Customer experience is everyone’s job!

Commentary: Former GSA head of citizen services Martha Dorris argues technology alone isn't enough to improve the public's experience with government.

There’s been some fresh attention lately on the decline in service and the experience that the public is having when citizens interact with the federal government.  The American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), for instance, has reached a nine-year low in satisfaction ratings, at 63.9 out of 100. The federal government currently ranks the second lowest of any industry, as measured by Forrester Research’s Customer Experience Index, just behind the Internet service provider industry.

In a November 2015, a Pew Research Report entitled “Beyond Distrust:  How Americans View Their Government,” found that only 19 percent of the public trusts the government to do the right thing all or most of the time.

There is no shortage of areas that need focused attention to turn these trends around.  But what are the best levers that government leaders can use? Is it better technology, more innovation, improved program management, a better understanding of the importance of customer experience (CX) to the country, an understanding of the skills needed to improve CX or the culture in government?  The answer is all of the above.  Equally important is understanding that technology, while critical to improving CX, can’t solve it alone.

Martha Dorris led a variety of citizen services initiatives for GSA and the federal government before founding Dorris Consulting International.

There are numerous myths swirling around about customer experience.  Some believe if you aren’t a customer service representative in a contact center, a Transportation Security Administration agent at an airport, an in-person service agent at a social security office or a receptionist at a Veterans Administration hospital, CX isn’t your job.  That couldn’t be further from the truth.

CX is everyone’s job.  Whether you are the head of an agency or department, the chief information officer, chief acquisition officer, chief human capital officer or chief customer officer, you and your organization are part of the customer experience ecosystem.   Mission organizations can’t deliver direct service if they can’t acquire the resources they need from internal service organizations.  Business strategies drive the technology strategy.  Customer expectations drive business strategies.

Delivering an experience that exceeds expectations requires true “outside in” thinking.  It begins with executive leadership that drives the transformation.  To build on the current momentum, the next administration needs to make customer experience a priority.

What does that entail?  That means that the administration needs to signal its importance from the first day; CX expertise and experience should be considered when making appointments to lead departments and agencies; and each agency must ensure that CX is a priority in their agency.  By creating a clear customer-centric mission statement that’s released within the agency to the employees and externally to the customers, the priority will be established.  This sends a clear signal internally and externally that delivering an experience that exceeds customer expectations is important.


Organizations need to have a single person with a staff to focus on the customer enterprise-wide.  The government has had several examples of chief customer officers (chief veteran experience officers or chief customer experience officers).  This organization should align the leadership on the customer priorities, be responsible for the customer strategy, understand the experience the customers are having with the agency and manage a pipeline of improvement projects.

The CCO ensures that the customer’s experience is determined using accurate customer data to identify, prioritize and fund new initiatives.  The CCO ensures that the customer, whether they are a senior citizen, student, veteran or other segment of the population, can complete their transaction timely, easily and quickly.

Some agencies resist this office because it’s assumed CX is everyone’s job.  I agree that CX is everyone’s job. When you ask who is responsible for CX, and everyone holds up their hand, it leads everyone to believe that they are a mature customer-focused organization.

However, when there’s a customer issue and you ask, who is responsible for the customer experience and no one raises a hand, there’s a problem.

In a McKinsey & Company article, entitled “Leading and governing the customer-centric organization,” published in recent weeks, they found that “Leading customer-experience organizations tackle this problem by making customer experience a top priority for the CEO, by having senior leaders model the customer-centric behaviors that will engage and motivate employees on the front line, and by designing a customer-experience team that promotes cross-functional collaboration via targets and metrics.”


All companies that excel in customer experience understand the importance of a customer-centric culture.  It starts with an engaged workforce committed to delivering responsive service. Working in an organization that delivers superior service also motivates employees to excel.  It shouldn’t be different at government agencies.

As employees are hired, they need to be assessed not only for their specific technical skills but for their attitude towards customer service as well.  Employees need to understand the importance of CX to the organization; be trained upon hiring and continuously throughout their career.  In addition, employees need to have skills in all of the disciplines of CX such as design thinking, user experience, persona development and journey mapping.

With proper experience design and measurement, each customer can access the services they need to make decisions in their life and access the benefits and services they are entitled to during every major life event.   Providing an experience that exceeds the public’s expectations is everyone’s job!

Martha Dorris is a customer experience professional who continues the mission from her 30+ years in the federal government to lead the government in delivering an experience that exceeds the public’s expectations when accessing government services.  Martha is the Founder of Dorris Consulting International (DCI) and can be reached at

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