Federal departments that offer agency and governmentwide services such as human resources, acquisition and information technology may benefit from changing their mindset about their roles and relationship to other government employees, according to research released Aug. 22 by the Partnership for Public Service and Medallia.

“Some mission-support service organizations operate with the idea that their primary goal is to keep the agency in compliance with the rules and processes governing service delivery,” the paper said.

“With compliance as the only goal, providers may not see that a good customer experience could help agencies better deliver on their mission. With a customer-centered mindset, providers seek to deliver value to their customers and organizations.”

Improving customer experience has been a major part of recent government reform efforts, but most of those initiatives have framed the customer as external to the government, rather than internal.

And while some agencies, like the General Services Administration, spend a significant part of their mission working to serve other agencies, many large agencies have in-house HR, acquisition and IT shops that perform a support-service function within their agencies.

“I would say to first acknowledge that your colleagues are really customers,” said Connie Doyle, director of customer experience management for Enterprise Services, the shared services organization that delivers centralized IT, HR and acquisition services to Department of Commerce bureaus and offices.

Doyle told Partnership for Public Service and Medallia researchers that changing mindsets at her agency required leaders to define what a “customer focus” means in practice.

“That was an education for many of our people,” said Doyle in the paper. “They referred to folks calling into the center as ‘employee.’ These folks are employees, but they are first and foremost customers.”

According to the paper, the Federal Aviation Administration had to confront its customer service problems head on when the relationship between service offices and the customer agency was at its worst, seven years ago.

“As scary as it is, it is essential because you want to capture your worst moment ever and then talk about how you have grown from there,” Claudia Bogard, director for customer strategy within Management Services at the FAA said.

“People said, ‘no it’s not a good time and we should wait,’ and I said, ‘no you shouldn’t.’ It’s like if you were going to measure how many push-ups you [can] do, you want to measure when you are at your weakest right?”

On the whole, the paper found three changes that agencies can use to improve the experience of their customer coworkers:

  1. Change the mindset within mission support organizations to focus on the customer.
  2. Use research to understand the customer’s perspective.
  3. Become strategic partners with their customers.

“By building stronger relationships through an improved customer experience, mission-support service providers can make service delivery more effective, increase trust with their customers and enable their agencies to produce a better experience for external customers,” the paper said.

“Maintaining these relationships, however, requires continuous focus and effort since customers’ demands and expectations continue to change as technology advances and private sector services improve.”