Things have been tough for US federal customer experience (CX) lately: budget, procurement, IT management, and other problems I've already detailed have hamstrung federal agencies' efforts to truly elevate their customer experiences. The worst failure was of course the healthcare.gov debacle, which--as I wrote about last month--tarnished both the Affordable Care Act and the President himself. But other problems, like the claims backlogs at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Social Security Administration (SSA), have been growing, too.
Fortunately, the Obama administration shows signs of renewing its efforts to improve federal CX. Most notably:
- Customer experience funds are flowing. The President's fiscal-year 2015 (FY15) budget proposal features customer experience like never before. Although the administration has ostensibly stressed CX since publishing Executive Order 13571 in 2011, enshrining CX in a budget shows it's a real priority. The budget includes more than $900 million to help agencies like VA, SSA, and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) "launch new efforts to deliver a world-class customer service experience to citizens and businesses." For instance, IRS is set to receive $265 million to improve its phone and correspondence response times and boost its toll-free level of service. The Small Business Administration scores millions for its Business.USA.gov and SBA ONE portals. Check out my latest research report for the breakdown.
- The CIO is on board. Federal CIO Steven VanRoekel recently proposed changes that could reduce digital CX Balkanization and redundancy problems, paving the way for the topical, interagency experiences that customers crave. He told reporters that he plans to take a "one-government, outside-looking-in approach, versus inside-out, figuring out how do we break down those walls and silos to best serve [citizens]." To that end, VanRoekel intends to expand PortfolioStat, which can help agencies integrate their customer experiences by promoting shared IT services and components.
- Outside CX innovators are invited to help. Round three of the Presidential Innovation Fellows program emphasizes customer experience. The first of this round's three initiatives focuses on creating a "digital by default" veterans experience to improve access to services and help eliminate VA's claims backlog. The second project helps make government data easier for people to find and use.
There's no way to tell if the administration's efforts will succeed, but Congress can help:
- Keep CX improvements in the budget. The President's budget is only a wish list--the opening move in a difficult negotiation process between the White House and Congress. If CX funding is to survive, both sides will have to agree that improving customer experiences for hundreds of millions of Americans is worth nearly $1 billion. That sounds like a lot, but in a federal budget of $3.9 trillion, it is less than a drop in the bucket.
- Pass FITARA. The Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act passed the House again recently, but the Senate has balked in the past. This bill would streamline federal IT management in ways that could help VanRoekel's efforts to overcome the archipelago of IT fiefdoms and create a federal IT community focused on creating innovative interagency customer experiences.
If the White House and Congress can cooperate, 2015 could be the year that federal CX really takes off. I'll provide updates on their efforts, and publish my predictions for 2015 government customer experience later this year.
About the Author:
Rick Parrish is a government customer experience analyst at Forrester Research