The USDA Springfield Service Center that serves Sangamon County, in Springfield, Il.

Dec 13 2018

Why Culture Is Just as Important as Tech in Digital Transformation

To improve customer experience, federal workers say agencies should focus more on morale and empowering the workplace staff than on IT.

Federal agencies need to improve their customer experience — with the customers being the American people — and their contact centers. That is why two of the five IT Modernization Centers of Excellence the General Services Administration set up deal with both topics.

Technology certainly plays an important role in improving agencies’ customer experience efforts, but culture is an important factor as well. That is a key takeaway from a survey on improving federal customer service released in late November, which was conducted for Eagle Hill Consulting by the Government Business Council, the research arm of Government Executive Media Group.

The online survey included 625 respondents from a random sample of respondents across the federal government, including civilian and Defense Department agencies, and was conducted between June and July 2018. It found that 69 percent rated “enhanced workplace morale” as the factor most likely to significantly improve federal customer service, with 61 percent citing “empowerment of customer service delivery staff.”

Meanwhile, 54 percent of respondents listed “improved information technology” as the best bet to improve customer service, and 45 percent cited “additional financial resources.”

VIDEO: See how the Agriculture Department uses to improve customer service. 

How Agencies Can Enhance Customer Service

There seems to be a disconnect between the value agencies place on customer service and how effective they are at delivering it. According to the survey, 70 percent of respondents identify customer service as a core value in their organization. Yet, on average, only 31 percent of employees rank their organization as being effective at achieving elements critical to customer service.

The Agriculture Department, the first agency to go through the GSA’s CoE process, has made significant strides in customer service this year, including the launch of, a site designed for farmers, ranchers and others who rely on the department for services. USDA has also worked on an agencywide portal to improve services to citizens, dashboards to take advantage of analytics and worked to introduce artificial intelligence into its contact centers.

While agencies are getting the message that customer experience matters a great deal, less than half of employees say their organization is effective at activities identified as critical elements of customer service. These include cooperation and coordination with other agencies (only 41 percent), greater orientation toward customer service at a strategic level (37 percent), measuring customer satisfaction (35 percent), equipping employees with customer service data and metrics (30 percent), and communication between levels of government staff (29 percent). 

“Yes, technology solutions and financial resources are essential, but more coding and dollars can’t drive better service when there are culture and people issues,” Eagle Hill CEO Melissa Jezior tells Nextgov.

“While a technology program alone will not ensure customer service improvements, federal employees seem in agreement that investments in culture will; sound investments here can yield fast dividends,” the survey concludes. “Put another way, whatever goals agencies have for modernizing IT, technology should not be viewed as the driver of better service. It enables. Even if agencies were to spend no money on IT, they could still improve government customer service through culture changes and employee empowerment.”



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