Service Design for Government
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Video: Design Thinking Explained

Sometimes helping kids with homework takes a little out-of-the-box thinking! Design thinking, that is.

In this video, I help my son, Vinny, build a boat for his kindergarten water day by applying the principles of design thinking. It was a fun project for both of us and a great way to illustrate the basics of design thinking.

More articles from Technical Assent about design thinking:

In Government Service Design, Thinking Like Your Customer Is Not Enough

Avoiding the Sugar Crash of IT Modernization

Making Virtual Design-Thinking Efforts Effective in Government

Epic Presentation-Fail Yields Real-World Prototyping Lessons for Government

Boy licking an ice cream cone

Avoiding the Sugar Crash of IT Modernization

IT leaders across government are clearly re-energized about IT modernization, thanks to recent legislation, funding, and prioritization. It is a bit like the professional version of the end-of-school-year ice cream party many of us witness as our children set their sights on summer vacation. FedScoop’s IT Modernization Summit in March confirmed this excitement through interviews with more than 20 IT leaders from across government and industry.

Much of the chatter in the beltway about modernizing government technology systems focuses on cloud migration for email and reducing the profile for cyber attackers, but there are some foundational aspects of the way we think about IT modernization that we need to be considering as well. These strategies will push beyond the initial sugar high and into the sustainable successes we need to make IT modernization a reality over the long term.

Earn a seat at the table by framing technology in terms of mission impact

CIOs have long advocated for a “seat at the executive table” but it might not be clear to everyone else why this is so important. Unfortunately, some misguided souls may believe it is to provide a direct link to the help desk, to shepherd a pet project, or to get status updates on ongoing IT projects. Business function leads–like the COO or CFO–who already have a seat at the executive table understand how their key piece impacts the mission and have developed a capability to communicate in those terms. IT executives advocating for a seat at the table must be able to do the same by talking about how technology impacts the mission’s bottom line.

A good example of this comes from a story a colleague of mine shared recently. My colleague–a seasoned executive IT consultant–was meeting with an IT project manager and the IT project manager’s boss, who had responsibility for mission operations. The IT project manager had expressed frustration that outside technical teams had come to the facility to provide periodic system upgrades without giving any prior notice. The complaint began to ramble about how the unexpected outage would impact mean time to repair metrics and cause his team to work overtime that week. The IT project manager’s boss, shrugged off the incident and made it clear that periodic maintenance to IT equipment did not warrant her time and attention.

The executive IT consultant, who has earned a regular seat at the executive table and understands how to talk about technology in mission terms, explaining that the boss had unknowingly assumed specific operational risks during the maintenance period because the operating capability of their key missions systems was being reduced. And because the boss wasn’t aware of what was upgraded, how confident could she be that her mission capabilities were as effective now as they were prior to the upgrade? As our missions become more dependent on IT, so does our ability to effect mission outcomes.  

We are modernizing government services, not technologies

People who use government services care that their problem gets solved with as little effort as possible. Well-designed services should function smoothly and intuitively for its customers. But poorly designed services put the burden on the customers to get the service to function properly. This is too often the result of the false promise of technology – that through the magic of AI, big data, and [insert IT buzzword], we can take poorly designed processes and make them serve people’s needs better.

This is why customer experience is so critical to our IT modernization efforts. The role of customer experience in these IT modernization initiatives is not just designing a better user interface or pushing more short surveys at the point of service – it is fundamentally understanding the services that government provides.  Mat Hunter, Chief Design Officer at the Design Council in the UK, explains the concept as

“[Shaping] service experiences so that they really work for people. Removing the lumps and bumps that make them frustrating, and then adding some magic to make them compelling.”

Technology plays a major role in the way we deliver government services at scale. It impacts the reliability, security, and availability of government services; it provides us the power to customize and tailor the experience individually in real time for billions of people. And yet, for as much we rely on the technology to make the services work, we must always remember that technology is not the end game.  We need to continue to put IT in the service of people and remember that it is just a tool that enables a human-to-human connection to occur faster, more reliably, and more securely.

Innovation comes from deep customer understanding

With $100 million of Technology Modernization Funds on the table, government leaders are vying for some kind of advantage to get a leg up on the competition. I was speaking to a well-known innovation leader last week who indicated she fielded several calls from agencies about whether her team could use “innovation” help them find that next golden egg.

The answer lies within another capability that is already built into the IT modernization framework – service delivery analytics. We need to ask a few key questions about how we are serving our customers today to help target our modernization and improvement efforts for the future:  

  1. “What does the customer care about?”
  2. “What segments of the customer journey are we really good at and how do we ensure that every customer receives that quality service, every time?”
  3. “What are we doing today that causes our customers frustration; most importantly, where does that frustration reach a level where they abandon or disengage?”
  4. “How might we uncover latent demand or untapped potential where there is a need that is not yet being served?

The answers to these questions, at least in part, begin with an understanding of how service delivery is being measured today. Service delivery analytics can be a powerful engine to help resolve immediate customer issues but also help engage customers in an ongoing dialogue about where they are going long term.

It is a tremendous opportunity to follow customer needs and understand the delta between how those needs are met today, how those needs are evolving, and what you need to differently tomorrow in order to meet them.

GSA’s Center of Excellence Director (and Director of Technology Transformation Services and Deputy Commissioner of the Federal Acquisition Service) Joanne Collins Smee remarked at FedScoop’s IT Modernization Summit that

“Agencies need to enhance the capabilities of IT workers who are already in place.”

She also acknowledged USDA’s strategy to bring in top IT talent to help drive culture change across the organization.

Sustaining momentum for long term change in IT modernization

With the current energy and momentum for government IT modernization comes great opportunity. As we continue to position IT modernization for long term success, it is essential that agencies understand these foundational aspects of IT services and continue to expand the capabilities of boundary spanners who can effectively communicate in the language of the technology, the language of the mission, and the language of the customers.

Technical Asset Joins Mural’s Consultant Network

Company logo of MuralWe have some exciting news to share: Technical Assent is now a member of Mural’s consultant network.

Mural is a great way to do virtual collaboration on design projects, plan and manage agile projects, and create business models and product canvases. As a member of the consultant network, we’ll be able to invite clients to join us on Mural as we work on their projects.

Follow this link to find out more about Mural and see some examples of what it can do! Below is a glimpse of a Mural virtual collaboration canvas in action.

A Technical Assent consultants uses a sheet of paper as a visual aid in presenting a prototype to government employees

Epic Presentation-Fail Yields Real-World Prototyping Lessons for Government

A Technical Assent employee talks with a group of government employees during a prototyping sessionRecently, I traveled to Florida with a co-worker to test some service prototypes with a government audience. Long story short, once we arrived, everything went wrong.

 This wasn’t my first rodeo and, as usual when presenting at someone else’s facility, we had prepared many backups for our technology setup. We had our materials on a hard drive. We them on the cloud. We had them on external media drives and we had emailed files to the our audience in advance. But for one reason or another, none of it worked.

 Fortunately, we had printouts of a paper-based exercise with us, but even the electronic presentation meant to guide participants through that exercise didn’t work. The computer “game” was functioning, but instead of using it on a projector as intended, it could now only be played on a single laptop screen.

 We only had three hours’ time with the group, we needed their feedback, and we’d already traveled six hours to get there. So we proceeded using only what we had. And you know what? It went surprisingly well.

Aside from the obvious embarrassment and frustration of falling prey to Murphy’s Law, the feedback we got from this catastrophic test was just as good—and possibly better—than what we were able to capture in previous tech-enabled tests. Here’s why (and a few of the prototyping lessons for government we learned):

My introduction was reduced to only the most important points

In government work, we tend to demonstrate our understanding of complex bureaucratic frameworks by caveating and referencing everything we say. As consultants, we also tend to spend lots of time reassuring clients that our recommendations come from demonstrable expertise and logic. Therefore, not having a carefully prepared set of slides in this context was daunting—but the format forced brevity, directness, and honesty with the audience. I had only one “slide”: the whiteboard in the room where I’d scribbled a few notes from memory of my PowerPoint presentation.

The result was that the preliminaries were over quickly and after few questions, we were on our way. People were moving around, asking questions, engaging immediately at the start of the event rather than 20 minutes in.

We learned something about the structure of the offering

Rather than having 15 people move through the exercises in order, we broke into small groups. Some of the participants gathered around the laptop for the “game” while others worked through the paper packets.  The results of individual exercises were roughly comparable to results collected from tests done “in order.” As a result, I now understand that a series of exercises we had previously considered to be strictly linear might be rearranged (or possibly made iterative) without seriously impacting the outcome.

Participants’ deeper engagement revealed intrinsic priorities

The clarifications I had to give while we played in the new—unintended—format helped me understand which parts of the presentation really mattered most. The format highlighted what participants understood intuitively and what actually requires additional preparation. The thoughtfulness and level of detail participants put into the feedback demonstrated a much deeper engagement with the prototypes than previous tests.

It was clear what we didn’t yet understand about our own prototypes

The reason? All the answers and directions we gave participants were from memory. Watching our team explain the prototypes from memory gave me not only a list of things to improve about the prototype, but also a better understanding of what kinds of training we’ll need to do with staff to ensure everyone has the basic expertise required to facilitate in a situation like this.

Technical Assent employees use memory and paper simulations after their electronic prototyping models failed during a presentationConclusion: Including these prototyping lessons for government in future events

While I love plans, and believe in the power of technology to support engagement, this “failure” of technology and planning was actually refreshing. My main takeaway from this experience was that rather than preparing presentations in the hopes that nothing breaks, sometimes the thing to do in an iterative design process really is to build the “break” in intentionally. This is a relatively common tactic in design thinking, but one that can still feel foreign and scary in the government consulting space.

I’m already brainstorming effective ways to intentionally get the same kinds of results we got from this “failure.” For others working in government, do you intentionally build in chaos when you test ideas? What works (or doesn’t work) for you? I’d love to hear your ideas.

A group of professionals interact at a table; engaging with customers is key in government service design

In Government Service Design, Thinking Like Your Customer Is Not Enough

Technical Assent’s vision is helping federal government organizations create excellent services. To do this, we emphasize with our government service design teams how important it is to “think like your customer.” What we mean by this is that we should have a good understanding of who our customer is and what they want. But here’s the thing—it’s almost impossible to think exactly like your customer in a realistic way.

My team is in the midst of designing and developing a solution offering that takes incredibly complex problems like rising sea levels and makes them approachable by turning them into collaborative games and exercises. We’ve spent months developing something we thought would make sense to our target client base. Last week, we went off-site and tested our offering twice with two groups of volunteers from government offices. The volunteers ranged from experienced SMEs to junior staff performing support work on the topic area.

The results?

Some people loved what we were doing. Some didn’t understand why we were talking to them in the first place. Some saw opportunities in our vision but identified things they wanted to change.

The Key to Success Government Service Design

Part of the reason consultants and designers spend so much of their time trying to think like their customers is that it’s incredibly hard—nearly impossible—to do. No matter how hard you work to understand your customer base, define personas, identify points of view, and create empathy, the design team is never going to be able to see things exactly like your customers do.

Part of this is the nature of human complexity; people are diverse and hard to predict. Part of this is natural bias on the part of the designer. But here’s the takeaway: no matter how much time you spend trying to think like your customer, the most important part of any design effort is to take the time to test your solution and gain feedback from actual people who are not you and who would conceivably be your customers.

This is not rocket science, but it’s a detail that is easy to forget or skip all together. Sitting in an office and iterating based on the team’s is a lot less work and a lot more comfortable than identifying effective, appropriate ways to test with government customers.

But despite the potential to be uncomfortable, do take this step. Schedule opportunities for real customer feedback early and often, and make sure you listen. After all, seeking customer feedback is not something that is just for private industry; this is absolutely critical to real success in government service design as well.

Lightbulb resting on a small chalkboard with the names of international cities surrounding it

Making Virtual Design-Thinking Efforts Effective in Government

Most design-thinking efforts are conceived and executed as in-person workshops marked by the shoulder-to-shoulder collaboration of participants at whiteboards and a flurry of post-it notes. The design-thinking ethos is premised on the idea that interaction breeds empathy, creativity, and ultimately results in good problem solving.

To be sure, face-to-face interaction is one of the fastest ways to get there, but it isn’t the only way. The need to keep costs low, respect telework agreements, and include global or faraway colleagues in critical solution design are all considerations that demand some level of virtual capability in design-thinking.

There are lots of great firms out there with examples, tools, and kits to help aspiring designers conceive and execute their own design projects (Ideo’s Design Kit, Luma’s Innovation Path, and Accenture Fjord Interactive to name a few). However, virtual design projects require special considerations to be effective.

At Technical Assent, we’ve been facilitating virtual collaboration and design sessions for our clients in the federal government since 2015. We continuously work to improve our capability to facilitate and deliver design-thinking workshops and outcomes for clients – both in person and virtually, nationally and globally. In addition, being a firm with many remote employees, we regularly devote time to practicing virtual design.

There are many advantages and some drawbacks of leveraging virtual collaboration in design efforts, and, here, we are sharing some of our best practices and most important considerations for successful virtual design-thinking efforts.

1. Structuring Your Virtual Design Project

To make virtual collaboration for design projects effective, the most important consideration is structure. The workshop must be structured with participation in mind to avoid remote participants feeling left out or frustrated. If this happens, they will “tune out,” leaving you without the benefit of their ideas and inputs. We consider the following very carefully when structuring a design-thinking effort:

 Spend more time planning.

We have found that the effective execution of a design project in a fully virtual environment or with some remote participants requires twice as long for planning as a traditional design effort. A few of the things that take extra time include:

  • Adapting and testing exercises to the virtual setting
  • Selecting interaction tools and platforms as part of designing the exercise
  • Testing and troubleshooting IT across multiple nodes of activity

 

Choose your activities wisely (and test them!).

We try not to select activities that require lots of space or fast communication. On the other hand, many drawing, symbol, and board-based activities work well. For example, abstraction laddering is very challenging on a small screen but concept posters and “visualize the vote” work very well. We test activities ahead of time to make sure they will work, and as we do so, we identify the “rules of engagement” for the activity.

Think hard about information flow.

Virtual design-thinking efforts require planning to ensure we can move information from one activity or screen to another, and to decide who is responsible for doing what. Knowing your information flow prevents glitches during the event and allows you to have more accurate timing and scheduling.

Consider timing very carefully.

If all your participants are in one room, it’s relatively easy to change a schedule (“Everyone finished early? Ok, let’s start sharing now.”). It’s possible, but not easy, to do the same thing when everyone is behind a computer. Additionally, we find most activities take a little bit longer virtually. Plan your schedule conservatively and try to stick to it.

2. Choosing Collaboration Tools

There are so many great collaboration tools out there right now, it can be dizzying to pick one. Tools have different price points and usability considerations for unfamiliar audiences. Try not to rely on any one platform simply because it’s new or has lots of features. Most tools do some things really well, but no tool does everything well.

Choose your tools based on what you need to get done, your budget, your client’s IT constraints (especially in federal government), and the tech literacy of your participants. You can get great results with simple screen sharing and a conference call, if your activities are well structured and facilitated.

3. Facilitating Your Virtual Design Effort

Facilitation—or leadership—is always important in a design effort. It’s especially important when your group of designers are dispersed and collaborating virtually.

Establish communication ground rules.

Communication is key to good collaboration, and good communication is always just a bit trickier over phones and computers. Consider instituting ground rules before you start to ensure everyone isn’t trying to talk or edit at once. That way all ideas are heard and no one gets frustrated.

Consider your introverted participants.

It’s much easier for shy or quiet participants to fade into the background in a virtual setting. Either be prepared to gently coax ideas out of your less extroverted participants more often than you would in a face-to-face session, or use the relative anonymity of “remote participation” to support individual brainstorming and ideation before participants share with a group.

Be patient.

Technology always requires some troubleshooting and learning before everyone is 100% effective. Be patient, and advise others to be patient as well.

Balance structure with flexibility.

The extra structure required by communication ground rules and careful time planning must be balanced carefully with the need for flexibility to accommodate the innovation process. Try to be cognizant of that balance as you facilitate, and be prepared to have your plan stymied. If you take changes in stride and have a good sense of humor, you (and your participants!) can adapt and still get great results.

Consider hybrid alternatives.

Thinks about if there is a way you can organize the project so that in-person collaboration is only required for a portion of the exercise rather than the whole project. For example, being in-person for a single day at the end of a session instead of the whole time. That way you can take advantage of both methods.


Written by Danielle Wiederoder and Jonathan Miller

U.S. Capitol during cherry blossom season represents the idea of government innovation

Government Innovation with Purpose in a New Administration

In April, I attended MITX’s DesignTech summit in Boston and had the opportunity to talk to a lot of really interesting folks designing innovations in the IT world today. As a government innovation professional, I particularly enjoyed the keynote by Gene Han – he said two things in that stuck with me:

  1. Innovation must have purpose
  2. Innovation is about getting things to work together (it’s not always about the most advanced technology)

 

Both statements are simple, and neither is totally new, but these are sometimes hard principles to remember and apply – particularly in the government innovation world. Mr. Han probably didn’t have the federal government (or state or local) in the front of his mind when he gave his talk, but it struck me how important these two principles are for the government (and those like me who support them) in this precise moment.

Big-budget departments like the Department of Defense have been talking about government innovation for some time – former Secretary of Defense Ash Carter gave a speech this week reminding the world of the steps he took to try to bring innovation back to Defense. However, the future of those initiatives is cloudy in a new administration with different priorities.

Other organizations, many with already small budgets, find themselves facing new budget priorities and potential for significantly reduced spending power. And yet, the country faces a lot of really important and unprecedented social, economic, and diplomatic challenges.

If the government’s goal is to continue (or even improve) its service to the public, they need to get innovating at a time when resources to innovate are increasingly slippery. Daunting, yes – but it can be done, especially if we remember to have purpose and make things work together.

What does federal government innovation look like in practice?

Focus on outcomes first

This sounds easy but can be surprisingly hard in government spaces where things are often done because of regulation or policy, not value. Identify what the improvement looks like in practice and then work backwards.   If you build something cool that no one uses, your “innovation” is without purpose – and therefore not really innovative at all.

Use the tools you already have

Think hard – and seriously – about how to use the tools you already have to create innovative government solutions. If you can reach your outcomes by rethinking process, training, and re-use (or better use) of everyday tools that everyone already has. This is where “making things work together” comes in. It doesn’t matter if it’s a laser-guided missile or a really well-designed process with a shared drive; if you’re doing something new to improve the status quo, you’re innovating.

Think about requirements as constraints, not restraints. Too often in government we get stuck in the mindset that “we can’t” because of all the requirements placed on us (interoperability, reporting, security, authority…the list goes on). If we start to think of these requirements as constraints (that which imposes structure) as opposed to restraints (that which limits), we suddenly allow ourselves to think more creatively and proactively.

Simplify

Another temptation for those swimming in government bureaucracy is to think that everything has to be highly specialized or complicated for it to work.   The more we focus on outcomes, the easier it is to focus on core requirements. This makes it a lot easier to find an iterative path to innovation: ways of making ideas, people, methods and tools connect to get things done.

 

Maybe there is hope for the White House Office of American Innovation after all.

two chairs overlook a quiet lake encouraging government program managers to take a strategy offsite.

Rethinking the Strategic Offsite: A Summer Vacation for Your Office

With June quickly approaching, offices are abuzz with employees scheduling and coordinating summer vacation time. Vacations are important because they give us the down-time we need as humans to rest, relax, and clear our minds. They also give us a change in scenery, which inspires us and helps us self-reflect and see things with a fresh set of eyes.

But individuals aren’t the only ones who can reap the benefits of down-time and a change of scenery: government program teams can, too. But how? A field trip? An office potluck? Trust falls and a ropes course?

Nope. Our suggestion is to hold a summertime strategic offsite meeting.

Strategic offsite meetings are helpful to government organizations because they allow leaders to have an uninterrupted block of time to reconnect to the mission and purpose of their agency while actively exploring solutions to a set of goals or problems. While strategic offsite meetings have the reputation of being expensive, lengthy, complicated to organize, and only for senior leadership, they don’t have to be any of these things. A strategic offsite can simply be a chance for employees to step back from their daily jobs—physically and professionally—to see their work unit as part of the complex government ecosystem. In vacation terms, the dedicated down-time gives employees a break from putting out the fires of the day, and the change of pace gives them perspective and frees up their imaginations.

In re-envisioning a strategic offsite to bring the benefits of a vacation to your program team, I’m not suggesting that the offsite will be unproductive. Quite the opposite, but it does require careful design in order to be both productive and energizing. What makes the most sense in an abbreviated, casual offsite is to select a single goal, problem, or theme. By scoping the meeting around an issue that really impacts the team, you can focus their energy and provide boundaries that you want to innovate within.

Regardless of the form that makes most sense for your project team or what the area of focus is, here are some tips to aid government managers in designing a summer vacation strategic offsite meeting.

Check Assumptions

Your team is likely already periodically gauging their performance towards the agency’s strategic goals. One thing you could decide to focus on at the offsite is revisiting any starting assumptions about those goals and assess how changes in the environment over the past 12 months may impact the mission in the future.

Reconnect With Your Customers

Most strategic offsites are inwardly focused, meaning they look at program operations instead of program outcomes. To shift this mindset, as part of your offsite, you could invite government customer groups (government-to-citizens, government-to-government, or shared services) to participate by delivering an opening keynote, exploring their use of your products and services, or role-playing a new service design prototype.

Take Some Risks

Strategic offsites should be a safe place to take risks, explore options, and share new ideas in the spirit of expanding the team’s horizons. Consider trying a Collaborative Game, World Cafe, or a Design Sprint to explore new ideas in an environment with a low risk of failure. Even better, embrace the failure for its learning potential like we recently did at Technical Assent’s first Failure Fair.

Actually Go Off Site

An offsite held in Conference Room B following the Monday budget meeting won’t have as big of an impact as getting outside of the building. Seek out public outdoor spaces, reservable locations at interesting sites (like a library or a museum), or even locations frequented by your agency’s customers. Space plays an important role in triggering your team to think outside of their daily routine and look for other patterns.

Wear Your Big Hat

Opportunities to come together as a team and think big picture are increasingly rare. Make the best use of this time by setting an early ground rule that encourages everyone to think with their Big Hat (thinking in terms of the agency mission and the customer impact of that mission versus the what’s best for my team mindset that is associated with Little Hat thinking). For example, this is not a time to debate which projects should suffer the biggest percentage of budget cuts, but to validate that these projects are delivering the right benefits to the right customers.

Have Some Fun

It is easy to get caught up in the seriousness of government work, but it is still a human-driven system. People benefit from the opportunity to build community, network, connect. One of the best outcomes of an event like this is enabling colleagues to find common ground outside of work, which translates to better working relationships. Some ways to add fun into an offsite meeting include casual dress or connecting the offiste to an after-work activity that everyone can participate in, such as a paint-and-wine activity, group bike ride, tour, or family barbeque. You can also intermix group activities such as games, scavenger hunts, or contests. These can be designed to directly contribute to the focus of the offsite, or be unrelated. Warren Buffet, for example, has a contest at his annual shareholder meetings where contestants throw a rolled up newspaper from 35 feet to see who can get it closest to the door.

What are the challenges you’ve observed with government offsites? Tell us more about it in the comments below.

hot air balloon provides an escape similar to innovation series

Technical Assent’s Inspiring Service Summer Series

At Technical Assent, we believe that a key component of providing exceptional service is rooted in providing an exceptional customer experience. In May 2016, we launched a four-month design thinking effort called Inspiring Service Summer Series, or ISSS for short. ISSS was professional development, but it was also our tool for looking in the mirror and working on our own service delivery as a company. Or, in other words, working “in a problem, on a problem.”

We included all staff members in this effort, with non-client-facing staff and consultants learning and contributing equally. Additionally, ISSS had a secondary purpose as a forum for testing virtual collaboration and facilitation methods our company developed.

Why we did this

One goal was to ensure that all Technical Assent employees are well-equipped to deliver “Services that INSPIRE” to our clients, including access to the necessary knowledge, skills, tools, and other resources. We also wanted to continue to build employee comfort with design-thinking tools—especially in a virtual environment—and learn more about ourselves. Ultimately, we wanted to create something of value for our customers by improving ourselves.

The graphic below summarizes our #ISSS virtual design journey.

What emerged from the effort

Our starting point, as always, was our customers, because our solutions will ultimately be measured by their impact to them. Based on customer input, we spent considerable time reflecting and defining what they need from us, what they really want, and how they want it delivered. That definition of inspiring service became the foundation of everything that came afterward. We identified focus areas based on client needs and our corporate goals, brainstormed over 70 ideas to make ourselves better, and assembled prototype teams to bring select ideas to life.

So now, after nearly four months of work, we emerged with three completely different innovations we’re now in the process of implementing.

We are sharing our design journey because it is something that can be repeated. As with any of these types of efforts, it was less about the specific technique or method and more about the richness of the dialogue that evolved.

Overall, the exercise was a great success and as a result, we’re confident our entire staff is better positioned to provide the kind of inspiring service our clients most need. We learned a lot along the way, and we look forward to sharing some of those insights in the future.

IN the mission and ON the mission

Driving High Customer Satisfaction Requires Investment IN the Mission and ON the Mission

Working IN the Mission and  ON the Mission

There are two primary ways that Technical Assent delivers value – working ON the Mission and IN the Mission. Working ON the Mission means that we serve as advisors or consultants to our clients, analytically observing how well operational systems achieve their customer’s outcomes. These observations drive our recommended solutions. On the other end of the spectrum, IN the Mission services happen when Technical Assent teams become an integrated service partner, taking responsibility for service delivery and are held accountable for achieving customer outcomes. The reality is that many of our engagements require a mix of both, and we prefer it that way.  IN the Mission work of service delivery helps us sharpen the saw, reminding us what it really takes to deliver exceptional customer experience each and every day, while our ON the Mission consulting services enable us to see the big picture and transfer best practices among our clients.

Improving the Employee Experience at Veterans Affairs

At the Department of Veterans Affairs, we support a government-to-government (G2G) service provider that  aligns with the myVA goal on improving the employee experience. While our day-to-day efforts are largely IN the Mission, we regularly step back and provide recommendations for how to improve the customer experience of our services. This past summer, we implemented a number of process-level improvements that were intended to handle increased transaction volume and maintain the existing level of customer satisfaction. To establish this baseline of customer experience, we conducted post-engagement surveys with every customer that we worked with.  At the end of 45 days, the team analyzed the results and discovered an interesting twist. Project Manager Dawn Johnson, explains…

“Because we wanted to establish a baseline, we originally planned to run the survey late in the summer because the team would see a historically average number of transactions. Unexpectedly, we hit our historical average in the first week alone and the momentum carried through the entire period.”

By the end of the survey period, Johnson’s team managed 180 customer transactions, which is more than 300% surge in volume!  Johnson and her team had been reviewing individual surveys throughout the period so they could immediately address any identified deficiencies. At the end, they tallied a 93.3 customer satisfaction rating based on whether a customer felt their request was processed in a timely and effective manner… an excellent score by any measure.  Again, I asked Johnson for her reaction…

“Well, I am thrilled – the team performed admirably! Our customers really responded to the survey and their incremental feedback gave me the confidence that the process improvements were working as designed…

We also learned a few things too… by signaling to our customers that we cared about their satisfaction, it opened up a new dialogue for constructive feedback. Working with our customers, we identified a few areas where the designed process fell short, and the immediate feedback allowed us to jump on the fixes right away.”

This is hugely insightful. In the beginning, the team viewed customer satisfaction as an end but learned how important it could be as tool for managing the delivery of the service.  In other words, customer satisfaction became a way for the team to drive higher levels of performance of the service and help the customer achieve their desired outcome.

What’s Next

While we are thrilled with this achievement, we also recognize there is more to be done.  Helping our clients open a channel for dialogue with their customers and measuring customer satisfaction is really just the first step towards building a better customer experience. Customer satisfaction provides a point-in-time metric after the service is provided – it helps us understand what happened but not why. To answer the latter, we need the kind of insight that comes from an ongoing conversation with customers throughout the engagement lifecycle and the ability to respond in real time when they run into an obstruction.

To deliver a better customer experience, we need to get closer to the customer decision process. Initially, this comes down to understanding how much effort the customer has to exert in order to do business with our client’s services and finding ways to make it easier. As we get closer to the customer and understand why they make certain decisions, our team will be positioned to make more poignant recommendations about where improvements to customer experience can better help customer achieve their outcomes.

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