A top Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) official said today that the agency’s investment in customer experience (CX) is paying off, with nearly 80 percent of VA users citing that they trust the Federal agency.

“In the last seven years, we’ve invested heavily in a large human-centered design practice,” the agency’s Chief Veterans Experience Officer John Boerstler said at ServiceNow’s March 13 Federal Forum in Washington, D.C.

“When we started measuring trust, ease, effectiveness, and emotion in fiscal year 2016 we were at 55 percent trust, and as we developed and studied each individual business line using human-centered design and applying the solutions to those pain points, we saw a gradual increase,” Boerstler said.

“Today we’re at 77 percent trust,” he said.

No Federal agency can get to that level of trust on the customer side without fostering the employee experience (EX) as well, Boerstler said. “One cannot exist without the other.”

ServiceNow’s Principal Executive Architect, Arunkumar Iyer, explained that CX and EX unite to create the total experience (TX), and Federal agencies must figure out how to leverage TX to deliver on their mission and create better outcomes.

“Customer experience and employee experience – together they are leading towards transformation,” Iyer said.

Boerstler said one way VA has worked to bolster its TX is through the revamp of the agency’s website – VA.gov.

In November 2018, VA relaunched its website to meet more customer needs. Before, Boerstler said, the website was organization focused.

“We modernized VA.gov,” the CX officer explained. “We took a very much organization-centered website … and applied that human-centered design.”

“Now if you look at VA.gov, we went from very much form to function,” Boerstler said. “It’s four quadrants that address the top 20 transactions that one can have with VA.”

VA Works to Engage With Future Generations

Boerstler explained that the Biden-Harris Administration’s CX executive order gave the VA “ammunition that we’ve been working on for many years to not only improve that digital experience, but literally shift into and invest more … into the mobile experience to design for that future generation.”

The VA official explained that 90 percent of the military is now made up of millennials and Gen Z – people who fall in the broader age range of 11 to 42 – so it’s critical that the VA is able to effectively engage with these service members.

According to Boerstler, his office took a mirror image of VA.gov and turned it into a mobile application.

“We have to think about our future customers and how to better design for them because the majority of our systems are built for older generations.”

This mobile app, Boerstler noted, is part of the agency’s new strategic effort to engage with veterans after they leave the military and transition back into civilian life. The VA official noted that the agency has a “customer acquisition problem.” Less than half of veterans access the services offered to them from the VA after they exit the military.

The Office of Management and Budget recently announced its nine Life Experience projects that aim to positively impact CX during critical moments in a citizen’s life – like navigating the transition to civilian life.

Boerstler said the VA mobile app aims to help the agency to engage with veterans during their time in service, so that when they leave, they can continue to utilize the services the agency offers.

“How might we, not only better acquire them, but ensure they have a world class experience and get enrolled into our programs, increase access to our programs, and then thereby improve outcomes,” Boerstler said.

“We’re working with this cross-agency group … with the Department of Defense, all seven service branches … and the Department of Labor to really rethink this journey, because it is a difficult one,” he explained.

“How might we better design so we’re much further upstream of that transition process,” Boerstler continued, adding, “We’re actually engaging service members and their families when they’re entering the military. So, they log into a mobile ecosystem that can give them a full suite of Federal services using Login.gov or some other platform to make sure they don’t fall through the cracks.”

Pamela Powers KPMG’s managing director, and recently retired Air Force colonel, praised the VA for its strategic efforts to improve CX.

“Bad customer experience erodes trust in government,” Powers said. “A lot of transformation efforts don’t think about CX – it’s an afterthought.”

“I would encourage everybody, as you’re developing solutions, to think about CX upfront and EX … Because it’s really critical,” she said. “Empowered employees and empowered customers can make informed decisions that work for them.”

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Cate Burgan
Cate Burgan
Cate Burgan is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.