May 16 2023
Digital Workspace

Federal Agencies Can’t Improve Customer Experience Without More Digital Services

Agencies need to measure customer feedback with federal digital services and quickly increase the number (and quality) of digital service offerings.

In October 2022, the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) published a report titled “With Customer Satisfaction at a New Low, Federal Agencies Still Fail to Measure It Well or Provide Enough Digital Services.” Its findings highlighted federal agencies’ ongoing challenges in measuring and maturing their digital services for customers.

Since then, President Biden’s executive order on transforming federal customer experience and service delivery crossed the one-year mark. CX describes the interactions between agencies and individual people, organizations or businesses that result in degrees of customer satisfaction regarding the service received.

The 2021 executive order is one of the administration’s many stated commitments to improving federal CX. Unfortunately, federal agencies still have considerable work to do in expanding the digital services that most improve CX by virtue of customers’ preferences for digital technology.

Federal customer satisfaction has reached historic lows. And while the Biden administration has pledged to improve it with the same promises of accelerating digital transformation in government that extend back decades, there’s little evidence that the federal government is doing enough to accomplish these goals.

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Why Agencies Must Prioritize Customer Satisfaction

In its report, the ITIF found that federal agencies — notably, “high-impact service providers” with large customer bases that provide vital services — aren’t measuring customer satisfaction with digital services. Furthermore, they don’t seem to have clear plans on how to incorporate this feedback moving forward. It’s difficult to improve something if you’re not measuring it.

The Government Accountability Office apparently agrees with this conclusion; the watchdog recently recommended that measurement for CX be included as a criterion in a scorecard that grades IT activities for federal agencies. A panel of CX experts offered the same advice to Senate lawmakers last summer. There is no word from the Biden administration or Congress on whether they’re planning to take such advice.

The ITIF report also found that federal digital service adoption remains too low, with federal websites offering poor or inconsistent user experiences. For customers, digital services disproportionately contribute to a better experience, and it’s vital that federal services align with these expectations.

A December 2022 report from Accenture and the Partnership for Public Service comes to a similar conclusion, stating that improved customer data collection and modern IT systems in the federal government will help address poor CX.

Digital is not the solution for everything. For instance, bank customers still need to go to a physical branch for some services. Yet, shifting appropriate federal services to digital and modernizing outdated IT does a lot of the heavy lifting in improving customer experience.

EXPLORE: How can agencies devote resources to improve the customer experience?

Funding Focuses on Customer-Based IT Projects

This criticism isn’t to say the Biden administration has done nothing to advance digital CX. In December 2022, the Technology Modernization Fund — a governmentwide revolving fund designed to focus on broader, collaborative federal IT initiatives — awarded nearly $15 million to two federal agencies for customer-focused IT projects.

However, much like the broader story of federal IT, the administration’s efforts are too little and too slow, as were all prior administrations’ efforts to improve digital government services.

To make good on the Biden administration’s commitments to improve CX, federal agencies need to measure customer feedback with federal digital services and quickly increase the number and quality of digital service offerings. If they don’t, congressional appropriators should respond appropriately.

As part of its ongoing thought leadership on the topic of digital government, ITIF has introduced a new web series called “Citizen Digital.” In it, experts here and around the world share insights on how digital technology improves the citizen experience. To stay up to date as new episodes post, follow ITIF on Twitter @ITIFdc.

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