By Willie Hicks, Federal Chief Technologist at Dynatrace
Whether users are shopping on Amazon or another top company’s website, they expect certain website performance and features availability to ensure a positive customer experience (CX).
Users expect to access product links and conduct transactions seamlessly and swiftly. They expect to navigate to comprehensive product specifications or details instantly, and to enlarge images with a simple mouse click. If they have any questions or concerns, they want effective chat support in the form of a live human being or an artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled avatar.
These advancements will continue to expand as customer demands intensify for their online and in-person experiences. For example, I recently swung by a fast-food drive-through, and an AI bot took my order. I intentionally changed certain words when repeating the order to see whether I could throw off this “employee.” But I failed. The bot got my order exactly right.
Given how far private industry has advanced, one might think we should harbor the same expectations when we seek services from the federal government. But agencies cannot deliver this level of CX yet.
Fortunately, the current administration recognizes this and has taken action. In December 2021, the White House released its “Executive Order on Transforming Federal Customer Experience and Service Delivery to Rebuild Trust in Government.” The order states – in light of complex, 21st-century challenges – that the government must be held accountable for the experiences of its citizens. Additionally, the order indicates, agencies impose an annual paperwork burden on the public by requiring them to complete forms and other tasks that exceed nine billion hours.
Department leaders, therefore, must reduce this burden while delivering services that people of all abilities can navigate. Human-centered design, customer research, behavioral science, user testing, and additional engagement efforts should come together to drive CX, according to the order.
The order arrived at a time when citizen satisfaction with U.S. government services has declined over the past four straight years. Satisfaction is now at a historic low — scoring 63.4 out of 100, according to research from the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI). In categorizing satisfaction levels, the ACSI found the government’s “ease of accessing and clarity of information” score declined from 71 out of 100 to 67 in two years. Website quality declined from 75 out of 100 to 70 within the same period.
Beyond the order, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) published additional guidance that identifies key CX drivers, including service effectiveness, ease and simplicity, and efficiency and speed. As agencies focus on these criteria, they need to find a way to monitor and measure progress – especially as the vast majority of them are making a significant transition to the cloud: Nine of ten federal IT leaders say their agency now uses the cloud in some form, with 51 percent opting for a hybrid cloud model. These leaders indicate that they will migrate 58 percent of their applications to the cloud within the next 12 to 18 months.
Observability tools – which capture all interactions and transactions in an automated, intelligent manner – will enable effective monitoring whether in the cloud or on-premise. This includes user session replays, which will pinpoint the causes of negative CX. When combined, key metrics can generate an accurate CX index score.
But which metrics should your agency consider? Here are five essential ones:
- Transaction completion time. The unavoidable truth is all users are busy. If citizens apply for a passport, they know what they want and they want to get it done now. If they encounter delays during the form-filling process or the final “Click here to submit application or purchase” stage, it will lead to a negative CX.
- Page load time. This clearly influences transaction time and CX. If it takes more than five seconds to load a page, users often become frustrated and may leave the site.
- Rage clicks. When a website loads slowly or freezes, users sometimes click a button five or six times – e.g., rage clicking. Tools such as session recordings can measure this, too.
- Abandonment rate and data. Agencies need to track how often users abandon a transaction. Then, they should investigate the source of the abandoned task: Which stages of the process are slow or confusing for users, to the point where they quit in frustration? Once IT pros have identified those stages, they can prioritize what to address first.
- Conversion rate. This goes up as the abandonment rate goes down. How often do users cross the finish line (with a completed transaction or query) when they interact with an agency? The higher the conversion rate, the more satisfied the customer.
Observability tools provide AI-enabled monitoring, which automatically tracks and provides visibility into these five metrics, among many others. AI will also auto-remediate issues that metrics expose. This allows agencies to measure progress as they focus on better CX.
The federal government doesn’t sell hamburgers, smartphones, or streaming content. It delivers noble services for citizens daily. But, as with major companies in private industry, we should always seek to measure and continuously improve public-sector CX.
Ensuring positive experiences is all about awareness, proactivity, and instinct regarding user needs. The federal government’s increased commitment to improving the digital CX is heartening, but agencies will never know how they are doing if they can’t measure system performance.
That’s why agencies should consider the five metrics summarized here as a starting point for measuring the success of users’ online interactions. They must arrive at a logical breakdown of what customers need and use comprehensive metrics to improve systems at every transaction level. With automatic and intelligent observability, agencies gain a holistic view of their technology environments that’s required to deliver seamless customer experiences.