Department Spotlight ~ U.S. Department of Agriculture: Harvesting Crops and Innovation

Fall visits to the farmers market take us back to simpler times when people lived off the land. Today's farmers may provide the same "output" of food, but how they manage the growth and distribution of it has changed dramatically.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) was established in 1862 and was nicknamed "The People's Department" by President Lincoln because of its mission to support the farmers that feed the nation. Today, the USDA is focused on providing "leadership on food, agriculture, natural resources, rural development, nutrition, and related issues based on public policy, the best available science, and effective management."

In achieving this mission, the USDA has become a hub for innovation. It was chosen as the first host agency for a modernization Center of Excellence (CoE). Spearheaded by the General Services Administration (GSA), the CoE at USDA was established to accelerate IT modernization across government to improve the public experience and increase operational efficiency. The CoE centralizes top government tech talent and combines it with private sector experts and expertise to implement best practices to move processes and technologies ahead. The CoE is focused on five functional areas: Cloud Adoption, Contact Center, Customer Experience, Data Analytics, and Infrastructure Optimization.

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Answering the Call for Service: Customer Service Evolution in Government

Improving citizen experience continues to be a huge priority of agencies as part of their digital modernization. In fact, one survey found that more than half of government employees said there was a gap between the customer service their agency provides and what they experience in the private sector. While creating self-service portals is a big part of modernization, contact centers will continue to play a huge role in how the government interacts with citizens.

Contact centers may be more traditionally or commonly known as call centers. But this change in vocabulary is more than just semantics. Today's centers extend well beyond contact over the phone. To provide modern customer service, contact centers need to encompass online queries via email, live chats, social media, and in-person visits, in addition to phone calls. The response people get over these multiple mediums needs to be consistent and requires an overarching strategy and message that is understood by all representatives regardless of how they interact with citizens.

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The Next Frontier of Citizen Experience

Citizen Experience is a focus of the President's Management Agenda and the resulting IT Modernization Centers of Excellence. This focal point is a result of government receiving poor customer service marks (ranking them on par or below cable companies) year after year. Agencies have evolved from requiring citizens to visit a government office to fill out sheets of paperwork to online portals that provide much of that same paperwork online. It quickly became clear, however, that simply moving paperwork online was not the answer to improving citizen experience with government. Today the technology exists to take that online interaction to the next level.

Social media, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT), video chat, text, and chatbots are being used throughout government to give citizens a more direct and personalized digital line to the agencies that serve them. Cities are using IoT to better communicate the whereabouts and schedule of public transport as well as air quality levels. AI is powering website chatbots and search functions allowing for more self-service of citizens looking to conduct business with the government 24/7.

But technology alone will not improve the government's customer service scores. The culture and morale of the government workforce also plays a huge role in the service that is delivered to citizens. Service representatives in government should be trained on new systems and shown how technologies will enhance, rather than replace, their jobs. Continue reading

Government Gets Social

Social media management platform, Hootsuite, recently released "The Social Government Benchmark Report 2018" that looked at how agencies are using and viewing social media use in connection with their mission. The report examined the value of social media for government organizations as well as explored best practices for enterprise-level social media management for government.

The survey of public sector employees found that about half of respondents rated their agency's use of social media as good or excellent. The top use cases for social media cited were:

  • Citizen engagement (77%) - social media allows for a better understanding of citizen needs and they've seen an increase in positive sentiment.
  • Customer care/service delivery (48%) - teams are able to have faster response times.
  • Critical response communications (47%) - agencies found that citizens are better informed about critical issues and rumors are quickly addressed via social channels.
  • Employer branding and recruitment (45%) - respondents say they are getting a higher volume of candidates as a result of social outreach.

Based on these successes, it's no surprise public servants want to do more with social. 87% of respondents said there is room for improvement. Luckily, there are several events in the coming months that can provide guidance on how public sector organizations can better use social media. Continue reading

Trends and Tactics for the Government Customer Experience

The recently released President's Management Agenda (PMA) is focused on the issue of declining trust in government. In the report, this lack of trust is tied to the poor customer service citizens receive from government. In the age of Amazon, Uber, and social media reliance, the level of service people expect from companies has dramatically changed. Citizens expect to be able to contact organizations on their terms (via mobile, online chat, email, phone) and that when they connect with someone, they will have all relevant data at their fingertips. While that has been a reality in the commercial sector, it's a fairly new concept for government.

In 2014 President Obama made citizen service a cross agency priority. Since that time agencies have made large strides in improving how they interact with the citizens they serve. In fact, according to the 2017 ACSI Federal Government Report, citizen satisfaction with government service is at its highest levels since 2006. But there is still much work to be done. Continue reading