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VA Customer Experience: A Blueprint for Success

VA Customer Experience: A Blueprint for Success

With VA trust scores continuing to rise, the agency has released a new report sharing its VA customer experience success and a “cookbook” other agencies can follow.

In 2015, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) ventured out on a journey to improve customer experiences for the Veterans, families, caregivers, survivors, and employees the agency serves, including creating the federal government’s first customer service office — known as the Veterans Experience Office (VEO) — which I had the honor of enabling with a dedicated team during my tenure with the VA. 

Our mission? To capture the voice of the Veteran and incorporate it into everything we did, from our policies, programs, processes, and practices. 

What the team has managed to achieve in the days since we first envisioned what customer-centricity would look like at the VA has been more than impressive, it’s been transformative. Those initial efforts helped drive the VA’s trust score among Veterans to 80%, up from 55% in 2016, and since then the organization has achieved even more gains with VA trust now at an all-time high of 90%

And what they’ve learned along the way is sure to be informative. To guide other federal agencies, the team has created two resources “VA Customer Experience: Accomplishments Report,” and “The CX Customer Experience Cookbook: A Collection of Key Ingredients & Recipes for Embedding Customer Experience in Federal Services” that share not only what the organization managed to achieve — but the exact steps they took, and how other agencies can follow suit. 

And these two resources couldn’t have come at a better time, since the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) announced this summer that it was updating its Circular A-11, Section 280 directive introduced in 2018. 

The new updates build on what we started when I was a founding member of the OMB Customer Experience Cross-Agency Priority (CX CAP) Goal Team, and now require all federal agencies to measure customer experience in real time and develop a trust score — like the one we implemented at the VA — to track customer experience performance in real-time.

5 Key VA Customer Experience Successes

“Our first priority is customer service. That’s the prime directive.”

These are the words of Secretary Robert Wilkie, when he arrived at the VA in 2018, and prominently noted on the final page of the VA customer experience report. This sentiment reinforced the idea first put forward by Secretary Bob McDonald who had the vision to establish the Veterans Experience Office in 2015. 

Since 2015, the VA has made tremendous progress in transforming its culture, rooted in the core values of “I CARE” — Integrity, Commitment, Advocacy, Respect, and Excellence. This was foundational to building customer experience at VA.

Among the lengthy list of VA customer experience successes, documented in the organization’s November 2020 “Accomplishments Report,” some of the major highlights include:

#1: Listening to the voice of the Veteran across channels in real-time

The VA gathers valuable insights from Veterans, service members, their families, caregivers, and survivors via the following channels to find out what is most important to these stakeholders and translates these insights into opportunities to improve and enhance the agency’s service and programs.

  • Surveys: As of October 2020, 33 million surveys have been deployed, receiving nearly 6 million responses
  • Phone calls: The agency has fielded almost 2.8 million customer calls in its state of the art main enterprise contact center.
  • In person: The VA’s patient advocates and Community Veterans Engagement Boards (CVEBs) help provide critical service and support at the local level.

#2: Mapping the customer journey and creating helpful resources for key touchpoints

Through the agency’s ongoing practice of customer listening, the VA has created 45 journey maps that depict key moments across the Veteran experience, such as serving and separating, rejoining civilian life, and retiring and aging.

Some of the crucial tools it has created to help Veterans in these important moments include:

  • The VA Welcome Kit: Resources designed to help Veterans navigate VA health care, benefits, and services. More than 700,000 VA Welcome Kits have been downloaded.
  • #VetResources: This weekly email newsletter is distributed to nearly 12 million subscribers and has been opened more than 235 million times, delivering 43 million engagements. 
  • Veterans Experiences Live events: Using social channels like Facebook Live, the VA has reached more than 2.42 million customers and answered nearly 10,000 customer inquiries. 
  • Self-service features on VA.gov: The VA has rolled out enhanced options on its website, including online prescription requests, appointment scheduling, and benefits enrollment.
  • Responses to COVID-19: The agency created a virtual check-in tool to allow Veterans to check in for appointments while in the parking lot and sent 79 million emails with information and resources related to the pandemic. 

#3: Improving telehealth and patient experience

Among the many ways the VA has worked to enhance the patient experience includes rolling out an extensive customer experience training, updating over 100,000 employees on the latest customer experience best practices, as well as increasing the adoption of telehealth services by 1,400%, creating a “Welcome to Telehealth” kit that has increased the number of patients that successfully have their first telehealth visit by 25%, and hosting annual events like the VA Patient Experience (PX) Symposium and VA PX Week.

#4: Tying employee experience and customer experience together

The VA’s more than 424,000 employees are critical to the organization’s customer experience. That’s why the VA not only has an established practice of capturing (and responding) to the voice of the Veteran but the voice of its employees as well. 

#5: Cementing the importance of customer experiences within the VA

The VA has established an official customer service policy and incorporated customer experience into the Code of Federal Regulations and created governance boards, including the Service Recovery Council and VA Outreach Working group. 

Essential Ingredients for Customer Experience Success

Some of the key ingredients as highlighted within the VA’s must-read “cookbook,” which can be put into practice to meet the OMB Circular A-11, Section 280 directive, include:

Strategy: The VA lays out how agencies can make the business case for customer experience initiatives by demonstrating the impact improving customer experiences can have within an organization.  

Operations: Agencies need a platform to capture customer experience insights and data in real-time, along with other performance measures like call center metrics, and this information needs to be democratized within the organization. Customer experience performance should be a measure that is used to help evaluate senior leadership performance and these skills should be written into the job descriptions throughout the organization.

Funding and organization: Your agency  will need sufficient resources — that means both the funds and the employees dedicated to customer experience roles — to execute and grow your customer experience efforts.

Culture and incentives: Customer experience needs to be incorporated into your mission, established as a core agency value, and integrated into training, leadership development, and employee recognition and bonus programs.

Partnerships: For the latest best practices, the VA collaborates with both government and non-government organizations to improve the end-to-end experience. 

Capabilities: The VA’s customer experience framework is built upon principles of human-centered design, powered by real-time experience surveys, and leverages customer experience data analytics and artificial intelligence for insights and optimization to achieve the very best mission impact and outcomes in service to the people you serve.

Following in the Footsteps of the VA’s Customer Experience Success

I couldn’t be prouder of the VA’s customer experience team (Veterans Experience Office) and the VA team — and how their success is highlighting the opportunities other agencies have to put customer experience practices into their missions and offer a winning roadmap for getting started. 

Schedule a strategy session with one of Medallia’s Experts on Demand and begin cooking up how you can follow in the VA’s footsteps.
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