To improve agency customer experience, consider investing in the federal workforce

The federal government is chock full of chief information officers, chief financial officers and chief human capital officers.

But as it stands, there are only a handful of chief customer officers. But given the priority that the Trump administration has put on improving the way the government provides services, more agencies could soon adopt that model.

Anahita Reilly, the chief customer officer at the General Services Administration, is about one of approximately six agency chief customer officers (CCOs). GSA only stood the office up in late 2014, but since then, Reilly said the agency’s investment in her department has paid off.

For example, GSA’s chief customer office has proximity to the agency’s leadership. Reilly reports to GSA’s deputy administrator.

“For us, it’s been very helpful to be placed at the senior leadership level,” she said last week at Forrester’s customer experience summit.

And more recently, Reilly has sat in on financial review meetings with the agency’s top brass.

“It was with our leadership, probably about a year or so in, when we had proven that this concept of having a dedicated team works. We said ‘OK, what’s the next step? How do we start addressing culture?’ It’s not enough to put it in the performance plans of our leadership. We need to then start putting money to it,” Reilly said. “Being invited to be in that room … sends the message that we are focused as an agency on our customers, we are making funding decisions around them.”

While many agency officials have titles that allow them to carry out some customer experience functions, few actually have chief customer officers.

Back in 2010, Brenda Fowler Wensil helped establish the role of chief customer experience officer at the Education Department’s Office of Federal Student Aid — the first-ever role in customer experience in the federal government.

Since then, the Veterans Affairs Department, the Office of Personnel Management, the Census Bureau and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services have all stood up customer experience-focused offices.

Sam Stern, a principal analyst at Forrester, said improving customer experience at an agency begins with improving the workforce’s morale.

“We’ve seen this over and over again — that the employee experience [and]  the organizational culture, it is either a platform for success, for delivering great customer experience, or it’s a barrier. It prevents you from getting where you are today to being really good at it,” Stern said.

Eric Keller, a senior research manager, with the Partnership for Public Service, said the private sector remains on top when it comes to customer service, but progressively higher Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS) scores show that the government is laying the groundwork to improve customer service.

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“When we think about how to get there, our answer is it’s always about the people  — it’s about the federal workforce being highly skilled, highly engaged, having the tools and the leadership that they need to succeed,” Keller said.

In last year’s FEVS, the governmentwide satisfaction score went up by two points.

“The good news — and this might really surprise some people — is that the scores have been going up. Over the last few years, we’ve seen a steady increase. In fact, last year there was the largest increase in the 15 years that we’ve been tracking this data,” Keller said.

This year, the FEVS will go out to every single federal employee. In years past, the survey went out to a sample of agency workers.

One gap that the White House is trying to fill is the lack of recognition federal employees feel when they do a good job.

In order to thank federal employees for excellence in customer service, the Trump administration is reinstating the Federal Customer Service Awards program the Obama administration began in 2015.

According to Keller, only about 50 percent of federal employees feel like they are recognized for delivering high-quality services, while 67 percent of private-sector employees feel they get recognition.