Bob Barr, CGI Federal

Bob Barr

Vice-President, Business Engineering

Previous: Navigating customer-centric transformation

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Having reminisced about the IRS’s early attempts at and the various intricacies of customer-centric transformation in the federal tax administration system in my first installment, I will now delve deeper into the pivotal role customer centricity plays in delivering a world-class customer experience.

Understanding who the customers are, the scope of their experiences, what makes an experience "great," and the intricacies of delivering it has been a career-long fascination for me. Having said that, I would like to not only define this fascination, but share fundamental principles I’ve garnered in my own drive to deliver exceptional customer experiences.

Defining the customer: A provider-consumer relationship

Let's start by simplifying the term "customer.” A customer is anyone benefiting from the products or services you offer, whether they're a purchaser, an employee, an investor or a member of the public who needs access to government services. The provider-consumer relationship encompasses a broad spectrum, extending even to family and friends, acknowledging that everyone expects and contributes to a beneficial interaction.

Understanding the scope of the experience

The scope of customer experience encompasses every channel enabling interactions. In a previous post, I explored this concept in the context of the IRS, emphasizing the importance of the agency mapping the customer journey. Beyond channels, it involves every touchpoint, from the first contact to retention experiences, extending to the use of products, self-service experiences, and support services. Understanding and enhancing experiences with third-party representatives are equally crucial.

Decoding "great" customer experience

Calling the customer experience "great" sounds like something superlative, but in reality, it’s simply about delivering the expected benefits. Did the product or service meet the customers’ expectations in every interaction? Did the customers get what they needed on time, every time? Did you provide the benefit professionally, and with friendliness and empathy? If so, then you succeeded. The aim is to create a customer experience that leaves a lasting positive impression.

Never forget the customers’ emotions through the customer experience. Emotion is the true customer experience. I could write a book about this principle alone but simply put, recognize that emotion is at the core of the customer experience. To build satisfied and loyal customers, provide excellent service that benefits them and makes them feel good about their interactions with you. 

Nine principles for exceptional customer experiences 

  1. Know your customer: In our case, looking through the lens of federal tax administration, it’s probably obvious that the customers in question would be taxpayers (business and individual) and preparers. However, it also includes state tax administrations and other government agencies as well.
  2. Understand customer experiences: The IRS has put a lot of time and effort through the years in trying to figure this out. From my time there, I learned that this requires customer journey mapping to comprehensively understand the entire process, from the first contact to retention.
  3. Measure, measure, measure: Regularly measuring customer and employee satisfaction is absolutely essential to identify areas for improvement. 
  4. Prioritize minimum loveable product: Go beyond the usual minimum viable products and aim for offerings that wow the customer, fostering loyalty in the long run. Speed matters, especially in the federal tax administration domain. One tax season leads into the next, and tax laws change frequently. With this never-ending cycle, the IRS can’t postpone product releases and upgrades seeking perfection—but something does not have to be perfect to be loveable.
  5. Ensure safety, security and privacy: Prioritize these as non-negotiable elements to build trust and confidence in your products or services. The IRS handles personally identifiable information (PII) for just about every adult American and many younger people, along with sensitive financial information. Security is what I’d refer to as “table stakes:” Something so fundamental that doing it well is not optional.
  6. Prioritize fast, easy and accurate interactions: Whether these interactions are digital or via phone, chat or in-person experiences, customers—particularly taxpayers and preparers during tax season—will certainly expect quick, easy and accurate interactions.
  7. Seamless channel-to-channel transition: Ensure consistency and ease as customers move from one channel to another, avoiding repetition and frustration. It is sometimes necessary to direct a customer to a different resource or person, but it is enormously frustrating for customers to have to explain their needs in detail every time.  
  8. Think globally, act locally: In a global marketplace, deliver experiences that resonate universally, as negative experiences can quickly become global through social media.
  9. Cultivate a customer-centric culture: The most crucial principle is to create a culture where every employee, from the processing (proverbial factory) floor to customer-facing teams, is committed to delivering exceptional customer experiences.

The golden rule: Balancing science and art

Delivering a great customer experience requires a harmonious blend of science and art. It necessitates a solid functional product or service, a culture that values customer centricity, and the ability to navigate every aspect of a customer's journey swiftly, effortlessly and accurately. As the golden rule suggests, while delivering a minimum loveable product is challenging, orchestrating the right end-to-end experience and managing its organizational impact is the true art and science of customer experience management.

Next up: A strategic guide to unlock funding 

In the final installment of this series, Bob Barr explores funding strategies that are crucial for securing the financial resources needed to propel and execute transformational initiatives, ensuring the tax administration system meets the demands of a dynamic and ever-evolving fiscal landscape.

Read it here

Get more of Bob Barr’s insights in his previous blog series on the challenging demographics of tax administration. Start here.  

You can also learn from his experiences through his appearances in the CGI Voices podcast: 


IT modernization is overdue: What has to happen?  

Building partnerships: How government and industry can collaborate for success. 

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About this author

Bob Barr, CGI Federal

Bob Barr

Vice-President, Business Engineering

Bob Barr, a former Internal Revenue Service assistant commissioner, provides CGI Federal’s Treasury account team dedicated to the IRS with strategy support and strategic client development planning.