Service Design for Government
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Hardwiring VA with Customer Experience Mindsets and Skilled Practitioners

Creating a Culture of Design Thinking

A focus on exceptional Customer Experience and improved service delivery is how the Federal Government ensures an effective, equitable, and accountable Government, and it’s how VA lives its core values and mission. To reach its CX (Customer Experience) goals, VA’s Veterans Experience Office is building the VA Customer Experience Institute (CXi) with the goal of hardwiring a CX-mindset to improve service delivery culture. This includes instilling organization-wide standard CX practices and collaborating with colleagues and the Veteran community to create better products, services, and experiences for all its customers. 

Technical Assent and the VA CXi team have partnered to design, develop, and implement expanded learning opportunities across VA in the form of an industry-standard educational platform for VA employees to gain awareness, understanding, and new skills in CX and HCD. CXI teaches best-in-class methods and tools with a VA-centric focus. It uses case studies and examples that are unique to VA to ensure the material resonates strongly with VA’s mission.

Through a set of formalized curricular programs taught by trained facilitators, VA employees will understand why, when, and how to apply CX principles and Human-Centered Design (HCD) methodologies to their work. This enables VA employees to confidently practice and lead CX efforts while connecting with each other to grow a community to share ideas, best practices, and challenges. 

Based on the VA CXi HCD Certification Roadmap, the CXi program aims to create an experience defined by the following dimensions. The pilot is the first opportunity to evaluate the program’s performance based on these six elements.

CXi aims to expand and initiate the practice of Customer Experience across VA, up-skill VA employees, set organizational and standard practices, and hardwire a CX-oriented mindset into the products, services, and experiences that we create with VA’s customers. This work provides an opportunity to standardize HCD practices across VA and connect VA employees across the organization. Building a new culture and mindset helps change and create a new approach to problem solving. 

A Customer Experience Mindset

Within CXi, VA employees will work directly with Veterans to understand their unmet needs and create relevant solutions that center around them. The program encourages employees to approach their work with the customer at the center by applying the following mindsets:

  1. Take your customer’s perspective
  2. Solve the right problem
  3. Embrace Uncertainty
  4. Get feedback early and often
  5. Empathize with your customer

Pilots and Progress

Starting this fall, CXi will  offer the Certificate Program, which is a set of structured courses teaching the fundamentals of HCD and CX through virtual interactive lectures and activities. There were 21 Certificate graduates from the pilot program. Looking toward the future, the team will add on a Fellowship Program that consists of a group of CXi Certificate-holding VA employees who work together and apply HCD and CX knowledge to a real-world project. 

“I’m already using this material in my own workplace and passing it on to other people.” – VA employee

“I liked the experiential way you demonstrated the tools. I feel like I will retain the information because of how it was taught.” – VA employee

CXi aims to be the first of its kind in the federal government, creating a like-minded community of people within VA and investing in employees so they are able to offer the best services for Veterans and their fellow co-workers.

How do you reach across silos within your organization? What mindsets and standard practices have made it easy to provide your customers with the best experience?

Using HCD to Reimagine Veteran Healthcare

Breaking the Status Quo

In the wake of the global COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the “Reimagining Veteran Healthcare” project set out to not only study what has changed about health care for Veterans during the pandemic, but also investigate what might change to better anticipate Veterans’ needs of the future. This inflection point was an opportunity for VA to drastically rethink how to meet evolving patient expectations and a changing population of Veterans.

This vision for the 20-year future of VA emerged from research with Veterans, Caregivers, front-line staff, healthcare experts, and VA leadership. Starting with the core users of VA services yielded a web of opportunities spanning from discovery and design to technical development, prototyping, piloting and implementation —utilizing the full range of Human-Centered Design (HCD) methodologies, tools, and approaches. 

While VA has several ongoing and near-future transformational programming in the works, there is a large gap when considering truly transformational future opportunities. This is where Reimagining Veteran Healthcare stepped in. Our team had a goal of developing breakthrough, nonlinear innovations of service delivery models to create or capture markets, services, products, and customer segments that have yet to exist.

Putting Veterans at the Center

To keep Veterans at the center of our work, the team conducted ethnographic research with 100+ stakeholder interviews (virtually and in-person) with Veterans, clinical providers, familial caregivers, subject matter experts, and other key VA staff members. These helped the team ​​uncover pain points, bright spots, and/or validate our assumptions about the current state of Veteran healthcare, understand the post-pandemic priorities and behaviors of different populations of Veterans, and inform several transformational opportunity areas. 

“[I define health as] having the ability to accomplish all the things that I want to do in my life […] without any hindrance from medical or monetary or any of those things that naturally get in the way. The quality of things I am consuming in life. It’s the total of all those things.”

“If I could just visit one entity, one website, have everything available to me on ONE Dashboard or profile. If it was tailored to me and what I went through it would be so much more helpful.”

“It’s symptoms first, then based from symptoms, give prescriptions that alleviate those symptoms. The immediate question is always ‘What can I give you?’ Well, I don’t want a medication. I want to solve why it’s hurting in the first place.”

Developing Customer-Driven Solutions

Based on the insights that emerged from conversations with 250+ stakeholders –including Veterans, caregivers, and front-line staff, consensus was found around three critical priorities for VA’s future:

  1. Redefine Veterans’ initial encounter with VA – VA has a critical opportunity to elevate health as a priority with Veterans during and following transition. Connecting proactively with personalized tools can create a seamless transition for Veterans to join the VA following active duty.
  2. Deepen ongoing customer service efforts and engagement – Veterans feel the fragmented nature of the VA. By creating a backend system that puts Veteran health records, feedback, and preferences in one place, VHA can provide a more seamless front-end experience while empowering employees to own each individual interaction and overall health journey.
  3. Extend the envelope of care – More than ever, Veterans expect care when, where, and how they want it. COVID-19 highlighted an opportunity for VA to extend care beyond its walls and broaden its definition of health and healthcare delivery.

Across these three central opportunities, 11 solution concepts were developed that allow VA to create transformational change for Veterans. These solution concepts are rooted in the Veteran experience, taking an outside-in look at what’s needed for VA healthcare delivery. Currently, the team is partnering with VAMCs to pilot and iterate on the solutions concept and help Veterans access VA care when and where they want it in the future.

How do you keep your customer at the center of your work? What opportunities are there to think outside the box to anticipate future customer needs?