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Chief Customer Officers in the Federal Government: Interview with Anahita Reilly, GSA

Kindra Cooper

chief customer officer

When the average person thinks of customer experience in the federal government, they think of the show, Parks and Recreation. Their latest visit to the DMV. Reams of needless paperwork and begrudging customer service.

Improving the customer experience and making it easier for the American taxpayer to access the information and services they need undoubtedly saves everyone money, and that’s what the General Services Administration has set out to do.

The first federal agency to hire a chief customer officer, the GSA is responsible for supporting other government agencies with procurement and providing transportation and office space to federal employees with an annual operating budget of $20.9 billion. It also develops government-wide cost-minimizing policies.

Why the federal government needs chief customer officers

chief customer officer In 2014, GSA became the first federal agency to hire a chief customer officer – but it wasn’t to teach federal employees to care about the customer experience, says the current CCO, Anahita Reilly. It was meant to harness existing enthusiasm for customer care and provide employees with the right tools to meet customer needs.

“We know our employees care [...] because they’re here, they’re civil servants, they care about the mission,” Reilly told CCW Digital. “What we want to look at are what are those underlying pieces of the organization that are getting in the way of employees providing a good customer experience.”

One of those impediments was the communication silos between the various business lines within GSA, which drove down customer satisfaction scores, and the fact that customer survey data from the various agencies wasn’t centralized. Something as simple as consolidating survey data into one platform saves the American taxpayer $3 million a year.

“I meet people and I do a lot of listening to hear what is really working well for them and what could be working better,” explained Reilly, who is speaking at the CCO Exchange in Chicago this May.

Creating a culture of feedback

In 2017, GSA, in partnership with the US Department of State and the Social Security Administration launched the Feedback USA customer experience pilot where people applying for passports and social security cards could provide quick feedback by tapping a single kiosk button to indicate how they felt about the service experience - not unlike the feedback mechanisms one encounters in certain airport public restrooms.

Read more: Customer Centricity in the Grocery Business According to Kroger CCO 

GSA’s own customer base is threefold: other federal agencies, state and local governments and the American taxpayer. In pursuit of human-centered design, the agency gathers qualitative and quantitative data, the former through interviews, research studies, observing customers and UX testing, and the latter through surveys.

When Reilly was promoted to CCO in 2016, she was focused on understanding the typical customer journey and building a customer-first mentality across the organization.

“Based on what I hear I go back and I try to connect some dots with my team on how to link the different efforts in the agency that affect this particular customer or customer group,” she explained.

GSA’s Office of the Centers of Excellence works with other federal agencies to develop their own CX programs, creating customer interview and survey guides, journey maps and personas.

“The team was created to test this hypothesis that having a small team dedicated to the customer would drive positive changes,” Reilly said. “And when we first formed this organization our priorities were to visualize and understand our predominant customer journey and achieve quick wins to improve the journey.”

This became a “minimum viable product” that was templated for the other agencies to use as well.

Eliminating customer effort in the federal government

It’s common knowledge that applying for government contracts is a nightmare. This was one of the pain points GSA sought to tackle by rethinking its federal marketplace strategy, which denotes how buying and selling is done within the government.

Vendors supply the items governments need and GSA provides a modernized, ecommerce-based acquisition system to help agencies buy from them. The new strategy helps modernize the buying and selling experience for customers, suppliers and acquisition professionals while reducing barriers to doing business with the government and improving access to opportunities for qualified suppliers.

Read more: How Spotify Does It - Using Data Science and AI to Know the Customer 

“The motto that has come out for this is easy, efficient and modern,” says Reilly, “which speaks exactly to what our customers have said and what they want.”

Although CX in the public sector continues to lag behind the public sector, American taxpayers are demanding an equally digitized, frictionless experience when interacting with government agencies.

At the CCO Exchange in May, Reilly will share the specifics of GSA’s CX strategy, how the government agency set up its Voice of Customer program and instilled a customer-first mentality across the organization.