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What's wrong with government CX?

The White House has made clear that customer experience (CX) is a federal priority, but Forrester's 2018 U.S. Federal Customer Experience Index found that the 15 federal agencies and programs it rated earned an average score of 59 out of 100. That’s no different than the past two years and a full 10 points lower than the average score for the private sector.

What’s more, 80 percent of federal agencies surveyed had scores that fell to the CX Index’s lowest two of seven categories. The highest score went to the National Park Service, which earned a 77, compared with a 75 in 2017, while came in last with a score of 44, down a point from 2017.

GCN spoke with Rick Parrish, principal analyst at Forrester and the report’s author, to learn more about what’s going on. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

GCN: What’s behind the government’s low CX scores?

Parrish: Although there’s a lot of activity in federal agencies around CX, much of that activity isn’t focused on the things that matter most. This has been going on for years now, where federal agencies are doing a lot of CX stuff, but they’re not necessarily doing the most effective stuff. The volume of activity isn’t necessarily going to yield an improvement. I’d rather see them work smarter rather than harder.

GCN: How can they do that?

Parrish: [Agencies] traditionally take the technology-first approach and they say, “OK, a digital experience is going to necessarily be a better experience and so we need to do a lot of digital things.” But those digital things only improve the quality of the experience insofar as they improve the drivers that matter -- drivers related to process, drivers related to customer service, drivers related to respect. To the degree to which digital things -- websites, mobile apps, chatbots, etc. -- improve on the most important drivers, then it’s good.

GCN: That makes sense.

Parrish: I don’t blame the CX folks in federal agencies for this. By and large, they tend to get it. They tend to know that if you just roll a chatbot out there, it’s not going to do anything. The problem is that they’ve had a hard time raising CX to a real strategic level of importance within the organization, and as a result, they have limited ability to impact things. They key here is showing top leaders why it’s important and getting them to focus on it as a strategic level.

GCN: Aren’t there initiatives to that end?

Parrish: The Office of Management and Budget's Cross-Agency Priority Goal has the nice, robust mandate, but an OMB mandate in itself tends not to be worth the paper it’s printed on. That’s the stick. The stick alone doesn’t do any good. You also need the carrot. Once we can get those senior folks -- those very powerful forces -- in federal agencies onboard, then they’ll give the CX people the voluntary cooperation they need.

GCN: How does the push for automation in the President’s Management Agenda affect CX?

Parrish: In itself, it’s neither good nor bad, because automation can improve the quality of the experience so long as it’s deployed consciously and carefully in service to drivers that matter. If we start with the assumption that automating a thing will automatically make that thing a better experience for customers, that is not true and that can harm the experience. The first thing we need to do is figure out -- based on real customer research, not guesses and not assumptions -- which parts of the customer experience automation will improve and do that.

GCN: What about the Modernizing Government Technology Act?

Parrish: [Agencies should use] new technology laws and mandates as tools in a customer-centric tool chest, where they start from the outside in and they say, “Here’s the way the experience needs to be improved, the way customers want the experience improved. What tools do we have at our disposal to do that?”

GCN: So don’t implement technology just to be in compliance or check a box. You need to be mindful.

Parrish: That’s exactly right. The real trick here is there are many places in the federal government in which talk about improving the quality of the experience is really talk about saving money. We know by and large that improving the quality of the experience saves money: It’s cheaper to provide a good experience than it is to provide a bad experience, digital or not. But there are times when you are going to have to choose between spending a little more to create a good CX or spending a little less to not create a good CX. CX need not always win in those conversations. You have to make a calculation. The conversation does have to be about end goals, and most federal agencies can’t have that conversation about end goals because they have not yet drawn that line from CX to customer outcomes.

About the Author

Stephanie Kanowitz is a freelance writer based in northern Virginia.


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