The Content Corner: Connecting With Customers at Labor

May 18, 2015
Outline of a figure is surrounded by social and business icons

Here at DigitalGov, customer service is a focal theme during the month of May, and by some type of cosmic chance, I was invited to share my insights on content strategy and content creation at a Customer Service Community of Practice event at the Department of Labor. The event focused on topics I commonly discuss here in The Content Corner, such as efficient and interesting content and how better content translates into better customer service.

Content = Customer Service

After being asked to speak at a customer service event, I started to really think about how customer service as a concept has changed during the digital age into a more proactive instead of reactive process and how Web content plays a central role. In the past, customer service commonly involved customers reaching out for help from a representative to solve a problem. And while that type of interaction can still take place (especially on Twitter, from my experience), the focus is much more on proactively trying to solve problems before they even exist. As content professionals, this means developing personas and user stories to better understand users and guiding them along their way as painlessly as possible via content.

The Struggle for More Engaging Content

L to R: Erica Roberts-Program Manager DOL Customer Service Program Office, Ty Manuel-IT Specialist Administrative Office of the US Courts, Renee Tajudeen-Director of Policy Communication and Outreach DOL's Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP), Laura Miller-Special Assistant to the Secretary of Labor, Leonard Sipes-Senior Public Affairs Specialist and Social Media Manager for Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency (Federal Executive Agency).

The customer service event at Labor, organized by the extremely hard-working Erica Roberts, Program Manager of the Customer Service Program Office, is part of an ongoing initiative government-wide to encourage cross-agency customer service by reaching across the government to share and learn from each other. This session’s main goal was to help Labor’s various agencies create more engaging and consumable content, all in the name of providing better service to the customer.

The Obama administration made digital government and a more customer-centric government a primary focus upon coming into office, and this blog and this platform and all the things you read about here are an outgrowth of the gauntlet laid down by the administration. One of the key parts of that initiative is plain language and easily digestible content, a struggle discussed by the agency representatives at Labor. One example was the challenge of making extremely dense policy documents or presentations more accessible and scannable to the user. Some suggestions from the panelists included:

I also took the opportunity to commend those gathered for realizing the need to create better content and seeing that improvements could be made and for their dedication to the customer. However, another challenge was how these creative employees could build on their ideas and break free from the ways content has always been presented.

More Freedom to Innovate

Any time enough government digital folks gather, a common theme or question arises about how to get managers or higher-level decision makers on board with new(er) or more innovative ways of presenting content. The excitement and interest at the content creator level has to translate upwards to keep that flame lit and to grow the desire to innovate. That is essential to creating content that connects with the customer and enhances your reputation among the customer base. Panelist Leonard Sipes from the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency discussed how easy it is to create quality content today and that government needs to more fully embrace this revolution in all types of content production, including video and audio.

Another method discussed was to leverage the successful campaigns of other organizations as a proof of concept to management within your agency. Laura Miller, Digital Strategy Lead at Labor, shared several of the ways that Labor is engaging with customers via various social media platforms, using campaigns such as #RaiseTheWage and telling stories around the theme of paid leave (#LeadOnLeave). Their innovative and successful campaigns, with the heavy involvement of Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez, can serve as great examples to share within your organization to help inspire your managers and others to innovate.

I want to thank Erica Roberts for inviting me to speak to her colleagues at Labor as they strive to take up the challenge of a more customer-centric digital government. It is always great to get together with others involved in digital media within the government, especially with folks that are as passionate about it as I am. Laura and her Labor colleague Renee Tajudeen continue to pursue innovative ways to increase transparency and to support those with disabilities. And Leonard, with his 35 years of experience in media, was a source of deep knowledge, and his passion should be an inspiration to all of us involved in customer service.

You’ve just finished reading the latest article from our Monday column, The Content Corner. This column focuses on helping solve the main content issues facing federal digital professionals, including producing enough content and making that content engaging.