According to McKinsey, around 80 percent of government efforts to transform performance don’t fully meet their objectives. However, the consultancy holds the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) as an exemplar when it comes to citizen experience. Between 2015 and 2018, the agency was able to increase the trust of its customers from 47 percent to 70 percent. I recently spoke with Dr. Lynda Davis, the former chief experience officer for the VA, about achieving success in citizen experience.
Q: How did you go about building trust with veterans?
A: Implementing the commitment to a customer experience culture in the VA is a challenge because we really have three distinct lines of business: healthcare, benefits and memorial services. We had to help those lines of business understand how it was going to benefit them in their delivery of services. So with our trust scores surveys, we began to collect and share data to help the businesses better understand the customer and do a better job with their service delivery and, ultimately, to improve the experience they had with their customers and raise the trust scores.
Q: How did you leverage data to produce better experiences for veterans?
A: Data has to be collected from a variety of sources and mechanisms. We were able to customize our AI-enabled survey system for each of the lines of business. We were able to collect qualitative and quantitative information in real time, analyze it and then give back to those lines of business. For instance, for the medical centers, we would give them survey feedback twice a week of what their customer told us about their concerns, their compliments and their recommendations. That was used, in real time, to make changes for individual veterans who had a concern. The majority of what we heard were compliments, and that was used to really incentivize our staff, particularly during times like COVID when it was such a challenge. That was very positive.
Q: How did COVID-19 impact your ability to deliver experience?
A: Our service delivery sources and mechanisms are and need to continue to be diversified to meet customer needs. COVID was an excellent example of when so many things had to go remote or be provided online. Our telehealth program increased by over 4,000 percent. We were able to use text to reach 30 to 50 million veterans with information specifically designed for their condition, their need, with COVID information or information about their prescriptions. Our contact centers were able to capture information as veterans were able to speak with a live agent 24/7. That provided numerous initiatives involving not only the technology that allowed us to capture the data by chat, phone and surveys, but then using that information to change the behavior of the providers, managers and leaders.
Q: How difficult is it when you’re managing a large digital experience and an even larger in-person experience?
A: That’s an excellent question. We need to make sure that every individual interaction is one that matters. So we’ve created on-the-moment training and over 100,000 VA employees were trained on the ability to interact with their patients in a way that acknowledged them and was a high-emotional-resonance experience. Likewise, we adopted the “I Care” values and modified those to have customer experience. That has been a very positive thing and is now a permanent part of the culture.
Q: How did you look to weave empathy into your strategic vision for the veteran experience?
A: We adopted the commitment to measure trust and use the Forrester model of the three E’s, which includes emotional resonance, or what we would think of as empathy. That’s measured in our surveys and can be part of the analysis that is done on all the qualitative and quantitative data. That data has helped us create a large number of additional services. We have an application for caregivers that allows us to touch base with those caring for veterans and check in on them for their welfare. It’s really key, especially during COVID, for the mental health of individuals. It’s very, very important that people feel that an empathetic lifeline is available to them. So, the data, tools and technology help us understand when to make those connections, and when those are important. But there’s no substitute for that warm connection with a fellow human being.
You can listen to the full interview on my Government Huddle podcast.