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Engaged Employees Deliver Better Customer Service

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Leaders know that achieving their organization’s mission depends on whether employees are engaged and energized to come to work every day. That’s why I always look forward to the annual results from the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, the most recent of which was released in October. It paints a picture of the trends agency leaders should track closely in the coming year.

In particular, what does it tell us about government employees responsible for serving citizens—from veterans accessing healthcare benefits to visitors to national parks and travelers passing through airport security?

With the public demanding better experiences as they interact with government officials, and the administration focused on improving customer service, agency leaders depend on the survey to see how newly rolled out initiatives are impacting the customer experience representatives administering these services.

If you have not yet had the chance to review the survey, below are the high-level takeaways:

  • Federal employee engagement increased one point, from 67 percent in 2017 to 68 percent this year.
  • The majority of government employees had similar feelings around work ethic: 96 percent of employees reported they are willing to put in the extra effort to get their job done, and 91 percent reported they are looking for ways to do their jobs better.
  • A minority of employees had positive feelings about performance and rewards: Only 26 percent of employees believe pay raises are based on job performance, and 32 percent believe steps are taken to deal with poor performance.

Satisfied Employees Deliver Better Service

With the FEVS in hand, it’s possible to start comparing these results with other research to make important connections. For example, we looked at similar data to see how citizens are feeling about their interactions with the government and there’s good news: Customer service satisfaction rates are on the rise. According to the ACSI Government Satisfaction Report released in January 2018, citizen satisfaction with government service has improved for a second year, increasing 2.5 percent. Interestingly, the 2018 release of the FEVS marks the fourth year employee engagement has improved governmentwide.

It’s no surprise that improved internal employee engagement rates based on the FEVS are positively correlated to improved customer service experience for citizens. Simply put, satisfied employees deliver better service.

When we go a step further and compare agency specific employee engagement scores to external customer satisfaction scores, we also see a correlation. Commerce and Energy are among the top departments that provide the best customer experience across federal government, according to a survey conducted by ForeSee. We also see employee engagement indices at these organizations above average for large government organizations.

Put People First: Use Case

When the Internal Revenue Service sought to transform its agency website, IRS.gov, officials placed the people, both employees and end-users, at the center of the effort rather than the technology. After understanding how taxpayers wanted to interact with the IRS online, they recognized each external transaction would kick off dozens of new internal processes, including a self-service strategy. Service levels would only improve if employees were able to capture, interpret, and accurately measure effectiveness of the digital channels in context of overall IRS operations. The self-service strategy included meaningful improvements for internal employees from the get-go.

Ways to Increase Employee Engagement

To improve customer service, it’s important to engage employees in improving mission delivery. The priority investment areas below will benefit not only your internal workforce but also the citizens who are your end users:

  1. Reward grassroots innovation. According to the FEVS, employees feel that they can do their jobs better—the government is hiring innovators who feel they can bring change (91 percent), but they don’t feel innovation is rewarded or encouraged (43 percent). Figuring out a way to recognize and act on employee ideas will help retain your most innovative employees, but you also must be willing to take risks along the way. Meroe Park, executive at the Partnership of Public Service and former executive director at the CIA, notes in a recent panel on Driving Innovation, “If you aren’t seeing failures, you aren’t taking enough risk.”  
  1. Remember your employees have citizen perspectives too. You don’t need to change your IT processes to start having conversations on how to improve function. Hold town hall meetings with employees to ask questions and gather feedback. Better yet, enable employees to get out into the field to get to know the citizens they’re serving, what their pain points are, and how the agency can address their issues. However, this level of engagement with citizens isn’t always necessary—every employee is a government citizen as well and may have insights on how to improve operations.
  2. Open digital front doors. Agencies are going paperless and experimenting with online forms, electronic payments, and digital methods of communication. This is increasing efficiencies across departments, freeing up time for employees to focus on more strategic priorities, and catering to citizens who expect services on demand. With the evolving digital landscape, upskilling opportunities for employees must not be an afterthought. Keeping employees’ skills honed and relevant for the changing environment is crucial for success.
  1. Rethink organizational structure and reward models. Transformation must come from within. Breaking down internal silos so employees can share information across functional disciplines and agencies will fulfill the No. 1 citizen request to make information easier to find, while fostering teamwork and interagency collaboration. Reward and incentive models should be refined to recognize individual employees who deliver superior customer service to their citizens. Nominations could come from employees via an online peer recognition program, or customers via surveys.

Modernizing the workforce is a significant challenge, from initial strategizing through implementation and adoption of new tools and best practices. However, properly skilled, engaged employees will lead to satisfied government customers.

Shannon Fitzgerald leads Booz Allen’s Citizen Services business focused on modernizing and transforming government missions through digital technology, cyber, and analytics capabilities. The initial version of this commentary contained an inaccurate reference to an office within the Veterans Affairs Department that has since been removed.

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