Federal Manager's Daily Report

While federal agencies often receive low marks on customer service in comparison with private sector companies, agencies should dig deeper into the feedback they receive to assess where they are doing well and where improvement is needed, a report from the Partnership for Public Service Says.

It says that despite poor overall survey results, “the feedback people share directly with agencies after specific interactions often tells a different story. Many of the government’s biggest services are highly rated.” It cited high levels of satisfaction, for example, with direct phone interactions with the IRS and Medicare and passport applications.

“There are several possible explanations for this disparity. In some instances, agencies may provide a good customer experience during one exchange, but not during all the interactions customers go through to receive a service. For example, an agency may think its contact centers provide a good experience because customers rate the service highly following their calls. However, these ratings may not pick up on the frustration of customers who had to call several times to complete their task or who were aggravated because they would have preferred to take care of their business online and were unable to do so,” the report said.

In a closer look at eight services with large numbers of interactions with the public, the report found several common themes of those producing the highest versus lowest levels of satisfaction. For example, it cited websites that are uncluttered and that use plain language and that clearly guide customers through a transaction to completion versus those that “contained jargon, acronyms and bureaucratic language” and do not allow the transaction to be completed online. Similarly, for services that take time to complete, it cited the difference between those in which people can check their status versus feeling “as if they are interacting with a ‘black box.’”

Other best practices include, in the report’s words: use research, feedback and data to understand customers better; use customer insights to create a feedback loop that enables continual improvement; establish a key performance measure based on customer feedback; assign a senior executive to lead customer experience efforts across the organization; transform cultures to be more customer-centered; employ practices such as human-centered design to incorporate the customer perspective into services and products; improve information and services delivered online; and take advantage of social media platforms to provide customers information, collect feedback and answer questions when appropriate.