The Value of Using Customer Input to Inform Program Design
There has been growing recognition within human services agencies about the importance of consulting the people receiving services when designing and improving programs. The Executive Order on Transforming Federal Customer Experience and Service Delivery to Rebuild Trust in Government describes customer to mean “any individual, business, or organization that interacts with an agency or program.” The most successful efforts to gather customer input start by understanding the customers. Approaches to gathering customer input can include surveys, interviews, and focus groups using techniques like reflective listening, participatory action methods, customer journey mapping, observations, and trying new solutions with input from customers. Customers who have positive experiences receiving services report trust and satisfaction with the agency. Agencies can facilitate these positive interactions by promoting smooth interactions, open communication, and helpfulness during a customer exchange.
At CABS, some of the approaches and viewpoints we use to understand the customer experience include mapping processes, adopting a user-centered mindset, using an equity lens, and linking customer experience with program design.
Maps show process steps and customer and staff journeys through programs. The purpose is to identify potential challenges in the process that both program staff and customers face. Maps anchor the data collection plan for qualitative research studies and guide directions and strategies to incorporate customer input. This structured approach allows one to systematize data collection, providing greater learning opportunities for future successful practices. For example, the map below describes the steps a customer might have to take to receive TANF benefits. This would be a starting point to begin journey mapping to build empathy of the customer experience with the program or service.
2. User-Centered Mindsets
Whether for students in college or parents obtaining a childcare voucher, customer-centered practice means an intentional focus by the provider on the person receiving the service and overcoming understandable concerns about customers questioning program approaches. At CABS, we encourage agencies to adopt a user-centered mindset, one that builds empathy about what the customer sees, feels, and experiences. This mindset is woven throughout our engagements and our approach to gathering customer input.
3. Equity Lens
We center an equity perspective in our approach that ensures program services are received fairly and respectfully, including questioning how certain policies might be experienced differently by marginalized populations. We work with programs to identify potential inequities so they can make adjustments to their programs and continue to track program data to monitor progress.
4. Linking Customer Experience with Program Design
The left side of the figure below represents a person experiencing poverty. CABS recommends that programs think of their customers as more than just program participants to consider their total experience. Customers may be navigating housing and food insecurity, a lack of reliable transportation, or medical issues. The more broadly agencies can define the customer experience, the more openings agencies can find for designing program improvements. The right side of the figure represents the program operator perspective. The agency must often implement policies under federal guidelines, report progress on set benchmarks, and adjust to conditions with limited bandwidth, resources, and technology. We seek to incorporate the viewpoints and needs of program operations and customers in developing new solutions to challenges.