The COVID-19 pandemic has forced businesses and organizations in all sectors to drastically rethink how technology supports service delivery – and social service agencies, federal and local alike, have not been shielded from that reality. Even as some government employees moved to remote work, demand for services increased substantially, overwhelming many social service platforms and the network infrastructures that support them.
As system upgrades become more urgent, and more funds are finally earmarked for long-delayed and much-needed improvements to government IT, it’s worth keeping customer experience (CX) at the forefront of any plan to upgrade the digital platforms that help manage our social safety net. In fact, the latest 2021 U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) standards include an entire framework of recommendations on CX and improving service delivery.
These recently updated OMB standards raise the bar for customer experience and service delivery, via changes and additions to A-11/Section 280. Though the standards technically only apply to certain federal agencies, all agencies, including state and local agencies, can benefit from implementing the same procedures into their own approaches to incorporating thoughtful CX and drive improved customer satisfaction (CSAT) processes.
The OMB outlines three primary customer experience drivers—service quality, process and people—and suggests that these drivers are in alignment with leading practices from both the private and public sectors. Those drivers make ideal starting points for state agencies to focus on when planning system upgrades.
System Integration Influences Service Quality
With an overwhelming volume of benefit applications, state agencies are looking for digital solutions to help them address efficiency as well as quality of service they’re able to deliver to their constituents.
Focusing on integrated service elements is one way to examine potential shortfalls in service quality, and the key here is “integrated.” For instance, where and how often in the process of applying for benefits or making a determination do applicants and caseworkers have tasks that happen outside of the technology workstream?
Many state agencies manually review applicant-reported employment and income. Teams at Equifax Government Solutions have noted some state agencies actually have a waiting period of more than 45 days due to manual checks for income verification.
A CX-focused, systems-first solution would integrate automated employment and income verification data into the agency platform to help eliminate the manual work and in turn, improve service quality. Applicants may no longer need to submit paper pay stubs; caseworkers may no longer need to stop and manually validate income data by phone or from separate databases. Even a small CX change like this can have a big impact on CSAT, as it may influence the perception of how well an applicant’s need was addressed and if the perceived value of the service performed was positive or negative.
Identify and Incorporate Process Improvements
As noted by the OMB, CSAT is also heavily influenced by process. When social safety net resources are needed, time-to-decision affects satisfaction of applicants, and it may not always be the technology or software slowing things down.
A 2018 Equifax survey of federal, state and local agency directors indicated that after paystubs, State Wage Data, which can be anywhere from 30 to 120 days old, is the most common way to confirm income and employment when determining applicants’ eligibility for benefits.
When incorrect or outdated data are used to make a decision, it creates increased workload across multiple departments and functions, triggering investigations and additional fact-checking, delaying payments to constituents and opening the door to fraud. Such delays in benefit processes can lead applicants to become anxious and sometimes re-apply unnecessarily. This means more work to pull the documentation together again and applications submitted twice can potentially lead to even greater delays in decisioning.
Put—and keep—people first
The last CX driver noted by OMB is people. “People-first” is a natural focus for most social service agencies; they exist to serve individuals in need.
The same Equifax survey of social service directors also showed that while program integrity was the number one priority at all levels of government, the second most important priority for a majority of state agency leaders is squarely in the CX and CSAT wheelhouse: making it easier for consumers to apply for benefits.
The experience for the applicant needs to reflect modern-day consumer digital experiences For instance, consumers have little patience for entering the same information multiple times, or mailing paper documentation when so many other consumer applications leverage multiple data sources, permit secure uploads and deliver personalized, “know me” experiences.
The CX Bottom Line
Addressing the system holistically doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Some common-sense prioritization using the OMB-identified drives of service quality, process and people can lead to new ideas that can help improve the technology infrastructure, data recency and relevancy, as well as user processes.
All of this can make for a better CX, an easier path for benefit applicants and help create a more efficient department. In fact, Government Business Council research shared that with an integrated system utilizing continuously updated payroll information, such as The Work Number® database, a social service agency was able to double the caseload per case worker with greater efficiency and lower operational costs. An integrated system and timely data are the core of this approach to service quality and process; caseworkers get reliable and updated data, both from applicants and the sources against which the self-reported data is checked.
The sweet spot, as the OMB guidance seems to suggest, is the point at which those three guiding principles intersect. When they use integrated data and a people-first approach, state agencies can find a smoother path to deliver simpler processes, improved efficiency and more effective pathways when interacting digitally with any applicant. In other words, using CX to deliver improved social service CSAT.