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Can Training Boost Stalled Federal Customer Satisfaction?

Thursday, June 21, 2018
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Results from Forrester’s 2018 US Federal Customer Experience Index (CX Index™) show that federal CX remains weak and uneven. The 15 U.S. federal agencies and programs rated in this year’s CX Index earned an average score of 59 out of 100. That score, which is unchanged from the previous two years, falls smack in the middle of the “poor” category and 10 points below the private sector average of 69.

A closer look at the Forrester data reveals that federal agencies have:

  • Scores that are mostly poor or very poor. A sobering 80 percent of federal agencies had scores that fell into the lowest two categories of the CX Index. That’s in contrast to the private sector, in which only 20 percent of brands landed in the bottom two categories. In 12 industries, even the weakest performers outscored the federal average.
  • Uneven quality. The 33-point difference between the scores of the National Park Service (NPS) at the top of the Federal CX Index and USAJOBS.gov at the bottom was 10 points wider than the spread in the most diverse private sector industry — and 20 points wider than the private sector industry average.
  • Two modest gainers and one small loser. HealthCare.gov showed a modest three-point improvement in its CX Index score. That makes it the only federal entity — and one of only two organizations in the entire US CX Index — with three consecutive years of growth. The Department of Veterans Affairs’ methodical CX efforts finally paid off with a four-point gain following two years of stagnation. On the other hand, the Small Business Administration dipped four points, more than erasing a three-point rise in 2017.

According to Rick Parrish, a principal analyst for Forrester, the reason for this stagnation is simple. “Agencies fail on the critical elements that make experiences great for customers,” he says.

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Forrester studied the impact of 47 drivers on the quality of federal CX, then grouped them into seven thematic categories. Although the impact of each driver category varies across agencies, three stand out as the most influential overall: process, customer service, and showing respect. Unfortunately, federal agencies:

  • Make processes too difficult. Only 45 percent of federal customers say that it is easy to go through the process of obtaining benefits, services, or information. That’s a one-percentage-point rise year over year but still only equal to the percentage of airline customers who enjoy the in-flight experience.
  • Struggle with customer service. A mere 46 percent of federal customers agreed that they could get help quickly when they needed it. That’s a two-percentage-point dip from 2017 that leaves federal customer service one percentage point worse than the service provided by the infamous internet service provider (ISP) industry.
  • Show even less respect for customers than they used to. Just 46 percent of federal customers say that they feel respected — a nine-percentage-point drop year over year. As a result, federal customers now feel that they are respected equally by federal agencies and health insurers.

“Federal agencies that want to improve their CX quickly and efficiently must ground their efforts in driver analysis and prioritize parts of the experience that will contribute the most to mission success,” says Parrish.

All of this begs the question: Can talent development play a major role in improving such low satisfaction scores? The answer is a resounding Yes. No doubt, training federal employees would help boost customer service, courtesy, and professionalism. Also, developing the right performance support tools could mitigate problem areas like timeliness and efficiency with information delivery. What’s more, conducting a needs analysis would pinpoint the root cause of service problems plaguing most agencies.

About the Author

Ryann K. Ellis is an editor for the Association of Talent Development (ATD). She has been covering workplace learning and performance for ATD (formerly the American Society for Training & Development) since 1995. She currently manages ATD's Community of Practice blogs, as well as ATD's government-focused magazine, The Public Manager. Contact her at rellis@td.org. 

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