Three Ways to Evolve Your Agency’s Customer Mindset

May 13, 2015
Idea bulb concept with crumpled paper

Customer experience (CX) improvement projects come in many forms, but evolving an agency’s entire mindset to be customer-focused requires far more in the way of commitment, time, staff and organizational patience.

As the senior CX lead for a U.S. government agency and an advisory committee member to the President’s Cross-Agency Priority (CAP) goal on customer service, 100 percent of my focus since joining Export-Import Bank from the private sector has been on evolving the customer strategy for Ex-Im Bank, and helping other agencies do the same. In doing so, one thing I have noticed is that, generally speaking, customers of U.S. government agencies are looking for customer-oriented mindset changes from government, while agencies may be more inclined to focus on projects, one-way outreach, or what the agency needs as a rule-bound institution.

Here are three ways to evolve toward a customer mindset, based on my experience at Ex-Im Bank, and previously in the private sector.

  • Hire a customer chief. The customer chief should sit alongside the CFO, CIO and COO at the senior leadership table. Regardless of title (titles can and do vary), the customer chief’s only focus should be on driving an organization-wide customer experience strategy. Here’s why. Customers are part of the business, not outsiders to the business. Their perspectives, by fundamental business logic, should be present during strategic planning discussions, unobstructed by the agenda of any other department within the agency. The inclination may be to house CX in a discipline-oriented division like communication, IT or marketing; however, CX isn’t about outreach, public relations, HR, transactions, or operations. It’s about customers’ experiences with an entire organization and its people. It sends a message to customers and employees when a customer chief operates at the highest level of an agency.
  • Elevate customer data. One specific step Ex-Im Bank has taken to shed light on customers’ experiences is bring customer transaction cycle time data to the forefront. Cycle time is an important service standard because customers told us, it matters! So, a cross-disciplinary team of bank leaders gathers each week to review transactions in process that have exceeded established cycle time standards. Additionally, senior leaders review each week a report on cycle time averages for completed transactions, by product line. To evolve the agency-wide customer mindset, the customer chief needs to synthesize and elevate such data throughout the agency and facilitate the inevitable, related conversations.
  • Establish a rhythm and cadence to data review. As discussions around data unfold over time, it becomes natural for the conversation to move beyond information on paper, to the “why” behind the data. At Ex-Im Bank, Chairman Fred Hochberg takes a keen interest not only in cycle times, but in making sure the senior team continues the cadence of data review. That regular review of data has moved the Bank ahead on process changes like automated underwriting to help mindfully speed along transactions, and new internal communication practices that arm the front line staff with information they need to better serve customers.
  • Evolving from a project approach to a customer mindset is a long-term commitment that requires buy-in and commitment from agency leaders and their successors. Long after leadership turns over, customers will still expect smooth experiences. Building and sustaining a customer mindset requires the right customer chief, the elevation of key data, and a commitment to data review that results in serious action planning, toward improvement.Editor’s Note: Stephanie Thum will be part of a panel discussing customer service at the DigitalGov Citizen Services Summit on May 21st. Registration for the live-stream event is open to the public.