Why customer experience is so difficult for federal agencies

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Customer experience has become a watchword of the Biden administration when it comes to managing federal agencies. And why not? A consultant might say that agencies have many opportunities for improvement in this area.

As our Jory Heckman reported last week, overseers of the Technology Modernization Fund will spend a hundred million dollars on projects that reduce wait times or excessive paperwork for federal services to the public. This revelation, from General Services…

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Customer experience has become a watchword of the Biden administration when it comes to managing federal agencies. And why not? A consultant might say that agencies have many opportunities for improvement in this area.

As our Jory Heckman reported last week, overseers of the Technology Modernization Fund will spend a hundred million dollars on projects that reduce wait times or excessive paperwork for federal services to the public. The revelation, from the General Services Administration and the White House, coincided with an announcement from the IRS that people behind on their taxes can try a hotline and reach a robotic response system to set up their payments.

The agency is expanding its use of so-called voice and chat bots to ease the burden on human answering machines. This way, IRS employees will have more time to spend on complicated issues beyond the capabilities of the bots. And callers with these issues won’t have long enough to hear a Beethoven piano concerto.

I joke about that last point. If only the music on hold was so compelling.

But the effort can’t come soon enough. The National Taxpayer Advocate had bad news for the IRS on Wednesday, in its 2023 targets report. In the most recent filing season, it only answered 10% of its phone calls – and even then the average waiting time was half an hour. .

The IRS doesn’t fare so well with paper returns either. Its backlog of paper returns has reached 21 million returns. He processes them at about 240,000 a week. It will need to double that rate to get through it all this year, the NTA said.

So there’s work to be done at this high-impact service provider, as the administration has designated the IRS and 19 other agencies for customer experience purposes.

The idea of ​​improving the customer experience is not new. But the state of the art continues to evolve. Twenty years ago, self-service kiosks became fashionable. In the Department of Veterans Affairs, they are on the verge of disappearing from the lobbies of the medical centers. A statement from VA says the agency’s nationwide contract for VetLink kiosks expires in September. Now VA is introducing check-in for appointments using a phone and a QR code on a poster. This will buy veterans some time to verify who they are.

I think three customer experience themes should be highlighted:

  • At best, the technology-enabled customer experience eases the burden for both the constituents served and the employees who care for them. But this does not always reduce the number of staff needed. I noticed it recently at the airport. The airline may have had three dozen check-in kiosks, even if you “checked in” online. After re-checking in to get a luggage tag, I found that I still had to slowly wait for an agent to check my ID and pull my luggage onto the conveyor belt. I don’t know who saved what in this chain of transactions.
  • Self-service, which is preferable to human service in many circumstances, merely shifts the burdens people have to take on at any given time – registering, creating an account and filling in data, applying for a license or permit . Here, the government can surpass the private sector if only it could fulfill the dream of one person, one account, every agency. This contrasts with, say, medical health records in the private sector. All practices have some sort of semi-understandable portal. But none of the portals connect. Plastic clipboards have been replaced with partitioned portals.
  • It’s easy for the automated response to get a little off course. You must design the systems carefully. I spoke with the manufacturer of my grandfather clock, which needs to be repaired. It’s at least 25 years old, bought some time ago by my late parents, and it’s definitely out of warranty. I found an authorized repair shop on the website, but then received an email asking me for proof of purchase so they could trace my order. The bot introduced a bit of inconsistency.

A footnote: The federal government, in certain circumstances, is the provider of last or only resort. Talk about customer experience. I witnessed the arrival of a federal agency. A fellow traveler on a two week rafting trip I took in the Grand Canyon fell ill. There is literally no escape, other than a National Park Service helicopter. The guide had a satellite phone, the only way to reach the NPS. A brilliant blue and yellow helicopter arrived in less than half an hour. An NPS team examined the man, loaded him on board, then rushed off. A few days later, we learned that he was recovering in a hospital in Arizona.

Almost useless factoid

By Robert O’Shaughnessy

For the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, the Olympic Torch Relay passed through Arches National Park as well as 21 other US national parks.

Source: National Geographic

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