One year since the President’s executive order on customer experience, and much remains to be done

A year ago, the Biden administration released the Executive Order on Transforming Federal Customer Experience and Service Delivery to Rebuild Trust in Government, commonly referred to as the CX EO.

This document crystallized the administration’s commitment to improving and modernizing government service delivery, and called out specific initiatives for a number of departments. A year later, we asked experts from across our team at Ad Hoc to reflect on what has been accomplished in the industry and what remains to be done.

The EO was a sea change for the government, but it wasn’t the leading edge of the wave. Agencies such as the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and Veterans’ Administration (VA) have been doing groundbreaking work on customer experience in their digital services since 2013 and 2017 respectively, and we’ve been privileged to witness this work firsthand as we’ve supported these agencies. The VA went from a large collection of disparate websites, forms, logins, and tools that many customers found ‘frustrating’ to one centralized website and mobile application today. The more streamlined approach immediately made a difference to better serve the needs of veterans. “Seeing that work taken up by more areas of federal service will dramatically improve the lives of many people,” says Mark Headd, Government Technology Expert at Ad Hoc.

Seeing progress

Rising to meet the mandate of the president’s order will be easier for agencies with work already in flight than it will be for agencies who had not yet begun as of the order. Still, progress is being made. For example, the State Department took online passport renewal live with pilot programs in August, September and October of 2022, with full rollout expected in early 2023. The integration of has happened on VA sites, and there has been work accomplished on personalized experiences for Medicare beneficiaries. “Across the government, new positions focused on leading customer experiences have been created. We are seeing more requests for help in designing and improving agency services using common CX industry approaches,” says Alex Mack, Director of Research for Ad Hoc.

“Federal agencies are talking about CX, and getting into the habit of reporting metrics and progress. We should keep doing that, and make it a safe space,” shares Ben Kutil, Director of Technical Solutions. “Agencies’ technology modernizations will pay off as they use them to respond to customer sentiment and CX measures and make improvements. Agencies should continue to use technology to increase their ability to change and adapt to user needs.”

More than simply technology

Kutil cautions agencies not to fall victim to the trap of confusing the tool with the outcome. “Agencies are still looking at digital tools and experiences to solve their customer experience problems. It can’t only be that. Measuring customer sentiment by itself isn’t CX. Right now very few agencies are making decisions about where to invest time and money based on the information they’re learning from the survey tools they’ve purchased. Some agencies have set up CX offices with no budget at all. That’s a bad thing.”

In fact, many people within Ad Hoc have pointed out that congressional budget requests often haven’t changed to match the new approach. More is being required of agencies that may not have the additional funding to make it happen without very creative solutions.

“I think CX is a really tough position to be in, if you’re responsible for it in a government agency. It’s so much more than just the functioning of a website or app or in-person experience. So many other people are in control of things that can have a positive or negative effect on CX,” says Ron Lichtinger, Director of Marketing. “Funding is just one.”

Creative solutions

Still, the number of things that impact a good or bad CX experience can provide hidden opportunities for agencies who may be new to this arena. Agencies “can immediately make headway on CX in accordance with the president’s order by addressing staffing, and the tools, training, and processes to make employee experience smoother,” Mack explains.

She goes on to say, “Ultimately, few government experiences are fully self-service. Staff are often underpaid and overworked. For example, the Washington Post recently highlighted a 200+ day backlog in processing disability claims at state Social Security Administration offices, a problem caused, according to them, by inefficient systems, staff shortages, ‘crushing workloads, and low wages.’ The staffing struggles led directly to customer experience struggles.” Improving staff shortages, and addressing the inefficient processes and outdated back-end systems, would dramatically improve both the employee experience and the customer experience that results. Two birds, one stone.

Similarly, agencies with little experience in traditional CX can still make significant progress by addressing other issues, adds Lichtinger, such as IT modernization and security. “Security breaches have an outsized negative impact on CX. As the saying goes, ‘Trust accumulates in drops but is lost in buckets.’” As the president stated in the EO, trust and CX are irrevocably linked. Any actions that maintain or increase trust are, to some degree, CX actions.

Still, formal CX programs are invaluable, as are partners who understand how to incorporate CX into every stage of design and delivery. CX will be more valuable if it’s fully integrated, and using existing technology plans to deliver better service for customers addresses the president’s mandate while agencies and Congress look for additional funds.

Agencies can make progress on CX efforts using creative approaches, beginning with the resources and knowledge that they have. As we’ve seen with requests from our own customers, they can also fund additional studies to inform technology and service design that can have a big impact down the road.

Looking forward

“It’s early days,” Headd adds. Technology and CX approaches will need to be built together as agencies move forward. Service delivery will need to be modernized and shifted to consider a human-centered approach.

“Congress can help by giving CX outcomes that agencies, as autonomous teams, can figure out how to move towards,” says Kutil. “Cross-agency collaboration would also provide significant opportunities to improve the customer experience of benefits and services.” Congress, the administration, and agencies together can accelerate the government’s progress.

“The EO underscores the government’s commitment to values that Ad Hoc has been talking about and collaborating with agencies on for a number of years now.… We are thrilled to hear these values given pride of place in the President’s agenda.”

Emphasizing effective outcomes, iterative delivery, inclusion, and customer experience together with human-centered design is how we all work together to deliver digital services that work for the people.

A year out, there’s much that’s already been accomplished, and so much yet to do.