Over the past five years, federal agencies have made notable strides in developing a better understanding of their customers, but still have work to do to create customer experience (CX) mechanisms that can lead to better customer experience (CX) mechanisms. better program results. Too often, we find that well-intentioned government efforts fall short of their goal because solution architects overlook key customer characteristics. More importantly, these failures have a disproportionate impact on racial minorities and other under-represented communities.
In just one example, the federal government Paycheck Protection Program Has Failed Black Businesses because he did not consider how historically marginalized business owners could most effectively receive information about the program. Especially in cases where speed of delivery is a top priority, it is easy to overlook the impact of traditional methods of outreach and service delivery, unconscious bias and systemic racism on the ability of minority citizens to access the benefits.
But there is a solution available to all agencies right now: customer experience methodologies. Focusing on the customer experience forces solution designers to use data, people-centered design, and continuous feedback to improve the customer experience and journeys. This focus on research, people and data allows us to explore issues that affect marginalized groups and racial minorities to create more equitable experiences and achieve better outcomes.
Current government-wide guidelines focus on customer experience, including what it is and how it should be measured. What is lacking, however, is specific direction on how to grasp the nuances in these measures that impact marginalized and underserved groups, whose circumstances may not be readily visible in large data sets or incomplete.
We know that federal government clients are diverse and complex; our stories cannot be captured by generalizations and unsegmented data. Client analysis and segmentation can help agencies tailor their efforts to various subsets of clients. Some of the results of this research, often referred to as “ethnographic research”, are customer personalities and journey maps. These tools allow us to empathize with customers and better understand their desires and motivations as well as barriers, pain points and frustrations. With this understanding, agencies can better conceptualize and design solutions that generate positive interactions and earn client trust.
And that is precisely what needs to be done. Forrester recently reported only 45% of federal clients say they have had a positive experience obtaining government services and information. Client analysis and segmentation would help agencies dig deeper into this statistic to understand the patterns and trends driving negative experiences. Are minorities over-represented among those who report a negative experience? What about those who live below the poverty line or in rural areas?
Segmentation can also highlight distinctions and intersectionality within various client groups, allowing agencies to create tailored solutions that reach more people. By analyzing customer data and prioritizing empathy, policymakers can design programs that truly meet the needs of all Americans.
Another CX technique that can help agencies achieve better results is Human-Centered Design (HCD) – a structured framework for designing solutions that meet the basic needs of those who encounter a problem. HCD calls for dropping all perceived barriers and focusing on both qualitative and quantitative data on what clients think and feel along their journey. Multidisciplinary teams focus on a specific problem and design broadly, freely and without limits to develop solutions.
Our country’s equity challenges are complex and deeply rooted. Significant progress will require creative solutions that we have not yet been able to conceptualize. For historically underserved minorities, human-centered, equity-focused problem solving could help create solutions that go beyond our current understanding of what is possible. Government agencies can discover solutions that once seemed sweeping or impossible, are in fact easy, affordable and more equitable. Government programs should incorporate mechanisms to quickly collect and process customer feedback and strive to evolve with their customers over time. Better feedback systems that identify and uplift minority groups will provide insight into subcultures and trends that might otherwise be difficult to identify. This data is essential for building more equitable programs.
Ongoing feedback loops can also help government programs gain the trust of their customers. Last fall, the Pew Research Center find only 20% of Americans trust the government to do what is right all or most of the time. Committing to better understanding customers by listening more – especially minority views – can help government agencies build better systems of transparency, accountability and oversight – the key to rebuilding trust.
The Biden-Harris administration has the opportunity to build on the advancements made in the federal customer experience in recent years to advance racial equity and build trust in government. Customer experience methods offer powerful strategies and frameworks for using data, human-centered design, and feedback loops to combat unconscious biases and patterns of inequity. Customer experience directors across the federal government would be wise to invest in these tools and techniques – it could uncover new solutions to help overcome systemic racism and long-standing racial inequalities in government.
Winta Tewolde and Melissa Hadley are managers at Grant Thornton Public Sector LLC, specializing in customer experience and organizational transformation.