From the onset, The Department of Education embraced Presidential Executive Order 13571 issued in 2011, which encourages agencies to come up with ways to improve customer service via technology. In October of that year, Education officials launched a key initiative called the Integrated Student Experience, which aimed to place all financial aid information in one central place, enabling students and families to better navigate the financial aid process.
As a result, in July 2012, Education's office of Federal Student Aid launched StudentAid.gov, one of the first agency websites to have a fully mobile-responsive design platform, said Abraham Marinez, chief of staff for FSA's Customer Experience Office. Consumers now have access to FSA's content anywhere, anytime and from any device.
"We were one of the very few agencies back in 2012, when we launched, that had an actual responsive design site," Marinez said. "That is how we responded to Executive Order 13571 and the Digital Government Strategy," another White House initiative aimed at delivering better services to the public.
FSA is the largest provider of student financial aid, providing more than $150 billion in federal grants, loans, and work-study funds to help more than 13 million students pay for college or career school. From the inception of FSA's Customer Experience Office in 2010, officials looked for ways to streamline services. At the time, FSA offered multiple websites with financial aid information tailored to different audiences, making it difficult for consumers to find information.
In fact, at one point FSA had 14 separate student-facing websites containing federal financial aid information, Brenda Wensil, FSA's chief customer experience officer wrote in a 2013 blog post. FSA consolidated the content from more than 14 sites and retired five, saving the office and taxpayers $1.6 million, Wensil said.
Related content went into StudentAid.gov, which was based on a user-centric design approach. "We actually went out and talked with students about what they wanted in the service," Marinez said. The vendor developing StudentAid.gov also shared initial designs, allowing the FSA team to involve the customers early in the design process so the final product would better meet the consumers' needs.
FSA takes user feedback seriously, Marinez said. For instance, students wanted to track their loans and financial history on StudentAid.gov, information that is now in The National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS) on NSLDS.ed.gov. Last May, FSA made that a feature within StudentAid.gov, placing a login button on the upper right side of the page so students can access their financial and loan history. Plus the information can be accessed via mobile devices while the information on the NSLDS website is not currently optimized for mobile. Agencies looking to improve their customer experience must have support from senior management and build the right team with a variety of disciplines, Marinez said. A small team comprised of writers, developers, mobile experts, project managers, technology experts and others who were passionate about the project helped launch StudentAid.gov.
Another key to success is to listen to what the customers are saying via customer satisfaction surveys on the website, tracking of social media to see what consumers like and don't like and the use of Google Analytics. As of March 16, 2015, 62 million visitors have visited the site. "We have a team that looks at customer feedback on a monthly basis," Marinez said.
USCIS adopts customer first strategy
The Homeland Security Department's U.S Citzenship and Immigration Services' Verification Division has adopted a "customer first" approach as it enhances the citizen and workers' personal experience through E-Verify, the web-based system set up to assist employers in verifying eligibility of employees -- both U.S. and foreign citizens -- working in the U.S.
Currently over 600,000 employers are enrolled in E-Verify with 1,500 companies signing up each week. Moreover, 1.5 million worksites are using E-Verify, and in 2014 the agency processed 20 million inquirers. E-Verify compares the information on an employee I-9 form with Social Security Administration and DHS records.
Initially, the division did not have the IT business tools that would allow it to scale and operate in an efficient manner on a daily basis. "We have crossed that bridge over the last couple of years," said a senior leader within the Verification Division who requested anonymity.
Last year, the division implemented a new telephony system that improved call routing significantly, even offering some self-service capabilities. Previously, call systems were located in three of the agency's larger offices and managed separately. There was no automatic feed based on available call agents. With the new telephony system regardless of where the call agent is located, based on user roles, the call is routed to the first available call agent.
The Verification Division also launched a customer relationship management tool that gives agents more transparency and better information about employer companies. For example, they see the history of the company and know right away if the company has any monitoring and compliance issues. Plus, the telephony system and CRM tool have been integrated, further enhancing the customer experience and allowing the agency to maximize resources.
One of challenges the division faces is developing better metrics that gives the team a better pulse on how well the program is performing as the IT infrastructure improves and the E-Verify program expands. So USCIS is setting up a data analytics and business intelligence infrastructure to support the day-to-day productivity of the status verification, call center operations and monitoring and compliance teams.
"It is almost like building a pyramid in knowing your mission. You have to invoke in employees a sense of team work and customer first culture," the USCIS official said.