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Agencies Face Technological and Human Challenges in Strengthening Customer Experience

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Last week’s post on federal customer experience highlighted the sharp contrast between agencies’ relatively positive perception of customer service and the less rosy reality of public feedback – but how to explain this incongruity? Public dissatisfaction certainly doesn’t stem from federal indifference toward customer expectations – according to GBC’s recent survey of federal leaders, organizations view customer service as a definite priority, with federal mandate compliance and increased public engagement serving as the primary motivators for reform:

However, attempts to improve customer experience do face significant challenges. Some of this pushback can be attributed to cultural resistance and, as per usual, the behemoth of federal bureaucracy; as Phaedra Chrousos, associate administrator at the GSA’s Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies and 18F, told Government Executive several months ago, the government is like a ponderous cruise ship invariably outstripped by the more adroit, reactive sailboat of the commercial sector. Inefficiencies manifest themselves in various ways – one respondent pointed to structural difficulties, noting that “services need to be individualized but staffing levels have decreased, which decreases [the] amount of attention each case can receive.” This strain could be eased significantly by revamping underlying technologies and processes, but survey results indicate slow movement toward innovation – for instance, while agencies have taken steps toward soliciting customer and employee feedback, less than half of the respondents are satisfied with the execution and application of these efforts. The report also identifies other data-driven measures organizations can incorporate to bolster customer service, including analyzing public attitudes through social media, leveraging quantitative metrics to track agency performance, sharing customer data among agencies, and so on.

Finally, it is essential to remember that the key to improving federal customer experience lies beyond analytics and technology. Customer service is, at the core, human-based and emotional, and while tech improvements are a prerequisite to reform, the drive toward enhanced customer experience will ultimately hinge upon the government facilitating respectful interactions, evoking positive feelings, and transcending its reputation of cold, immobile bureaucracy.

Methodology: GBC deployed a survey to a sample of Government Executive, Nextgov, Defense One, and Route Fifty print and online subscribers on May 12, 2015. The pool of 410 respondents included employees at the GS/GM 11-15 grade levels and members of the Senior Executive Service. Respondents included representatives from at least 31 federal and defense agencies. Click here to see the full report.

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