Service Design for Government
Technical Assent Logo

How to Tidy Up Your Government Services

The Netflix show Tidying Up with Marie Kondo has taken 2019 by storm in part because it acknowledges that we all get so carried away with the things we acquire that we rarely have time to take a step back and ask why we need them. But armed with her KonMari method, Marie Kondo offers some simple tools to take back control and focus on things that are truly important.

Tidying Up got us thinking: a cluttered house and a cluttered government service portfolio have a lot of similarities. And with that in mind, how might we add a KonMari layer to our practice of service management and apply it to the work we do in government?

Consequences of a cluttered service-portfolio

Government managers are under constant pressure to improve performance and reduce the costs of the services they deliver. Under the guise of continuous improvement, agencies get caught in the allure of shiny new solutions despite the lack of new funding or resources. With all of the “buying” and none of the purging, these service portfolios start to look like the clothes closets at the beginning of a Tidying Up episode: overflowing, disorganized collections of garments complete with ugly sweaters, random brimmed hats, and a bunch of old pants that don’t fit.

In government, the immediate consequences of untidy service portfolios are angry customers and declines in service performance. Managers then rely on their help desks to detect the most emergent problem areas and triage customer issues before things spiral out of control.

There are also long-term mission impacts when a service portfolio gets cluttered. Energy and resources are constantly diverted towards competing priorities and this means customers are not being fully served somewhere else. Managers begin to lose sight of the true costs of service delivery and what it takes to deliver an exceptional customer experience. This is not the  way to sustain loyal customers long-term but it is today’s reality for many government programs and services.

What “sparks joy” for government services?

When you empty that closet and begin culling through the volcano-like pile of clothes on the bed, Marie Kondo’s “spark joy” principle is straightforward. Unless you have an emotional connection to an item–a little zing of happiness when you hold it–get rid of it. Government service managers, however, have to consider factors well beyond whether a service delivers an emotional connection.

Customers use government services to achieve some kind of result or outcome. Government services “spark joy” when they meet the needs of customers and achieve the overarching policy objectives. Services have to be relevant, be usable, and deliver an exceptional experience.

How do you know if your portfolio needs tidying?

Cluttered service portfolios can sneak up on us because new requirements grow organically over time. Small, incremental additions eventually dilute the services being offered until the services cannot be sustainably managed.

Having a documented catalog of the service offerings and a governance process for adding or retiring services is one way to manage service creep. Monitoring customer behavior is another way to detect whether the service portfolio is being diluted. Low customer engagement or abandonment may indicate that the services being offered are not relevant to the problems customers are trying to solve.

Five steps to tidying your government service portfolio

Tidying up a government service portfolio simply means making decisions about which services provide the biggest value to customers in the context of the agency mission. By choosing to invest in the services that matter most to customers, we then free up resources by stopping services that are of little or no value. We have five recommended steps to tidying:

1. Define “spark joy” for your customers

Services that are designed to be easy maximize value for the customer and give the service provider the best shot of delivering the service in a cost efficient way. The specific definition of “easy” varies for each service.

Service designers immerse themselves in the customer’s world through both quantitative and qualitative analysis to define what “sparks joy” for the customer. This could be factors like speed, availability, security, or privacy. Grounded in this understanding, service designers can determine how well each unique service contributes to the things that matter most to customers.

2. Empty the closet

Service portfolios often resemble cluttered closets in that this year’s fashions bury last year’s trends. Yet, for many psychological reasons, we can’t bring ourselves to part with our now-useless purchases. Likewise, services that outlive their relevance but continue operating in the background drain limited resources. Simplifying a service portfolio to make it easy for the customer means disentangling each service and discreetly defining its value.

The way you “empty the closets” in government services is by cataloging each service in your portfolio. Pull each of these services out into the open by cataloging each one. This task can be fraught with challenges, especially among mature enterprise portfolios. Services can share the same name but behave very differently depending on the people, process, technology, content, and environment in which they operate. Each of these factors potentially impacts how easy it is for customers to use the service and how efficiently it can be delivered.

Once each service has been cataloged individually, it is now possible to document the cost to deliver each individual service and determine its perceived value to customers.

3. Decide what to keep

A service designer’s goal is to make it as easy as possible for customers to use the services. This requires eliminating unnecessary complexity from the customer journey. This is complexity that can come from redundancies, dependencies, inconsistencies, gaps, and just plain confusion of who is responsible for doing what. Before we can truly simplify each service, the initial service catalog may need to be refined and consolidated several times before it resembles the intended service model.

One successful technique is to marry the newly forming service catalog to a customer journey map which visually depicts how each individual service aligns with customer experience. This is a powerful tool for service design teams because it informs how customers perceive value at specific touchpoints. It also points to the underlying processes, technologies, and talent that are responsible for delivering the value.

Through this process, the service design team begins to zero in on the components that contribute to the overall customer experience and ultimately drive intended customer behavior.

4. Evaluate each piece

As the service catalog begins to reflect the reality of what is being delivered to customers, there is still a need to determine the marginal cost associated with delivering the customer experience. Technical Assent recommends using a pair-wise comparison that results in a ranking of each service relative to the others in the service catalog. We use two criteria–cost and perceived customer value–as shown in the diagram.

This visualization enables the service design team to understand the marginal costs and benefits of specific services in the context of their respective contributions to the customer journey.

5. Develop the service strategy

When a service portfolio is segmented this way, it sets up a productive dialogue among the service design team members and new management strategies emerge. It forces the team to consider the marginal benefit of increasing perceived customer value compared to the marginal cost. It also lends itself to relevant exploratory questions such as “what needs do our customers have that we don’t address?” The table to the right demonstrates four possible strategies that may emerge from these conversations.


Next steps

In a resource-scarce environment, it is critical that government service managers focus on achieving overarching policy objectives through a portfolio of services that delivers the biggest impact to its customers. This requires that managers, who are often policy experts, invest deeply to understand the needs and motivations of their customers.

New concepts emerge when customer preferences for relevance, usability, experience, and ease marry with a service delivery model that values efficiency, consistency, and reliability. Innovative government solutions spark joy when they address what customers care about most and meet the mission needs.

Technical Assent has consulted with numerous federal government agencies to redesign their service portfolios based on customer experience. Read more about service design in these articles.

In Government Service Design-Thinking, Thinking Like the Customer is not Enough

Avoiding the Sugar Crash of IT Modernization

This Simple Meeting Hack Helps a Problem-Solving Team Refocus on Their Customers

Try Our Automated Customer-Experience Self-Assessment for Federal Government

A map that shows a starting point and an ending point

To aid government agencies in fulfilling the new customer-experience requirements from the Office of Management and Budget’s Circular A-11, we have designed a free, automated CX assessment tool for government employees.

Circular A-11 (Section 280) applies to federal agencies designated as high-impact service providers. These designated providers have specific obligations that begin in early 2019. This includes the requirement to conduct an annual CX self-assessment and submitting a CX action plan.

Even outside of OMB’s specific requirements, our CX assessments are a great way to improve your office’s performance and customer satisfaction–whether your customers are U.S. citizens, government employees, private industry representatives, or other government agencies. Improving CX is is a measurable way to improve performance even for programs not designated as high-impact service providers.

These A-11 requirements, along with the Federal Agency Customer Experience Acts of 2017 and 2018, reflect a new priority in government. Being a service-design company founded on the idea that U.S. citizens should have the same high expectations of government service as they do customer-centric, innovative private companies, this is a trend we wholeheartedly support.

Our Standard Assessment is an automated version of OMB’s assessment that includes a report with a graphical interpretation of your score. We are also in the process of finalizing our Enhanced Assessment, which will be more thorough than the OMB assessment and the report will give you customized recommendations for building your action plan.

Email us at getstarted@technicalassent.com if you would like to be added to the notification list once we activate our Enhanced Assessment in early 2019.

airplanes take off on a runway

Technical Assent joins FAA’s eFAST contracting vehicle

We are excited to announce that we have been accepted to the Electronic Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Accelerated and Simplified Tasks (eFAST) contracting vehicle. The FAA divides eFAST work into functional areas and we now hold master ordering agreements in the following areas:

  • Business Administration and Management
  • Computer/Information Systems Development
  • Computer Systems Support
  • Documentation and Training

 

eFAST is the FAA’s preferred contracting vehicle for small business contracts. eFAST streamlines the procurement process for all stakeholders using a web-based acquisition tool and automated workflows compliant
with applicable FAA standards.

Any FAA program management office (PMO) and contracting officer (CO) can use eFAST. For details about doing business through eFAST, visit the FAA’s eFAST page.

“We are eager to serve the FAA through eFAST,” said John DiLuna, President and CEO of Technical Assent. “Each new contract vehicle provides us an opportunity to share how to improve the performance of federal services using a customer experience as a primary driver for change. The FAA’s mission focus on maintaining the world’s safest and most efficient aerospace system makes it an excellent candidate for design-thinking and a customer-driven approach.”

We are also a part of the following federal government contracting vehicles:

Government-wide

  • GSA Professional Services Schedule (PSS)
  • GSA Performance Management / Continuous Process Improvement Blanket Purchase Agreement (PM/CPI BPA)
  • Service Disabled Veteran-Owned Business (SDVOSB) set-aside
  • Army Research Lab Advanced Expeditionary Warfare Development (AEWD)

Department of Veterans Affairs

  • VA Agile Delivery of VA Imminent Strategic and Operational Requirements (ADVISOR)
  • VA Veterans Enterprise Contracting for Transformation and Operational Readiness (VECTOR)

Department of Defense & Department of Homeland Security

  • Washington Headquarters Service / Acquisition Directorate (WHS/AD) Logistics Services (LOGS) Blanket Purchase Agreement
  • Navy SeaPort-e
  • DHS Program Management and Technical Services (PACTS) II

 

See our contracting vehicles page for more information on each.

News Release: Technical Assent Welcomes Todd Sadowski as Director of Business Development

NEWS RELEASE

Technical Assent Welcomes Todd Sadowski as Director of Business Development
The new role for the company follows a banner year in growth

Todd Sadowski

ARLINGTON, Va., November 29, 2018—Technical Assent, a leader in federal government customer experience, has hired industry veteran Todd Sadowski as the company’s first director of business development.

Todd is a client relationship executive who has supported several Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business (SDVOSB) companies during their highest growth periods. He will leverage this experience and his relationships with leading government partners to fuel sustainable growth and build new business opportunities at Technical Assent.

“We see government leaders increasingly recognizing the benefits of using customer experience to improve their program performance,” said John DiLuna, Technical Assent’s founder and CEO. “It sounds simple—design government services that people prefer to use—but there are several key factors that program managers need to get right to set the effort for success.”

The new role of business development director at Technical Assent addresses this need.

“As a member of the executive leadership team, Todd will be helping prospective clients target the correct mission problem and making sure Technical Assent and our partners are in the best position to solve it,” said DiLuna.

About Technical Assent

Technical Assent is a consultancy to the federal government that improves agencies from the bottom up—starting with customer experience. Technical Assent helps agencies design, implement, and deliver services that inspire by providing customer-experience design, solution implementation, and services management.

The company is a SDVOSB and prime contractor on the Department of Veterans Affairs flagship VECTOR contract in addition to other government-wide contract vehicles such as the GSA Professional Services Schedule. As a CMMI-SVC/3 firm, Technical Assent is committed to providing exceptional service experiences and delivering consistent results to its federal government clients.

For more information about Technical Assent, visit www.technicalassent.com and www.linkedin.com/company/technical-assent.

Media Contact

Chris Bobbitt
cbobbitt@technicalassent.com
202-904-8527

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.

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.

runners on starting blocks at a track to represent government performance

Top Three Government Performance Indicators Every Agency Should Measure

The business case for measuring government performance is a consistent focus area for agency leaders, as government agencies are constantly challenged to demonstrate that resources are achieving intended goals and delivering value. To successfully measure agency performance, organizations must establish clear objectives that align to these outcomes.

  • utility (fit for use)
  • warranty (fit for purpose)
  • service delivery (fit for experience)

 

Why Measuring Government Performance Is Important

Government programs exist to deliver specific outcomes in support of a function or mission. For agencies like the Department of Veterans Affairs, ongoing performance measurement is essential in demonstrating accountability of government resources towards achieving specific outcomes in health, education, disability, and memorial benefits for veterans and their families.

Agencies must continually demonstrate success in this era of unprecedented transparency; the media, watch-dog organizations, and citizens have direct insight into government performance. The public has immediate access through social media to voice complaints and to highlight experiences that were less than satisfactory. Additionally, the media is following “big government” closely and congressional interaction and testimony is being shared as part of the daily news.

As a result of this level of public oversight, leading agencies are reconsidering how they measure and communicate their value directly to customers. As such, government agencies must create a credible brand of being the best at what they do for the best value. Additionally, while it is important to know that the resources were used in accordance with the laws and regulations, it is also critically important to demonstrate that the resources are effective, efficient, and relevant to their intended customers.

Three Key Government Performance Indicators

Considering the current level of scrutiny surrounding governmental organizations, Technical Assent has partnered with numerous organizations to develop metrics platforms using key government performance indicators. In our work at the Department of Defense, we track closure of capability gaps identified on our project baseline in addition to usability. Our most recent efforts have been focused on Veterans Affairs, as VA is laser focused on producing outcomes for veterans, such as healthcare, benefits administration, and memorial services. As part of the VA transformation, however, it is equally important to improve the internal government-to-government (G2G) shared services that enable VA employees to support the mission outcomes.

To achieve the MyVA goal to Improve the Employee Experience, all VA services must mark progress, highlight areas for improvement, and demonstrate areas where the government goals and objectives of the organization are being met and exceeded. These capabilities allow VA’s leadership and stakeholders to make critical decisions that accelerate change and ensure that VA is effectively and efficiently serving American veterans and their families.

Government Performance Indicator 1: Utility

Whether a service has utility is determined by whether it solves a customer’s problem or removes a constraint. For the government, a service has utility if it is relevant to the customer need and aligned with the core mission.

Government Performance Indicator 2: Warranty

Beyond solving the customer’s problem, the value of a service is also measured on its usability. Attributes of warranty include availability, continuity, security, and capacity (enough to meet the demand). The customer defines these performance targets based on their desired quality and perceived risk. In a shared services environment, customers may pay different rates for access to different tiers of service.

Government Performance Indicator 3: Service Delivery

As the utility and warranty of services become commoditized, customer experience plays a bigger role in customers’ perceptions of value. To be clear, the “experience” in this context goes beyond the user experience (UX/UI) of your website (or, for that matter, any one technology channel). This “experience” is the sum of all interactions that a customer has with a provider across all delivery channels throughout the lifetime of that relationship. In a G2G shared service environment, customer experience acknowledges that unsatisfied customers will seek out other alternatives.

 
While all three service attributes contribute to customers’ perceptions of service quality, it is the service delivery that elevates an organization’s brand and demonstrates organizational value and credibility. Providing an authentic customer experience certainly impacts the “what” of a solution and focuses on “how” the service is being delivered as customers learn about, narrow, select, consume, and retire a service. Moreover, effective service delivery can answer the questions such as who are you and what do you do well?

How We Can Help

Technical Assent specializes in improving government performance by optimizing the customer experience. Our Service Optimization Framework generates service solutions in-line with the Government Performance and Results Modernization Act of 2010 (GPRAMA) which are measured by their utility, warranty, and service delivery. As a CMMI-SVC organization, we have formalized this capability and successfully applied our approach to identify and model the correct performance measures, analyze the results, and make recommendations for improvements along with celebrating the successes.

customer experience improvement program

Bouncing Back from a Failing Grade in Customer Experience

As kids head back to school this fall, many will hear a familiar lecture reminding them of that last report card before summer and encouraging them to start off this school year on the right foot, creating good habits from Day 1. Nextgov’s Frank Konkel had a similar message for government in his recent interview with Forrester’s Rick Parrish. Forrester Research’s 2016 Customer Experience (CX) Index indicates that federal government agencies were collectively rated has having the worst customer experiences compared with 300+ consumer brands that included underperforming cable TV providers, internet service providers, and airlines. Furthermore, these poor ratings occurred despite the White House’s emphasis on improving customer experience over the past five years.

But the message is not all bleak – Konkel also noted a few bright spots, notably where agencies have demonstrated marked improvements in their CX Index demonstrating “money and resources currently being spent at those organizations is shifting customer perceptions.”

So, as we head back to school, we offer three habits that to focus on to improve customer experience grades in government throughout the year ahead.

Building Good CX Habits

Follow the Outcomes.  The business case for customer experience is about improving the performance of government services. High performing services — whether provided by government or commercially — are measured on how well they help their customers achieve a desired outcome. Just like we scoff at automating bad processes that deliver the wrong output faster, customer experience is another means towards the end of delivering a better customer outcome. Agencies need first be aware of what outcomes their customers are trying to achieve before they build the service to assist them.

Customer Satisfaction Customer Experience.  As Parrish notes, that while many agencies conduct traditional customer satisfaction surveys, they need to better track their customer behavior. Measuring only satisfaction at certain touch points (e.g., directing them to the correct phone number, correcting a problem in an online form, or responding to a phone call within the estimated response window) is insufficient because it does not inform the service provider whether their action contributed to the outcome. Understanding the decisions that customers make throughout their journey, whether to continue or abandon the service, is the key to better performance.  We need to create services where customers continually opt-in to the next step of the journey. This happens when services solve real problems, provide a customer experience that is consistent with American values, and meet customers’ expectations for aspects such as ease of use, availability, reliability, and security.

The Incentives for Better Government Just Aren’t There. One commenter to Konkel’s article noted that government is not incentivized to change because it lacks competition for its services; Government has a monopoly. Essentially this implies that customers have little choice of whether or not to do business with the government. After all, where else can you go for services like food stamps, airport security, or a subsidized home loan? Though this may be a dominant perception within and about government, it is also the most ripe for disruption.  Just as with commercial services, customers perceive a cost of using government services, even when they are being offered for “free”.

Am I sacrificing my privacy by giving up this information?

Who is really going to notice if I don’t pay my taxes?

This isn’t worth it, we will just get by without

It won’t harm anyone if I bypass this security measure

I had to take time off work to stand in this line to vote

These are all examples of customer sentiments measuring the opportunity cost of their alternatives and trying to figure out if its worth it.  When government understands its customers and the value of those other opportunities, it will clearly see the need to deliver a competitive customer experience.

Our team at Technical Assent works with government Program Managers to develop these habits from the start – building services that drive customer outcomes and position government services as the preferred alternative. We have found over and over again that government agencies who focus on their customers first, deliver higher performing services at better value for the taxpayer.

amazon is a leader of customer-driven strategy

To Find a Differentiator for Long-Term Success, Look to Amazon’s Customer Obsession

By John DiLuna and Jonathan Miller

For anyone who has ever studied Amazon or its founder, Jeff Bezos, one thing is absolutely clear: the customer is king.  Amazon’s focus on customer experience success was a founding principle for Amazon and remains deeply embedded in the company culture today.

After last week’s record earnings report, we wanted to see for ourselves where customer experience was integrated into Amazon’s operating model – not just as a corporate talking point but where it was really driving business decisions.  We studied 20 years of shareholder letters for evidence about the role that customer experience plays in the long-term financial success of the company.  What we discovered was an intrinsic interaction between customer experience and long-term financial thinking that acts as a catalyst for future financial success.  We identified three general principles that we hope will be helpful for organizations hoping to mirror Amazon’s customer experience momentum.

Obsessing over customer experience is the long game

Amazon unleashed something powerful by placing customer experience success at the core of their business strategy.  In addition, Amazon has always had a perspective of long-term success rather than short-term profits.  Bezos has highlighted this perspective in his shareholder letters since the first letter in 1996.  In his 2008 letter, he explicitly connects this concept to the customer:

“Long-term orientation interacts well with customer obsession. If we can identify a customer need and if we can further develop conviction that the need is meaningful and durable, our approach permits us to work patiently for multiple years to deliver a solution.”  

By investing in the long-term satisfaction of customers, Amazon has created a relationship which drives lifetime customers.  Early in Amazon’s life, the team identified three key things their customers valued in a retail experience: price, selection, and convenience.  Since then, everything Amazon does focuses on lowering prices, improving selection, and maximizing convenience.

In the early days when Amazon was solely an online bookstore, their business decision to present new books side-by-side on a web page with used versions of the same items was initially criticized, but it makes perfect sense when viewed through their customer-centric lens.  By creating this new environment of new and used books intermingled, they provided access for a wider audience of customers to be reached through price, selection, and convenience. It is the same for Amazon’s current experiments with drone delivery and same-day shipping.  Antagonists are unsure as to the current feasibility of these services because they have never been done to this extent for customers, but Amazon, true to providing the type of service their customers value most, is pursuing both for one reason: convenience. From the 1998 shareholder letter:

“We must be committed to constant improvement, experimentation, and innovation in every initiative. We love to be pioneers, it’s in the DNA of the company, and it’s a good thing, too, because we’ll need that pioneering spirit to succeed.”

Through the bull and bear markets of the last two decades, Amazon has remained steadfast in its commitment to provide exceptional customer experience.  This unwavering resolve to innovate around customers is a unifying force that helps the company push through the lean years when others may crumble or change course at the cost of their customers.

Use data to work backwards from customers and build customer experience success

When the entire workforce believes in customer experience success as the primary growth driver for your business, then it only makes sense that corporate strategy, business initiatives, and day-to-day operations fall in line.  This is the way it works at Amazon.  In many ways, this unified, corporate-wide belief simplifies governance and decision-making because culture provides a consistent framework to gauge the potential impact of new ideas.

Baked into the Amazon culture is the predisposition to work from the outside-in as well as to validate those decisions with data.  Bezos highlights that just about every important decision can be made through data. From the 2005 shareholder letter:

“There is a right answer or a wrong answer, a better answer or a worse answer, and math tells us which is which.”

Starting with the desired customer outcome, quantitative methods help sort through alternatives and establish priorities around what should be done first. We see this exhibited in the analysis Amazon conducts prior to making any foundational decision, which confirms that the solution drives the intended customer behavior and is financially viable.

Amazon has remained steadfast in their decision making process by holding uniquely to their core values of building solutions based on their customers. How Amazon makes these types of decisions is highlighted in the 2005 shareholder letter:

“To shorten delivery times and reduce outbound transportation costs, we analyze prospective locations based on proximity to customers, transportation hubs, and existing facilities. Quantitative analysis improves the customer’s experience and our cost structure.”

By methodically approaching expansion locations, Amazon highlights the need to be there for their customers while at the same time improving their own cost model.  Understand that the mindset Amazon uses embodies exceptional customer experience, an approach that leads to a repeatable pattern of customer driven decisions.

Customers benefit from improved service infrastructure

Continuous improvement is the third principle Amazon consistently emphasizes to create an exceptional customer experience.  When Jeff Bezos says “continuous improvement,” he is not referring to the catchphrase that is commonly used in business marketing materials.  His version of continuous improvement is fundamentally connected to customer experience and essential to Amazon’s business model.

Bezos explains this concept as driving the cost structure-price loop.  Quite simply, by continually lowering the cost structure of the business, Amazon can maintain downward pressure on prices.  Amazon’s customers like low prices, which keeps them coming back to the site.  The growing demand of potential buyers is attractive to sellers who actively seek to offer more selection. Amazon’s customers like more selection, which not only retains current users but fosters new ones and keeps them coming back to the site day after day, fueling the growth of the company.

In the Amazon model, driving the cost structure-price loop to continuously improve the underlying service infrastructure is both good business and a boon to their customers.  By systematically eliminating waste and scaling the value of their assets across the enterprise, Amazon also gets better at delivering new capability faster.  By focusing these efficiency efforts squarely on the needs of their customers, Amazon is better able to translate latent customer demand into real solutions and differentiate themselves from competitors.  Amazon has scaled this business for their long-term profitability through selection. In the 2003 shareholder letter Bezos explains:

“Increased volumes take time to materialize, and price reductions almost always hurt current results. In the long term, however, relentlessly driving the “price-cost structure loop” will leave us with a stronger, more valuable business.”

Every business system has some amount of waste, process variation, or inefficiency.  For customers of an online retailer, waste can be seen in the form of hold times, extra mouse clicks, confusing checkout options, or cumbersome return policies – the list can go on.  Waste results in effort a customer must expend in order to complete their order; and the more effort a customer has to exert, the less likely they are to come back a second time.  Amazon pushes to reduce customer effort; their One-Click ordering feature is the epitome of simplicity, automating a complex order and logistics process into a single mouse click allowing customers to receive satisfaction immediately.  Amazon’s continuous improvement initiatives reduce customer effort by improving the people, processes, and technology which have a direct and measurable impact on customer experience.

Final Thoughts

Bezos captures these three principles of customer experience success as foundations of “Operational Excellence.” Focusing on customer experience first provides a consistent framework for making strategically-aligned business decisions and a perfect filter for removing non-value add goods and services (things your organization does that customers generally don’t really care about).  Through the disciplined, data-driven application of these principles, Amazon increases asset velocity, revenue, and margin across the business.

And Amazon is proving that the model works.  Just last week, after nearly 20 years as a publicly traded company, Amazon announced Q1 earnings that shattered market expectations and raised stock prices by 12%.  Here at Technical Assent, being a company that values customer experience as an engine of growth, we couldn’t help cheering as they reached this benchmark of success. Indeed, the customer is king.

From Amazon’s 1998 shareholder letter:

“We intend to build the world’s most customer-centric company…Our customers tell us that they choose Amazon.com and tell their friends about us because of the selection, ease-of-use, low prices, and service that we deliver.”

city of pittsburg hosted the 2015 National Veteran Small Business Engagement

Get Better Results Through Customer Experience

Presenter: Chris Bobbitt, Technical Assent

Focusing on Customer Experience and Customer Outcomes is critical to delivering the best results. Federal agencies such as Veterans Affairs, GSA, and DHS are realizing the inherent value of becoming customer-driven and how this approach can drive better mission performance. This session will cover why Customer Experience and Customer Outcomes are so important, how to understand them, why Service Management trumps Program Management, and why digital engagement only scratches the surface. The session will demonstrate how to apply this knowledge to design more impactful government programs, provide more effective support to these programs, and develop business more successfully.

Sign up here to participate.  #NVSBE

12