This past fall, the Office of Management and Budget released the long-awaited implementation guidance for the 21st Century Integrated Digital Experience Act, or IDEA, and the Improving Government Services Act advanced to a Senate vote.

Both initiatives build on the customer experience, or CX, executive order, which stresses the importance of improving confidence in government agencies by “designing and delivering services with a focus on the actual experience of the people whom it is meant to serve.”

As designated high-impact service providers, or HISPs, federal health agencies regard CX as paramount due to the scale and influence of their public-facing services.

Technology is a powerful asset that agencies can utilize to improve digital services. However, to enhance the “actual experiences” of their constituents, and effect meaningful change, it’s essential to understand the customer’s journey and pain points.

Human-centered design, or HCD, is an approach that focuses on customers’ needs, behaviors and experiences. The goal is to create processes and systems that are useful and intuitive by involving the human perspective in all interactions with the federal government.

By emphasizing feedback, agility, and empathy at every stage, HCD can help boost CX at federal health agencies by ensuring that any IT modernization project will result in lasting, meaningful improvements to services that the American public depends on for critical health needs and information.

People, processes and technology

When employees are equipped with the tools and resources they need to perform their job functions with ease, they can deliver better services to citizens in need. In fact, a 2021 report found that organizations with strong employee experience are 2.4x more likely to delight customers.

Therefore, it’s paramount that agency operations and processes evolve alongside technology. Given that employee experiences are directly tied to CX, such adjustments should be informed by the workforce to assure that they are well-received, functional, and advantageous for all parties.

By streamlining processes in accordance with feedback, whether it be from the federal employee or the citizen, agencies can optimize their workflows.

If internal processes don’t complement the new IT solution, digital experiences can become even more arduous for the workforce, which ultimately results in subpar customer experiences. Moreover, without a strategic analysis of the procedure that will support a new IT system, the initiative may get too far down the development line before an issue or bottleneck is identified, and this is when costly rework must occur.

HCD encourages close, consistent communication between all relevant stakeholders early and throughout every step in the process. As such, it would mitigate the likelihood that technology is modernized in a vacuum.

For example, journey maps can examine the steps a customer takes to accomplish a task. Journey maps track the customer’s needs, the “as is” experience, the “to be” experience, and how the customer feels about each step. Input about customer behavior, such as journey maps, combined with guidance from federal employees and contractors are crucial to determine how IT and accompanying processes can be enhanced in an impactful manner.

HCD can be used to address various health agency IT modernization challenges. Often, agencies struggle with organizational silos or barriers. An HCD approach to technology modernization demands that IT personnel understand and account for these barriers and act to reduce the friction they cause.

Understandably, cost and resource constraints are a primary concern for many federal health agencies. However, agencies can better achieve their goal of effective stewardship of taxpayers’ dollars by using HCD to ensure any IT modernization funding is applied in a way that significantly improves CX, based on the first-hand accounts of those customers.

The role of data

Minimal insight into user pain points or obstacles can pose significant challenges for federal health agencies seeking to bolster CX. Fortunately, HCD is devoted to understanding and comprehensively resolving these pain points.

To generate qualitative data on user experiences, agencies can use surveys, focus groups, or call-center conversations. This style of feedback is ideal because it fosters empathic service and two-way discussions. However, given the scale of service required by federal health agencies, other modes of feedback must be incorporated as well.

User experience researchers can review and analyze quantitative data, such as the number of website visitors, the pages they visit, the duration of those visits, errors, abandoned sessions and the actions they take on the website. This information can help federal health IT leaders narrow in on opportunities to improve customer journeys, which enables more effective problem-solving.

Advanced data management platforms can help developers identify actionable insights as they sort through troves of data. Clean, usable and well-governed data, supported by a robust digital infrastructure, can empower health agencies to upgrade their digital services in accordance with HCD principles and meet pressing CX objectives.

To truly embrace HCD requires fundamentally embedding empathy into all CX initiatives and prioritizing sustainable improvements that account for employee and customer experiences alike. Organizational change requires commitment, time and energy to ensure it is lasting.

Given IT modernization initiatives often require partnership from disparate groups, whether from the public or private sector, interoperability is also paramount. Effective data management, standardization and analysis can facilitate easier collaboration between stakeholders to identify and address CX challenges.

When it comes to CX, particularly at federal health agencies, effective service can significantly improve the health and wellness of an individual. The stakes are extremely high because poor service can lead to detrimental health outcomes. As such, it’s imperative that agency leaders, industry experts and academics work together to embed HCD into all digital services and platforms throughout the nation’s federal health agencies.

Rita Breen is Agile and Human-Centered Design Practices Director at National Government Services, an Indianapolis-based provider of specialized services in claims administration, data management, financial management and large scale IT systems.

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