Improving citizen interactions with federal agencies has been a key priority of the Trump administration’s reform efforts, and three agencies stand out for their work to do so, according to an Oct. 23 report by the Partnership for Public Service and Accenture Federal Services.

The report highlighted the Department of Agriculture’s employee-led customer experience strategy, the Federal Insurance and Mitigation Administration’s focus on changing employee perspectives of who their customers are, and the Department of Veterans Affairs’ designation of employee trust as its top performance measure.

“In all these cases, the organizations aimed to substantially improve how they deliver services by reexamining longstanding approaches and business practices from the customer perspective,” the report said.

At USDA, each sub-agency was required to appoint a customer experience champion to develop improvement plans.

“We didn’t take the approach that we had a burning platform or that there was something horrendous that we needed to fix. It is a more holistic, cultural transformation,” Joe Doyle, director of the office of consumer experience at USDA, said in the report.

As the lighthouse agency for the Centers of Excellence program developed by the General Services Administration and the White House Office of American Innovation, USDA also relied on its customer experience center of excellence to improve the direct farm loan program at the Farm Service Agency.

“For me, that is the unique piece the COEs offer,” Simchah Suveyke-Bogin, the team lead for the customer experience center of excellence for GSA, said in the report. “We are not doing work for USDA; we are partnering and doing the work with them.”

At the Federal Insurance and Mitigation Administration, which administers the National Flood Insurance program, employees were encouraged to shift their thinking from seeing the insurance providers as their primary customers to instead see the insurance policyholders as the primary customer of the agency.

“At that time, the program staff and leadership, like many in government, felt their primary duty was to act as good stewards of taxpayers’ money. Their mentality was to protect the National Flood Insurance Fund first, not the policyholder,” Chelsea D’Angona, former deputy director of FIMA’s customer experience office, said in the report. “Instead of primarily focusing on the fund, we focused on people.”

The resulting changes enabled the office to better address the needs of flood insurance holders after hurricanes Harvey and Maria in 2017.

The VA was one of the only agencies to use customer experience as a top measure for agency performance through the establishment of a Veterans Experience Office in 2015 and the development of a five-part, comprehensive data framework for veteran feedback.

“All of our projects and enterprisewide initiatives start with the premise that we listen to the voice of our customer,” said Lynda Davis, the VA’s chief veterans experience officer, in the report.

The report identified four lessons from those agencies that others can use to improve the citizen experience:

  1. Measure what matters to the customer;
  2. Test long-held assumptions;
  3. Empower the workforce in the field; and
  4. Set aside time and resources for change-management from the start.

“These actions will prepare agencies to deliver a better experience now, and also will help ensure that they can adapt to the changing needs of their customers in the future,” the report said.

Jessie Bur covers federal IT and management.

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