Starting with IT, EPA driving toward a new customer experience

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The Environmental Protection Agency is taking the long view on how it serves its employees, state and local governments and businesses.

It launched a customer experience council that seeks to improve the entire interaction with its stakeholders from first contact to final resolution. The council is starting with its internal technology services and eventually will move to its private sector customers.

“We chartered this council to try to improve the experience our agency employees have with their IT and information management with a goal of learning and practicing first on family and then eventually expanding throughout our program offices and eventually to the public,” said Jeff Wells,  EPA’s director of the Office of Customer Advocacy, Policy and Portfolio Management and its chief customer experience officer for Office of Environmental Information, in an interview with Federal News Radio. “Under the aegis of the council, we chartered a number of activities, everything from surveys to conducting town halls, really a series of activities to drive change, build bridges to other agencies and try to create a culture around customer experience that will eventually affect the way we do business with the public.”

The council, which EPA set up about 18 months ago, includes senior level managers from OEI, the CFO’s office and the Office of Administration and Resources Management.

Wells said EPA thought it could do more to bring people, process, technology and culture together.

Jeff Wells, EPA chief experience officer

“It was a keen insight by our senior leaders, including our acting CIO Steve Fine, to use customer experience to drive culture and behavior change,” Wells said. “Our strategy has been to do some serious data gathering and research and then in cooperation with the council and senior leaders figure out the activities we can do to drive change and improvements. At the end of the day, we are only as effective, as are most people are in their jobs, as our IT and the better our IT and information management services are, the better job we will be able to do in protecting the environment and achieve mission success.”

For its effort EPA won one of the inaugural Citizen Champions of Change awards, handed out earlier this week in Washington, D.C. by Dorris Consulting.

Along with EPA, Dorris Consulting, headed by former General Services Administration executive Martha Dorris, recognized more than 20 other programs as well as Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and Lisa Veith, the senior vice president at Maximus Federal, for their work to improve and promote customer service.

Margaret Weichert, the deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget, said at the event agencies need to create a better government for the 21st century by giving citizens what they need, when they need it.

She said citizens know when services are not working well.

In accepting the government executive of the year award, Perdue said citizens want a government that works, which is a simple objective, but not easy to accomplish.

“We want to be the most effective agency in government and we want our customers to tell us that,” he said. “We are working in a lean management approach. I want our employees to go home each night and feel good about helping our customers.”

Perdue said USDA named a new head of customer experience, Joe Doyle, who works across all programs to bring these concepts to the front of the discussion.

One of USDA’s major goals under Performance.gov is to improve customer experience with a goal in 2018 to test out the key performance indicators in one or two projects and then decide if these approaches are scalable.

EPA is taking a similar approach by taking the data it collected, addressing systemic challenges and then measuring the changes.

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“We created a robust performance metrics system using some of the standards from industry,” said Cory Wagner, the associate director of customer advocacy and communications division at EPA. “We divided them into operational and other metrics. The operational metrics around hard data like how many people are visiting our website or how many people are using another service we have called the IT green pages, which allows employees to search for services EPA offices as far as IT/IM goes.”

The soft metrics are measured through a survey that goes to half the agency twice a year.

Dawn Banks, the deputy chief customer experience officer at EPA, said the first survey went out in December and that helped populate a customer experience action tracker tool.

“Within that tracker is the issue or concern or pain point and we are working with subject matter experts across our organization as well as the CFOs and  Office of Administration and Resources Management’s to begin to resolve and solve for solutions,” she said. “We are making the information available on an internal website so people can and see the status of their question or issue. We have a team of about six people who are constantly looking at those issues to make sure we are looking for resolutions and updating the information so the customer can be aware of what’s going on.”

Additionally, EPA has done some persona development and journey mapping, which Wells said gives his office some more specific details on those pain points. Persona development is a concept that helps organizations understand what users need and then brings those needs into the planning stage, while journey mapping is a representation of an individual’s relationship with an organization over time and across all methods of interaction — online, in person or by phone.

Banks said EPA identified six different personas and is drilling down in each one to identify and address the different pain points.

EPA is taking what it learned over the last 18 months and promoting its customer experience perspective across government.

Wagner said EPA is part of a new interagency federal internal customer experience group that includes about 20 other agencies including GSA, the Interior Department and others.

“We meet quarterly to talk about subjects that are important in customer experience realm. We’ve talked about potential legislation in the Senate, individual experiences and programs,” he said. “We want to evolve so we can come together to work on common problems, maybe come up with standard metrics or providing training.”