Our CX Recipe for Success: Complete with Ingredient List and Substitutions!

May 31, 2016

If you were to spend any time with me in the kitchen, you would often find me searching out substitutions for ingredients that I don’t have on hand or have to drive 100 miles to find. I don’t want to abandon the recipe, so I substitute instead. I find that in the world of internal government IT systems, recipes for success are hard to come by. So, what do I do? I substitute!

The word recipe is written into flour on a table, surrounded by baking ingredients and utensils.

Part of good substitution includes seeking out equivalents that will perform the same role. For example, sour milk or buttermilk are used in a recipe for a specific function. You can’t just use fresh milk and extra butter. You need to add vinegar to the fresh milk first so the chemistry comes out right.

Below is an excerpt from a DigitalGov post by Martha Dorris called What is a “Customer Centric” Culture?. It’s a great ‘recipe’, but I want employees to enjoy this ‘dish’ as much as their customers will, which means I need to make a substitution. As you read the excerpt, I want you to mentally substitute ’employee’ for ‘customer’ and see how it ‘tastes’.

The key to be a customer-centric culture is to understand who your customers are and their expectations. Customers and the customer experience strategy should be at the center of your business.

  • Do you understand how your customers want to interact with you, what information they want, and how they want to receive it?
  • Do you know if customers receive a consistent, positive experience across all channels?
  • Do you measure customer satisfaction of your product, service or program? If so, what do you do with that information?
  • Do you build that back into improvements in your products, services and/or programs?

These are all important questions as we build a customer-centric culture. These issues are critical when making business decisions. We must also acknowledge that while these principles are important, not all decisions can/will be made to satisfy our customer all the time. Particularly in the government with budget constraints, we can’t always provide the type of experience, or make every process or technology change that could result in more satisfied customers. Managing customer expectations and communicating clearly helps eliminate frustration on their part.

Butter and oil

So, did it taste good? Does the substitution make sense? I think that recipe will turn out great with my substitution! Let’s see if it works in another of Martha’s ‘recipes’, this time from 15 Government Customer Service Trends for 2015.

If your agency is looking for ways to improve the experience you provide to your customers, we recommend increasing collaboration with other agencies (federal, state, and local) to share best practices, as well as working with the private sector and non-profits to make things easier for your customers.

I think this recipe is going to be my favorite! Martha Dorris is becoming the Martha Stewart of transforming government, don’t you agree?

But there is still something missing from these recipes, so let’s try to find one where we can really make the employee ingredient the ‘star of the dish’, as they like to say on the Cooking Channel! With our substitution in place with Martha’s 5 Steps for Delivering a Better Customer Experience, we begin to create a recipe like no other.

Everyone wants to know how to provide outstanding customer experience in government. It can be difficult, because everyday our customers are also doing business with companies like Starbucks, Zappos, and Virgin America, that excel in customer service. Those experiences drive high expectations for interacting with any organization, including government agencies.

Oops, that last substitution didn’t quite work, did it? Why not? Let’s try the substitution again in this section:

Customer experience–referred to in the industry as “CX”–is more than just a product. It’s about the perception your customer has every time they interact with your office, your agency or any product within your organization. Each time they interact with your website, contact your call center or any other channel, the perception of and trust they have in your organization and agency is impacted.

It occurs to me that the problem with the substitution in this ‘recipe’ is not in the ingredients, but in the steps we follow to make the best CX we can. Government agencies are pouring hours and dollars into their external websites and external customers. But many are doing so at the expense of their internal customers–their employees. Don’t get me wrong: agencies are busy trying to improve their EVS scores and striving to improve employee engagement. And a myriad of studies and articles tell us that great customer service begins with high levels of employee engagement.

But something is missing. We need to make one more substitution. We must substitute things like ‘intranet’ for ‘internet’ and apply the CX concept to our internal systems and software. These are the systems government employees struggle with daily, systems which impede quality customer service because of their lack of reliability, their indifference to user experience (UX) best practices, and communication silos. We need to combine CX, UX, and employee engagement in a way that transforms a box cake mix into a culinary masterpiece.

One recipe isn’t going to be enough however. Like any cuisine, we’ll need an EmX (employee experience, pronounced like MX) cookbook full of recipes that we can choose from, based on the meal we want to serve, our skills in the ‘kitchen’, and most of all, how well-stocked our pantry is. The best cookbooks are the ones you find in small towns, usually created by a church or a school as a fundraiser. Why are they so great? Simply, the recipes in them have already been tested and perfected. We don’t need to reinvent the recipes; we need to find some great ones, use them as inspiration, and make our substitutions. But first, we need to get our pantry stocked with all the best ingredients.

Here are my top ten ingredients for great EmX recipes:

  • Reliability—Nothing creates a poorer customer and employee experience than an employee having to ask a customer to come back later because the system is down or is so slow that appointments are backed up. Employees deserve the same quality of ‘food’ on the intranet as they get at home on the internet. No one should have to come in early or stay late to avoid internet ‘traffic jams’ to get their work done. Neither should they have to spend time watching the ‘hamster wheel of death’ spin on their monitor waiting for a page to load an error message! Ask yourself: “How often does Google go down? How long does it take them to remedy a problem?” Use their recipes. Apply CX and UX best practices all across the board, down to the default button/action when you press ‘Enter’ or the tab order for data-entry fields.
  • Ownership—Remember that front-line employees are the ones collecting the data. You need that data and you need it to be accurate. They need access to that data for monitoring as well as the ability to make corrections. Reporting and editing should be fully funded at the beginning of the project and guarded throughout. There is nothing more frustrating than putting data into a black hole, and being unable to edit what you had permission to input in the first place. How will you recognize that you are missing this ingredient? Ask your employees about the manual methods they are using to track their workflows. You will be surprised, and hopefully chagrined, to find out how much time they spend on this because of lousy reporting capabilities. They’ll get it done because they take pride in their work, but you will have burned them out to get it. If you need to skimp, scale back somewhere else; better yet…see ingredient 3!
  • Power to Prioritize—Employees are stakeholders and are most-often ignored in the process of prioritizing features, enhancements, fixes, etc. And they are the first to feel the effects of those cuts. Instead, put them in the driver’s seat and let them decide what they need most. They are the experts in their field. Chances are, if you give them what they need, everything you need will come along for the ride. This is also important when you are replacing a system. You may think it is an upgrade, but any replacement will likely lack things that the original excelled at and vice versa. Again, let the employees choose what they are willing to trade up for because only they know how it will affect the end result.
  • Phased Roll Out—A bit like rolling out dough in the kitchen, rolling out new tech should be done in small chunks. Better to discover bugs in the first batch, than to triple the batch and multiply the problem ten-fold. Related to a good phased roll out is the call for complex cases. Ask around for the difficult tasks and make sure your design can accommodate all the nuances before you roll it out, and test them first. Find your ‘taste testers’ and ‘food critics’ and use their insight to improve your recipes.
  • Watch them Work—Whether you are replacing a current software package, or revamping your intranet, do your homework. Watch the employees, do what they do and have them talk you through the process. Do they need multiple ways of organizing or accessing data? Build them. This is where great UX recipes like card sorts or process flows can shine, with our substitutions of employee for customer. Watch them test your new recipe. Understand ‘the way we’ve always done it.’ If you can’t improve on it, don’t mess with it! As you go, test your product with real data and situations. (See also #4.) Do they grimace at some point? Take note of the pain points and apply ingredient #6. Make sure you read the recipe all the way to the end before you start.
  • The three R’s—Respond. Reduce. Remove. Pain points, that is. No one wants to hear ‘It doesn’t work like you expected, but it is working like it was designed.’ Rather, they want you to respond to their concerns, reduce their frustrations, and remove the pain points. Refer to #3 to eliminate many of the pain points earlier in the process. Hang around an office when a new system is introduced and you won’t be able to count the times you hear ‘I knew it wouldn’t work right the first time’ or ‘I could have told them that wasn’t going to work.’ Wouldn’t you rather hear ‘I think this new system is a real improvement’? No one wants to use a recipe that will leave a bad taste in their mouth.
  • Communication—This ingredient is actually a part of all the others. Communication is key throughout the process and for IT in general. Keep them informed. Tell them the ‘why’ along with the other W’s. Apply marketing techniques that you use on customers to your employees (there’s our substitution again!). Allow them to communicate with you (2-way communication) and each other (collaboration). Consider recruiting advocates and ambassadors as information conduits and contact points. Archive your communications in a way that is searchable and social. Post known issues, enhancement lists, and create a suggestion box. (Insert reference to Allison’s article.) Pay special attention to monitoring systems, alerting users, and letting them control the amount of information they receive in their inbox. See also ingredient #6!
  • Linguistics—Seek out interpreters: employees that speak geek and understand the workflow. This is especially important for agencies that have separate IT divisions with no experience with the agency’s program delivery. Don’t ask employees to learn a new language by substituting software lingo for the terms that are already familiar to them. Learn to speak ’employee-ese’ instead and customize your software or site accordingly. Instead of contractors, find employees who have an interest in programming and train them—and let them train you!
  • Lighting—Dashboard lights, that is. Remember when I mentioned the manual processes in #2? Create dashboards that will illuminate the process for the employee. Make sure it includes a navigation system that will tell them where they are in the process at any given point, either for a customer or for their office. Keep the important/urgent front and center for them, so they don’t have to try and remember it or decipher their to-do list after a long weekend.
  • Accessibility—Yep, 508 compliance. Agencies spend a lot of time on this for external sites but seem to neglect it internally. This is especially true with third-party solutions, like MS Office, which may be able to create 508 compliant documents but whose interface is anything but adaptable or accessible. Before you decide to upgrade software, pull in your taste testers and food critics to see if they make the grade. Ask them to sample your intranet and other internal communication channels as well. Teach everyone how to make 508 compliant documents so that when they collaborate, everyone benefits. Alt-text for images is a great place to start! Also, provide quality monitors and great lighting to reduce eye strain for everyone. Let’s take this little known ingredient and make it a feature in the ‘cafeteria’.
  • Won’t you join me in the kitchen and develop EmX recipes, where employee substitutes for customer in CX and for the end user in UX? The combination may just exceed everyone’s expectations. The cookbook will be a best-seller and your restaurant (agency) will be 5-star!

    A red, white, and blue cake with American flags in the background.

    Tanya McIlravy is a front-line government employee. She is passionate about customer service, employee engagement, and all things IT.