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Five Ways to Reform Government With a Focus on the Customer

Hundreds of passengers wait in the TSA security line at Nashville International Airport in April 2016. Hundreds of passengers wait in the TSA security line at Nashville International Airport in April 2016. James R. Martin/

President Trump’s executive order on reorganizing government and guidance from the Office of Management and Budget require agencies to develop proposals to make government lean, accountable and efficient, and to improve customer experience.

These directives offer agencies a chance to reexamine how they deliver services to the public, and are an opportunity to develop proposals to ensure intuitive online interactions, cut red tape that frustrates citizens, simplify burdens on federal employees, and use customer feedback more effectively.

The following five tips can help agencies as they develop proposals to cut costs, improve performance and serve the public better.     

1. Consolidate and integrate duplicative customer touch points, such as websites and contact centers. OMB’s guidance calls for agencies to restructure and merge activities to improve the efficiency, timeliness and quality of services. Agencies should address the fact that citizens interacting with government often must navigate a maze of different, and often duplicative contact points to obtain information and services. For example, at one time, the Veterans Affairs Department had nearly 1,000 toll-free telephone numbers and an even higher number of websites for veterans.

Consolidating websites and contact centers can make it easier for citizens to receive services, and save agencies money. VA has launched, a single, veteran-centered site for online access to key VA services, and a toll-free MyVA311 phone line. The Education Department consolidated four federal financial aid websites into one, making it easier for visitors to find information and saving $1.5 million in the process.   

As OMB encourages, agencies can also explore shared service options to integrate contact centers across organizations that serve the same customers or have overlapping missions.  

2. Develop customer-centered online and self-service options. OMB’s guidance asks agencies to identify opportunities for adopting new technology to automate processes and save money.

Agencies can reduce costs, free valuable staff time and deliver a better experience by using self-service technologies, such as automated status updates, or digital assistants that can answer basic customer questions. For these tools to be effective and generate maximum savings, they need to be designed with input from end users, and paired with customer outreach initiatives that drive awareness and adoption.

3. Use data and evidence to make decisions about how to serve citizens more effectively. OMB’s guidance calls for agencies to rely on hard data to improve their operations. Agencies can develop and implement plans to collect real-time data and feedback from customer interactions, and use that information as a guide to improve services and program performance.

Agencies typically rely on surveys to determine customer service issues, but data and evidence should come from many sources and focus not just on customer service, but on the overall experience of citizens interacting with government services.

For example, agencies can improve website design by using Web analytics tools to mine data about how citizens navigate their websites. Or they can conduct a sentiment analysis of citizen comments on social media. They can combine insights from these and other sources for a comprehensive understanding of how citizens interact with the agency, where they encounter gaps and what they value most. Data should be shared across the agency for a comprehensive understanding of customer experience.  

4. Incorporate feedback from stakeholders, customers and partners when evaluating employee performance. In their reform plans, agencies are required to develop proposals to maximize employee performance. Federal employees who provide direct customer service often have customer feedback included in their performance evaluations, but everyone in government should operate with a customer-centered mindset.

Agencies plans should ensure that feedback from stakeholders, customers or partners an employee works with is included in employee performance evaluations.

5. OMB and Congress can minimize reporting burdens for agencies. In the guidance, OMB commits to identifying reporting activities that can be stopped or modified to reduce the burden on agencies. Under the Paperwork Reduction Act, agencies are required to obtain approval from OMB before collecting information from 10 or more citizens, including on customer surveys. OMB has taken steps to streamline this process, and agencies can use methods to get feedback that do not apply to the PRA, such as observing customer interactions with digital services. However, it still can take agencies more than a year to get clearance on simple customer surveys. Obtaining timely, actionable customer feedback should be encouraged, not constrained.

The Federal Agency Customer Experience Act of 2017, sponsored by Sens. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and James Lankford, R-Okla., and now being considered by the full Senate, would exempt from the PRA clearance process the voluntary customer feedback that agencies collect.  

The administration’s executive order on reorganization opens the door to reforms that have the potential to make the government more efficient and responsive to the public. Agencies should take full advantage of this opportunity to make bold decisions that will improve services to citizens and pave the way toward a more efficient, citizen-centered government.  

Eric Keller is a senior program manager for research at the nonprofit, nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service. Kathy Conrad is the director of digital government at Accenture Federal Services. She works with the Accenture Federal Digital Studio to help agencies use design thinking and service design to solve complex challenges, create great experiences and deliver mission outcomes.

Image via James R. Martin/

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