Government Customer Experience: Are We Making Progress Yet?

Stephanie Thum, CCXP

Over the past several years, I’ve been asked more times than I can count: “Why should government care about customer experience?”

The assumption is usually that government doesn’t have to care about customers, citizens, and residents because it is a monopoly. So what’s the use?

I understand why people would feel this way. Government doesn’t necessarily have the best reputation compared to consumers’ experiences with private sector organizations. Almost everyone has at least one story of how an interaction with a government organization impacted their life in a not-so-great way.

But there are multiple reasons why governments should care about the citizen experience and some emerging examples of governments showing they do care. I shared some of those points on a recent Mini Masterclass for Julia Ahlfeldt‘s Decoding the Customer podcast. On the podcast, I also mentioned some of the not-frequently-talked-about roadblocks that can keep governments from moving as quickly as citizens (and even many public servants themselves!) want.

Here are some of the highlights from the recording.

Two big reasons government should care

From where I sit, there are two big reasons why government organizations should care about experience management.

First, government touches everyone, every day. It belongs to everyone. Trust, efficiency, and transparency should be at the heart of the relationship between a government and its citizens.

But there’s usually a huge disparity between what you expect as a citizen and what most government agencies deliver. You don’t need a lot of fancy data to tell you that. Just think about some of your own experiences at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) or applying for student aid, veteran or social security benefits, or maybe a small business loan. When citizens’ basic expectations aren’t being met, that erodes their trust in government.

Second, there’s a business side to running a government agency. Just like experience management practices, like voice of the customer, strategy, governance, and service design, can help private sector businesses be more efficient, the same is true in government. The nuances of politics, law, policy, and regulation sometimes can make it more complicated to get the work done, but you can’t deny the business benefits of these proven practices.

Here are three examples of how some government entities are approaching and thinking about experience management.

Momentum around the world

There’s a lot of attention right now on Service New South Wales (NSW) in Australia as an example of what is possible in government experience management. More than 850 citizen transactions across 40 agencies are now streamlined beneath the Service NSW umbrella. As you might imagine, making that happen behind the scenes was no small task. It required a huge team of public servants invested in and passionate about their citizens. Now there is less confusion for citizens about where to go for what. And they’re not done yet. They created a role for a minister for customer service and just got $50 million in funding. When you see upper-most leadership and funding dedicated to something in government, then you know the commitment is serious.

Using available resources

Not every government has a big budget or a senior leader assigned to experience management, but there are examples of governments using the resources they do have to connect with citizens. Dublin City Council in Dublin, Ireland, for example, is using opt-in online panels to increase the feedback they can cultivate when they’re making decisions about things like zoning, local events, and policies. Citizens and residents opt into the panel, they get a quarterly survey on the topics that matter to the local community, and the city council uses their feedback to help make decisions. As a citizen, you don’t necessarily have to show up to a town-hall meeting to voice your opinion on the big topics anymore. This is a win for citizens who want modernization and digitization from their local government.

Growing influence of oversight bodies in the U.S.

Meanwhile, back in the U.S., federal agencies now have White House guidancelegislation, and a president’s management agenda goal on customer experience that move experience management practices from “nice to have” into the realms of reality and requirement.

It’s also worth noting that oversight bodies like the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and Inspectors General (IGs) are also using their influence to call for agencies to collect more customer feedback, clarify communication with citizens, and speed up customer wait times at the post office. The Veterans Affairs (VA) IG is also systematically using customer and employee feedback data to assess leadership and operational risks inside VA medical facilities. The GAO and IGs have similar missions: to make government better and to mitigate fraud, waste, and abuse. When they call for agencies to improve, that call comes in public, written form. Agencies can’t ignore their findings and recommendations. They have to respond.


All this being said, it’s important to understand some of the roadblocks that continually loom for many government agencies. Sometimes laws that were created long ago stand in the way of agencies creating new solutions that would make certain processes easier, faster, and more transparent for citizens, agencies, and even their elected officials. In the U.S., Congress is responsible for changing laws. Agencies aren’t.

Thanks to Julia Ahlfeld for the opportunity to quickly highlight some examples of customer experience practices in motion around the world, along with some of the reasons why it isn’t always as easy as you might think for governments to just change how they do things.

The good news is we haven’t seen the last of the progress. In fact, I think this is just the beginning.

Learn more about SAP’s Digital Access Licensing Model & Adoption Program by joining our webinar session on September 10. Get an overview of the concept of Digital Access and find out how SAP recognizes previous customer investments.

All views are mine. Follow me on Twitter: @stephaniethum.

Stephanie Thum, CCXP

About Stephanie Thum, CCXP

Stephanie is a Certified Customer Experience Professional (CCXP) who got her start in the customer experience profession working with the Big Four accounting firm of EY. She eventually became one of the U.S. federal government's first agency-level heads of customer experience. Her background also includes work as Qualtrics' Chief Advisor for Federal Customer Experience, where she counseled governments around the world on experience management strategies and tactics. She also spent time on SAP's Catalyst team counseling SAP's small and mid-sized audiences on security and CX, digital transformation, and modern-day voice of the customer practices via videos, blogs, and podcasts. She is a published writer, panelist, facilitator, presenter, and speaker.