX) Index was internet service providers. Yet things are getting better. Progressively higher year-to-year Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS) scores show that the government is laying the groundwork to improve customer service.

In recent government initiatives, including the President’s Management Agenda, government leaders are pushing for federal agencies to deliver significantly better customer service. Eric Keller, a senior research manager with the Partnership for Public Service, outlines the path to improved service, “It’s always about the people — it’s about the federal workforce being highly skilled, highly engaged, having the tools and the leadership that they need to succeed.” And government is stepping up, focusing on customer service skills assessments and learning, workplace culture, and success metrics to improve citizen service levels.

  • Customer Service Skills Assessments and Learning. To deliver exceptional service with confidence, federal workers need both knowledge of their agency’s services and the interpersonal skills to deliver the services in a way that satisfies residents. The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) provides tools for employee skills assessments, including customer-service related skills. OPM identifies increased customer satisfaction as one of only six core outcomes of an agency’s successful talent management program. And the agency offers many customer-service related training courses for employees and leaders. In short, OPM has customer service competency at the forefront of its workforce management and development agenda.
  • Workplace Culture. Government is starting to connect the dots between the customer experience and employee morale. The Trump administration is reinstating and expanding the Federal Customer Service Awards program that began in 2015. More agencies are creating senior-level customer experience offices. In 2010, Brenda Fowler Wensil helped establish the first Chief Customer Experience office at the DOE’s Office of Federal Student Aid. Since then, the Veterans Affairs Department (VA), the OPM, the Census Bureau, and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services have all put customer experience-focused offices in place. What each of these roles has in common is a belief that it’s the workforce culture, ideally one that educates and supports employees, that makes or breaks the customer experience. When employees are knowledgeable and engaged, they stay in their jobs longer and deliver better customer service.
  • Success Metrics. The effort to deliver on the agency mission through excellent customer service is also being pulled into the data spotlight. There’s a growing appreciation for metrics to better reveal what’s working, what’s not, and where the most pressing citizen satisfaction gaps exist. When the VA first started measuring veterans’ level of trust in the agency, for example, only 47 percent trusted the agency’s level of service. Three years later, that figure is close to 70 percent and the VA has been called out for delivering the “gold standard” for customer service. According to Lee Becker, the chief of staff of the agency’s Veterans Experience Office, getting better metrics on customer service made transforming veterans care much easier.

Government agencies, employees and residents all benefit by putting the needs and expectations of citizens first. By putting customer experience at the center of workforce competency, learning, and performance, agencies create thriving workplace cultures, better achieve their missions and improve customer service to citizens.

Is citizen engagement or customer satisfaction a top priority at your organization? How well is your workforce aligned to deliver customer-focused service? If you are looking for help to improve your workforce performance, read more about our workforce planning solutions. Or contact us for a conversation.

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