What The Private Sector Can Teach Government About Customer Experience


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Government entities aren’t exactly known for their customer experience (CX) focus—we all know the dread of going to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). But to be fair, government agencies haven’t really needed to care. In the absence of competition, the incentive to innovate around CX takes a back seat.

Legacy IT and a quagmire of slow systems have hindered the government’s ability to deliver good experiences in general. Nevertheless, there are small signs of progress in other areas. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the General Services Administration announced $100 million designated to improve customer experiences (CX) with the federal government.

The good news is that the private sector has done much of the heavy lifting already. Modern CX includes the culmination of years of innovation, trial and error and best practice. There are three key areas where government can directly benefit from the private sector’s head start in CX.

A lesson from Blue Nile: Building a unified engagement strategy

Much of the innovation in CX in the private sector is linked to unification of software and systems, creating less clicks and less siloing of information. This allows brands like Blue Nile to have more efficient, streamlined experiences for customers and employees. Plus they deliver more personalized customer experiences, thanks to the unification of customer data across disparate sources and the power this data provides to treat customers as individuals at scale.

In government, we are already seeing this unified engagement strategy represented in the creation of holistic sources of information, such as the centralized system the Department of Veterans Affairs announced this year. Similarly, every customer interaction in the public sector has diverse context; households, incomes, circumstances and disabilities are all subject to change and often linked. Modern CX creates a unified view with access to history, interaction, personalization and insight that allows a more targeted focus on individual customer needs.

A lesson from Tervis Tumbler Company: Listen to your customers

The private sector goes to great lengths to listen to feedback from their customers and then apply what they’ve heard. One example of this is Tervis Tumbler, which enriched their support experience after realizing they were struggling to keep pace with the mounting demands of support and customer engagement. Organizations like Tervis develop intensive, cross-functional programs that identify key touchpoints of CX, gather data (both quantitative and qualitative) through meticulous, diverse means, and then coalesce and harness those learnings into crucial product and service improvements that have demonstrable, trackable impact in customer sentiment and loyalty.

CX isn’t static. Government can (and should) learn, evolve and continue to improve through advisory boards, focus groups or surveys—and use these learnings to move their support capabilities from archaic to agile so they can keep pace with the increasing demands of support and customer engagement.

A lesson from Sling TV: Automated efficiency

The third area is automation. Private industry, such as companies like Sling TV, use advances in technology such as automation, AI and bots to do much of the mundane and free up agents to help people with more complex queries. Bots, for example, can be multi-lingual, operate 24/7 numerous platforms, and empower customers to self-serve without having to wait for a human being. This creates not only better customer experiences, but can significantly slash the workload of federal customer support organizations—giving employees a better overall experience and lower attrition.

Lessons learned: It’s time for change

For many government agencies, focusing on CX initiatives will represent a drastic shift away from being known as a technological laggart where things have been done the same way for a very long time. That is changing and with the right technology, automation and staffing support, the public and agencies will benefit in the long run.

Colin Crowley
I am a CX thought leader with past experience scaling world-class (and global) customer support teams. I currently serve as VP of Customer Support at Maven Clinic, a virtual healthcare organization for women and families.


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