Bob Barr, CGI Federal

Bob Barr

Vice-President, Business Engineering

As I’ve shared in prior posts, transforming into a customer-centric organization requires assessing and modernizing an organization’s technology platform/infrastructure, the cross-channel sales and support experiences it provides, and ultimately, transforming its culture.

To be customer-centric is to adopt a mindset that I am a customer, you are a customer, we all are customers. Over the course of my career, both as a consumer and as a provider of customer experience (CX) support services, I’ve learned that CX transformation (all three dimensions) usually requires the help of a third-party provider if only for scale. To that end, I’d like to share the 11 criteria I have found useful in selecting such a provider.

(Sometimes, if the buyer of a system isn’t its user, we may refer to it as user experience, or UX. For the purposes of this blog, I’ll keep it to CX for simplicity).

Before I share those criteria, I want to call out a nice guide published by the General Services Administration to help government agencies think through the selection process themselves. It can be found here.

So let me jump in.

If you’re behind a desk in an agency choosing a CX partner, ask these questions:

  1. Does the firm understand its own customers (and users) and their experiences?

And presuming they do, how do they develop and continuously refresh that understanding? I’m often surprised when a CX firm itself doesn’t have a formal program to gather customer feedback and a way to synthesize what it collects into actionable insights. Is there a recognizable customer-centric culture? The underlying question: Would you hire a firm that doesn’t practice what it preaches?

  1. Does the firm understand your industry, your agency and the regulatory environment in which you operate?

It isn’t necessary that the firm has done prior work in your field. I never demanded that of potential industry partners. I appreciated, however, those that took the time to learn through research. Fresh ideas often come from firms that are not steeped in your own legacy thinking. Innovation is commonly borrowed from other industries and agencies, so give credit for out-of-your-industry thinking.

  1. Can the firm produce relevant past performance references?

Don’t restrict relevant past performance to prior government experience. For example, if you oversee the taxpayer experience within the U.S. Department of Treasury, should you not want to see how the provider delivers CX services to the commercial financial services industry? It’s an opportunity to evaluate whether and how they might they bring commercial best practices into the federal domain. Never fall into the trap of believing you have a monopoly on smarts.

  1. Are they knowledgeable about the latest technology and/or process and methodology trends, and their relevance to your goals and objectives?

There are two aspects to this challenge. First is simply technology and its pace of advancement. The second aspect is advances in methodology such as journey mapping, persona development, Agile, analytics everywhere, and customer centric organizational change management and how CX is governed. Does your potential provider keep pace with these changes, and are they current where it’s relevant in applicable technologies, CX methodologies and frameworks?

  1. Do they appreciate the difference between a minimum viable experience, a minimum loveable experience and the role content plays in that differentiation?

There is a fine point to be made here. When it comes to rendering great experience, it’s not simply about what is functional per se; it’s about what wows the customer. When looking at past performance, ask yourself if you see “wow” in the experience and the content the provider delivered. Wow comes in customer/user feedback and internal results. I should note that the federal government has published a great deal of guidance on web design and digital experience.

However, CX still includes brick-and-mortar facilities and call centers; your provider must address those too, and the cross-channel experience.

  1. What are their program, product management and training skills?

Most organizations have many CX initiatives underway. And your provider runs many programs for many other firms and government agencies. It’s essential that the provider can demonstrate project and program management across your customer experience roadmap (which they likely helped you develop). Moreover, can the firm train your team(s) on the principles and practices of CX?

  1. What is their data and analytics experience?

Developing, delivering and continuously improving the CX is dependent upon a robust data and analytics program. I mentioned earlier that understanding the customer through VOC and CSAT programs depends upon an ability to gather data through surveys, interviews, usability testing and social media monitoring. It also means measuring web, mobile and call center experiences on a plethora of metrics such as response times and average speed of answer.

  1. Can they scale?

As your initiatives grow, can your potential partner scale to match? And, can they surge when necessary to meet emerging short-term demands?

  1. Do they design for security and trust?

Fraud as achieved thru spoofing, phishing, hacking, data breaches, malware and identity theft are multi-channel challenges. There are tools and techniques being employed to fend off these various attempts. The CX provider must be well-versed in the latest security and privacy practices, and that they are accounted for in each channel and across channel. So, ask how they manage their own channels and how they have designed for trust in prior engagements.

  1. Do they design for equity and inclusion?

This isn’t simply about designing and delivering experiences for the disabled but for the underserved as well. The latter would include those experiencing language, economic, educational and technology barriers as examples.

  1. Can they be had for a fair price?

Price is always a consideration. In the federal domain, taxpayers want to know that our government is spending their tax dollars wisely. In a prior posting I talked about options for funding CX transformation. Take a look if you hadn’t caught that one.

Clearly, the suggestions above align with the GSA Guide I shared at the outset. I’ve added a couple, and the guide dives a little deeper.

One last suggestion: meet your potential partner’s team.  Over the many years of my career, if there’s one thing I’ve learned above all else, it’s to meet the team that’s going to be working on your account. Sure, team members can and do change, but there is no substitute for a good, honest, professional—and at times fun—working relationship between your team and theirs.

 If you’ve done your homework and they’ve done theirs (yes, if they’re equally dedicated to success, they’ll be evaluating you as a client—no amount of revenue justifies a bad client), the program will execute well. However, a stumble or two along the way is inevitable, and having a solid working partnership will see those stumbles don’t grow into bigger problems.

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

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.