Washington Still Fails at Customer Experience

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The White House requires federal agencies to provide customer experiences that match the best of the private sector, yet federal agencies’ customer experience remains weak and uneven.

The 15 U.S. federal agencies and programs in Forrester’s U.S. Federal Customer Experience Index earned an average score of 58—which qualifies as poor and falls well below the private-sector average of 70. Two thirds of federal scores stayed flat last year.

The situation looks bleaker when you compare federal agencies’ CX ratings to that of the 300-plus private sector companies in the U.S. CX Index. Federal agencies are marred by these:

Scores that are mostly poor or very poor. Three fourths of federal agencies had scores that fell into the lowest two categories of the CX Index, with 40 percent rated as poor and 33 percent rated as very poor. That’s in sharp contrast to the private sector, where only 19 percent of brands were rated poor and just 1 percent of brands were rated very poor.

A near monopoly on the worst experiences. Five out of the eight organizations in the very poor category—and six of the worst 10 in the entire U.S. CX Index—were federal agencies. Only Internet service providers, TV service providers, and airlines came close to matching their scores.

The reason is simple: Federal agencies fail to focus on the most important drivers of great customer experiences. Forrester tested 40 CX drivers and found that in general, federal agencies tend to make these CX missteps:

They ignore emotion, which has the biggest impact on federal CX. The documents that govern federal CX ignore emotion and urge agencies to boost ease and effectiveness. But the CX Index proves that emotion has a bigger influence on federal CX than effectiveness or ease.  

They obsess over technologies instead of employees. Federal agencies focus far more on technology than they do on empowering employees and getting personal interactions right. But the 10 most important drivers of great federal CX centered on the attitude and behavior of customer-facing personnel. In contrast, customer-facing technologies like websites and mobile apps were deemed less influential.

They focus on what customers say they want, rather than what really drives better CX. Most federal agencies survey customers about what they want or how they liked an interaction rather than tracking how customers actually behaved as a result of different experiences. Unfortunately, federal customers don’t consciously know what makes an experience better for them: Over 80 percent of the time, the things customers claimed were important to federal CX were not actually driving their behavior.

Federal agencies that want to improve their CX quickly and efficiently must ground their efforts in driver analysis and prioritize the parts of the customer experience that will contribute the most to mission success. Until they understand the true meaning of customer experience—and how to deliver on it—they will continue to lag behind.

Rick Parrish is a principal analyst serving customer experience (CX) professionals at Forrester. Based in Washington, D.C., Parrish has more than 14 years of experience in government analysis and developing successful and innovative customer experiences.

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