When it comes to customer experience in the Federal government, customers can be like your children: you love them and want to help them succeed, but you don’t get to pick them, and you have to work toward their high expectations. That was the message from Anahita Reilly, chief customer officer at the General Services Administration (GSA), during a speech today at Deloitte’s Creating a Future Forward event.

“Let’s look at some of the similarities here. First and foremost, we don’t choose our customers, they often choose us. Just like children, very rarely do we choose them. That’s kind of like government services as well. When we talk about the public receiving services, we’re the only choice they’ve got,” said Reilly.

Extending on the metaphor, Reilly, a mother of two, compared her experiences at home to the demands of customers.

“Children and customers want the best of everything. They have high expectations, and they do not understand or care to understand why we cannot provide that, or why it doesn’t make sense. It is our responsibility to make it make sense for them,” she said.

Far from calling customers crybabies, Reilly emphasized the importance of living up to these challenges, both for customers and Federal employees.

“We have seen, through endless research and in the private sector especially, customer experience drives revenue, it drives profitability, it drives decreases in operations costs, and it makes you a smart organization that has loyal customers. In the government, we’re kind of like, ‘well … it doesn’t matter if they’re loyal, because we’re the only choice that they’ve got.’ But flip that on its head and think about it from an operational perspective. How many times is your day better, where you get more done and you’re more productive, when you have happy customers,” she asked.

Reilly pointed to the recent GSA consolidation of schedules as an example of listening to customers to get better results.

“We have been listening to our customers and our industry partners for quite some time, and we are undergoing this effort because that’s what they’ve told us. We are using customer feedback and customer data to drive decisions and drive our mission forward.”

GSA’s customer experience efforts rely heavily on data, and Reilly detailed how GSA is using its data to improve services.

“What trends are we thinking about to move us forward to become this customer obsessed government? Data. I cannot say enough about the importance of data,” she said. She described her use of quantitative data, qualitative data, and operational data in her role. “When you pull it together … you see that entire end-to-end picture to continue to make smart, efficient, effective government happen through decisions based on real time information.”

Reilly also pointed to the policy moving customer experience efforts forward, including the President’s Management Agenda, the associated CAP goals, and the inclusion of customer experience in the A11 Circular, and agencies adopting their own approaches.

“Technology can be a huge tool, but I don’t think it’s enough. Policy is not enough. Measurement is not enough. It all fits together, and when we think about who it’s fitting together for to serve, the customer, we see our future start to evolve.”


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