Last week, President Biden signed an executive order (EO), “Transforming Federal Customer Experience and Service Delivery to Rebuild Trust in Government.” Is it the solution to poor customer experience (CX) and low levels of trust in government? No. However, it is a potentially powerful step in sparking momentum towards a more resident-centric government. To gain momentum from this EO, federal CX teams need to view this less as a mandate for change and more as an important backdrop for engaging agency leaders and accelerating their CX efforts.

The State Of CX In The U.S. Federal Government

As one of Qualtrics’ government industry advisors recently described in a great post, this EO is just one of many elements that are working together to increase momentum of CX across the U.S. government. Other elements include:

  • The President’s Management Agenda, which has been set for several years, names CX as one of its three priorities. The priority is stated as “Delivering excellent, equitable, and secure Federal services and customer experience.”
  • The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has worked across agencies to develop updated CX definitions, guidance, and mandates outlined in Circular A-11, Section 280 – Managing Customer Experience and Improving Service Delivery.
  • Legislation, such as the 21st Century Integrated Digital Experience Act, has brought attention to customer experience management.
  • Previous EOs such as EO 12862 of September 11, 1993, “Setting Customer Service Standards” and EO 13707 of September 15, 2015, “Using Behavioral Science Insights To Better Serve the American People.”

XM Institute’s Customer Experience Ratings

XM Institute (and previously Temkin Group) has been publishing annual CX ratings for more than a decade. The ratings are based on the three underlying elements of human perception, success (were they able to accomplish their goal?), effort (how easy or difficult was it to accomplish their goal?), and emotion (how did the interaction make them feel?). 

We took a look at our most recent study of more than 9,000 U.S. residents, and examined how Federal Agencies’ CX compares to consumer-facing industries. As you can see in the figure below:

  • Government CX is at the bottom. We rated 22 industries, which earned ratings from a high of 70% for groceries to a low of 44% for car rental agencies. Federal agencies fell well below any of those industries, earning a rating of 37%, However, the government CX rating represents a 9%-point increase from 2020
  • Effort is the largest gap. We examined the scores for each of three underlying elements of the ratings, and found a wide gap across all of them. Compared with an average across the 22 industries, government agencies are 25 %-points lower when it comes to effort, 20 %-points lower in success, and 17 %-points lower in emotion

Comparing CX Across Federal Agencies

We also examined the CX ratings for 23 federal agencies and found that:

  • The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services is at the top. With an overall rating of 57%, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services is the highest rated agency. This score would place the agency just below the 11th rated industry, insurance. This agency also earned the highest success and emotion ratings. The U.S. Forest Service earned the highest effort ratings.
  • The Internal Revenue Service is at the bottom. With an overall rating of 10%, the IRS is the lowest rated agency. It also earned the lowest effort and emotion ratings. The Office of Worker Compensation Programs earned the lowest success ratings.

Examining the Executive Order on CX

While the government’s CX scores may be low, there has been a lot of CX management progress across different government agencies, some of which is nicely captured in a blog post from the Federal CX Team. This EO is not a panacea for CX in government, but it should provide a positive push for those efforts. Here’s what I like about the new EO:

  • A strong CX vision. The government’s CX vision (which I applaud) is captured in this excerpt from the purpose section of the EO:

The Federal Government’s management of its customer experience and service delivery should be driven fundamentally by the voice of the customer through human-centered design methodologies; empirical customer research; an understanding of behavioral science and user testing, especially for digital services; and other mechanisms of engagement.”

  • Clear CX priorities. The EO puts a priority on 35 “High Impact Service Providers (HISPs),” which have a significant and direct impact on the public. This includes the mandate to “dedicate multi-disciplinary design and development teams to support priority projects of HISPs that will be selected and funded each fiscal year in consultation with the Director of OMB.”
  • More resident feedback. There’s a push for interaction-based experience data, which is captured in this excerpt from the policy section: “The Government’s performance must be measured empirically and by on-the-ground results for the people of the United States, especially for their experiences with services delivered.”
  • Specific CX actions. EO’s policy section includes 36 specific CX improvements across 17 federal agencies. Some of these are very specific, such as ordering the Treasury department to “design and deliver new online tools and services to ease the payment of taxes and provide the option to schedule customer support telephone call-backs” and the education department to “design and deliver a repayment portal capability on for Direct Loan borrowers.
  • Journey-based orientation. The EO focuses a lot of attention on agency-specific actions, but does include a push for cross-agency collaboration to address needs that cut across agencies. The White House’s fact sheet on the EO is very nicely oriented around resident-specific journeys (not agencies) such as “retiring” and “surviving a disaster.”

Six Recommendations For Government CX Teams

While there’s a lot to like in the text of this EO, it’s not enough on its own to propel the U.S. government into becoming a resident-centric organization. It lacks the specific funding and priority trade-offs to eliminate the core problem most CX professionals face: “other competing organizational priorities.”  However, it is another small step pushing federal agencies to think more strategically about the importance of CX within their efforts. 

Rather than hoping that this EO will accelerate CX efforts on its own, federal CX teams need to proactively take advantage of this moment in which  the White House is showing interest in CX. Here’s my advice for creating CX momentum from the EO:

  1. Connect CX with your agency’s mission. While the EO provides some pressure for agencies to focus on CX, it’s not enough to overcome the challenges of competing with other priorities. CX teams need to demonstrate how CX supports the core objectives of their organizations. Think about how improved CX can help serve more residents, increase adoption of online channels, and raise conformance of residents with critical activities. In other words, help your agency see CX as a key enabler, not just a mandate. 
  2. Educate agency leaders on the power of CX. Too many executives, in both commercial and government settings, still view CX as an activity that sits outside the core operations of their organizations. CX teams need to continue to teach leaders that CX is an incredibly valuable capability that is woven across their operations, not just a set of activities for one team. XM Institute has some great resources to share with leaders, such as our “launchpads,” Fundamentals of Customer Experience and Introduction to Experience Management. Also, take a look at my post on how I describe XM to senior executives.
  3. Make employees a core of your CX efforts. Any sustainable CX effort requires engaged employees, as we’ve described in the Employee Engagement Virtuous Cycle. So your CX efforts should naturally include a heavy focus on employees, from tapping into employee feedback on organizational priorities to training employees on how to think about human behavior and understand the needs of residents. It’s also helpful to create a dedicated workstream around employee experience. Not only are these incredibly important components of your CX efforts, but they can gain additional momentum if you explicitly connect them to the number one priority on the President’s Management Agenda, “Strengthening and empowering the Federal workforce.” 
  4. Focus on actionable insights, not measurements. The EO pushes for more measurement of experience data, which is great. But CX pros need to keep from spending all of their resources providing metrics. It’s easy to fall into the trap of defining a measurement system and spending all of your time reporting on the data. Instead, make sure you’re using the resident feedback to fuel what I’ve called the two ultimate questions: what have you learned? and what improvements are you making? One very tactical recommendation is to make sure that you never spend more than half of any meeting discussing data, to ensure that you have time to focus on these two questions.
  5. Showcase government CX successes. There are many excellent CX pros doing great work across the federal government. Unfortunately, those efforts don’t get very much attention outside of the government. Federal government CX pros should collectively find ways to tout the successes inside and outside of their agencies. This will not only raise the awareness of CX activities, but will also help to change the narrative from “poor government CX” to “strong momentum on CX.” Hopefully we can facilitate some of this sharing inside of our XM Professionals Network, and I will be looking for great government stories to highlight in our content. 
  6. Collaborate on resident journey mapping. As I mentioned above, the fact sheet on the EO described the required actions in terms of resident journeys rather than as mandates for specific agencies. It would be great to see significant cross-agency efforts to map out key resident journeys and build a model for using those as the foundation for inter-agency collaboration. Journey maps are a great mechanism for prioritizing and driving changes and determining what feedback to collect. Also, CX teams should use the process of journey mapping to build empathy for residents across their agencies.

The bottom line: This EO is a great opportunity for accelerating government CX efforts.

Bruce Temkin, XMP, CCXP, is the Head of Qualtrics XM Institute