Big News on Federal CX! (No, really!)

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If you weren't looking, you might have missed a major recent development in federal customer experience (CX). In August, the White House announced the creation of the U.S. Digital Service (USDS), a team of experienced technologists based in the Office of Management and Budget and led by Deputy Federal CIO Mikey Dickerson. The team's job, simply put, is to improve federal CX by establishing digital services standards and accountability, identifying scalable customer-facing CX technologies for federal agencies to use, and helping agencies find gaps in their abilities to deliver great digital CX

If you weren't looking, you might have missed a major recent development in federal customer experience (CX). In August, the White House announced the creation of the U.S. Digital Service (USDS), a team of experienced technologists based in the Office of Management and Budget and led by Deputy Federal CIO Mikey Dickerson. The team's job, simply put, is to improve federal CX by establishing digital services standards and accountability, identifying scalable customer-facing CX technologies for federal agencies to use, and helping agencies find gaps in their abilities to deliver great digital CXMaybe that's just inside baseball. But even if you do your best to ignore the news from Washington, you'll still want to check out USDS' first publication: the U.S. Digital Services Playbook, which was written to help federal CIOs design and deliver great digital CX. My colleagues Nigel Fenwick, Jennifer Bellisent, and I think it's so important, we're writing a series of five reports about it!

The U.S. Digital Services Playbook is especially important for two reasons. First, it is the first attempt at real government-wide CX guidance. And second, its advice is quite good! Check out just the first four of the playbook's 13 plays:

- Play One: "Understand what people need." Play One challenges federal CIOs to think from the outside in by putting "the needs of people" before the "constraints of government structures or silos" when designing new experiences. This guidance provides CIOs the mandate they need to push back against rigid organizations and complex regulations that paralyze CX improvement efforts.

- Play Two: "Address the whole experience, from start to finish." This reminds CIOs to address the entire journey a customer takes as she tries to accomplish a goal and emphasizes that every interaction should move her forward along that journey. That's an important shift away from the fragmented, channel-specific thinking typified by most federal CX efforts, and it will lead to more integrated experiences.

- Play Three: "Make it simple and intuitive." Play Three emphasizes clarity and consistency within and across channels to ensure that federal CX is intuitively simple and useful. This guidance is crucial because agencies sometimes forget that channels packed with information and functionality are useless if regular people have trouble understanding and navigating them. (If you don't believe me, just trying using Customs and Border Patrol's Global Online Enrollment System (GOES). GOES has all the information and tools customers need to sign up for various trusted traveler programs, if only they can figure out how to use the thing.)

- Play Four: "Build the service using agile and iterative practices." This play stresses the use of Agile development methods to quickly iterate prototypes and deliver minimum viable products. That's a sea change from most waterfall-driven federal technology projects that make improvements slow and expensive.

These and the plays that follow them are all good advice for any organization--public or private. But it is only advice, and nobody is required to follow it. Even so, most federal agencies are going to end up using the USDS playbook to guide their CX improvement projects, and not just because it is good advice. Three other factors are really going to drive federal agencies to follow the playbook:

- The playbook is backed up by experienced and accountable leadership. The USDS, which has the expertise, personnel, and budget to help agencies improve their CX, is going to use the playbook, so any agency that receives USDS' help is going to end up using the playbook by default.

- It comes with a technology buyer's guide. We often hear that federal acquisition practices contribute to CX project failure. Healthcare.gov is only the most spectacular of many examples. USDS' TechFAR Handbook, announced along with the Digital Services Playbook, highlights flexibilities in the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) that can help agencies use modular contracting to better implement "plays" in the playbook.

- It helps federal CIOs keep their jobs. The unprecedented and widespread fallout from the healthcare.gov fiasco was enough to give any CIO sleepless nights. Now that all digital CX projects are under much greater scrutiny from Congress, agency leaders, and the media, federal CIOs who preside over the delivery of substandard digital experiences won't keep their jobs for long. The playbook offers CIOs solid guidance to improve federal CX and a protective shield when something goes wrong as long as they can prove they've followed its guidance.

So you see, not all the news from Washington is bad: A high-powered new team of digital CX experts, offering good guidance for improving CX, and offering help to implement it. Sure, there are plenty of roadblocks in their way, but the climate has never been better for major leaps forward in federal CX. Can your organization boast as much?

About the Author:

Rick Parrish is a government customer experience analyst at Forrester Research

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