For good customer experience, basics first — not tech — are essential

What does it take to turn an organization around from poor customer service to good… or at least better? Digital technologies and automation help, but part of the solution lies with things that are a lot less sexy, according to Forrester Research.

In its latest assessment of how U.S. government agencies are doing in the customer experience department, Forrester found that most continue to fall far short of the service provided by the best of the private sector. However, it did find a few bright spots, most notably, the National Park Service, which just marked its 100th birthday in August. Out of 319 brands Forrester surveyed for its 2016 Customer Experience Index, the park service came in at number 34.

The most-improved agency, meanwhile, was the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs.

In an interview with Nextgov, Forrester senior analyst Rick Parrish said new digital services were one reason for the bureau’s improvement. However, he said, retraining and process changes also contributed.

“It’s a lot of the basics that are unsexy, but vital to understanding customers and what will create a better experience,” Parrish said. “They’re creating metrics to measure performance and creating accountability within their office.”

While many government agencies are falling down in part because of their dependence on extremely outdated technologies — more than 70 percent use tech that is decades old — service improves more when the focus is on employees.

“Money spent empowering employees — the frontline personnel who play a major role in the emotional satisfaction of customers — is always better spent than on technology, which continues to be a less important indicator of successful customer experience,” Nextgov noted.

What’s more, customer surveys don’t always provide the best guide for where to make improvements. People using government services, for example, tend to identify the security of their personal information as the most important factor for a good customer experience. In reality, however, security proves to be far less important when it comes to gauging satisfaction.

“In other words,” as Nextgov pointed out, “customers may always be right, but they may not know why.”

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