Customer service. Customer satisfaction. Improving the customer experience.
These buzzwords have become well-trodden territory among government strategists as a new wave of agencies attempt to ignite—or reignite—a focus on customers.
Of course, putting customers first is a worthy goal. But what, exactly, do we mean when we use words like “service” and “satisfaction”? These terms are easily understood in the abstract; however, precisely because of their broad, abstract nature, they can also become roadblocks for pinpointing the specific metrics—and sparking the right strategic conversations—that lead to true customer-oriented improvements.
To find the right foundational customer metrics, begin by looking at your agency’s strategic plan. Examine the publicly-stated goals that guide the entire organization. At Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im Bank), for example, one of our strategic goals is to improve the ease of doing business for customers. Because of this, the Customer Effort Score has become a key external measurement for the Bank in determining customers’ perceptions about our performance toward that goal. Our surveys ask customers: “How much effort did you personally have to put forth to complete your transaction with Ex-Im Bank?” Results are then shared, along with other, supplementary, survey results, within the Bank.
Ex-Im’s strategic plan also includes a goal to decrease customer transaction cycle times through improved process efficiencies. With this goal in mind, we make it a priority to internally measure, monitor, and share customer transaction cycle times. Employees have real-time access to cycle time data. An internal team triages a list of slow-moving transactions each week during an in-person meeting. Then, senior management reviews cycle time averages each week. This process allows us to focus our discussions on specific improvements that can be addressed through our business process reengineering efforts.
For customer experience improvement efforts to take root within an agency, one must move past relying on stock, industry standard customer satisfaction metrics, and focus on more deliberate foundational metrics that link to the agency’s strategic plan and mission.
Choose metrics that track customers’ experiences as they interact with the organization. Align those metrics with the agency’s strategic plan. That alignment can make the difference between abstract buzzwords and practical data that can be put into action toward improving customer experiences.
Stephanie Thum is Vice President of Customer Experience at the Export-Import Bank of the United States.