Delivering seamless customer journeys

Back-end coordination is key
Apr 16, 2024

When two rivers meet

Let’s do a little experiment. Visit two government websites on similar topics (for example, try and Do they look the same? Probably not.

There is a natural phenomenon that happens when you see two rivers meet. They’re both water, they’re at the same spot, they have the same people fishing right there, same fish, but where the water touches, you can see a seam that separates the two bodies of water.

At the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), we’ve found that we have many websites that share a similar purpose, but just like those two rivers, they start in different places, they’re managed by different offices or programs, and as a result they look different. When it comes to customer experience, a seam between two related websites is a distraction that makes our websites harder to use than they should be.

So, how can we make things seamless? GSA’s Office of Customer Experience decided to figure it out.

4 steps to create a seamless customer journey

Step 1. Determine the services offered

The Office of Customer Experience conducted a high-level content analysis on GSA’s 184 public-facing websites to determine the services each site offers. By coupling this analysis with a manual review of each website, we’ve identified 75 separate services that GSA offers to the public across all agency websites.

Is each website dedicated to a single service? No.

Of those 184 sites, 102 (57%) of them provide more than one service. Of that 102, 86 of them provide the same service as another site in that group, typically with a slight difference in scope. This isn’t necessarily a problem, but we do recognize that, to outside users, similar services are like those two rivers meeting in one spot, and it is GSA’s responsibility to make them flow together seamlessly.

Step 2. Define the challenges

It would be a mistake to assume all website managers face the same challenges. Some of our websites support up to five different services, and it’s a complicated challenge to build a website that seamlessly serves multiple audiences, services, or customer needs.

Another complexity is in the realm of documentation and compliance burden. A single website manager could be operating nine different websites tied to 10 different services (a real example we uncovered in our research at GSA). Each federal website must comply with hundreds of federal requirements. That’s a lot of institutional knowledge, and a lot of documentation that a single person or team must maintain.

To complicate matters further, of the 75 services we identified at GSA, only 16 of them are supported by a single website dedicated to that purpose. In other words, of all the services GSA provides, more than half are carried out by people who work for different bosses in different reporting structures.

Pairing our knowledge of website managers with human resources data, we dug in to figure out what the added cost of collaboration is for the people doing this work, right down to the supervisors, website managers, and content contributors that need to be on the same page. In some cases it’s an enormous challenge. The manager of a website marketing a GSA program might need to coordinate with 17 other sites, 12 other website managers, 11 GSA departments, and 5 other business lines.

Step 3. Determine common metrics

Back in October 2022, the Office of Customer Experience wrote about measuring over 70 agency websites in the six areas of:

We generated narrative reports, with visualizations that look like the following:

Each slice of this colorful “pie” represents one of the six categories above. The bigger the slice, the closer the website is to performing in an ideal manner, according to our methodology. Read more about how we use this methodology to determine the true value of a website.

A year later, we’ve reviewed 136 websites, and we’re reviewing the remaining sites this year to gain further insights from across our entire web portfolio.

We’ve learned that a small website about a single acquisition vehicle should probably not be evaluated in the same way as a site with the scope and size of, for example, our agency flagship website, Grouping websites by services means that, at the very least, we consider similarities in customers when we compare measurements, which helps us begin to understand customers who are likely to visit more than one site as part of their journey.

Step 4. Connect people with data they can act on

Related services are more likely to share common customers. They also represent a collective set of “deal breakers” when it comes to customer experience. If customers who are particularly sensitive to performance issues use two related sites, poor performance on website A will reflect poorly on website B, even if there are no performance issues on site B.

When people have a bad experience with one government website, it may impact their impression of every government website. Consequently, every government website manager is not just responsible for their own website performance. They own some responsibility for every bit of traffic they pass on to other government sites, as well as how their site’s performance reflects on the trust and performance of the entire federal government.

Even when two sites are less likely to be in a single journey, if they offer a similar service, they are likely to ask the same fundamental questions, or provide similar functionality. It doesn’t matter if a site is about office supplies or lighthouses (two things GSA offers), both sites have to decide where and how to display products, present a price, and complete an online transaction. Each web team is asking similar questions. They need to learn from each other, to improve consistency in online interactions across the agency and the federal government.

What happens next?

We know that seams exist between our websites. We know who is creating each site, and that they each know something about their customers. We also know that these teams are commonly not in the same office — and as a result, not talking to each other as often as they could.

Here are the next steps in our quest to create a more seamless digital experience at GSA:

  • Compile our research by business line and service
  • Host workshops on service categories to help managers look across their organizational silos and determine what’s required to develop sustained collaboration
  • Analyze the results of these conversations to learn how we can continue to refine our digital services

We are seizing this opportunity. As we unify website managers around their services and their customers, GSA’s digital ecosystem will no longer be separate “rivers” with offices flowing through them. Instead, we will be serving the people who are at the river to fish, boat, and have an enjoyable day.

What can I do next?

Review an introduction to analytics to learn more about measuring website effectiveness.

If you work at a U.S. federal government agency, and would like to learn more about this work, reach out to GSA’s Office of Customer Experience at