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Using Good User Experience to Rebuild Citizens’ Trust in the Federal Government

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Bill Brantley
February 6, 2022

I built my first website in 1995 after HTML 2.0 was released. There were few formatting options at that time that made most web pages look like static document pages. Throughout the late 1990s to the early 2000s, Internet companies raced to release new formatting and interaction features for their specific browsers. I worked at several web design firms where we had to make several versions of the same website optimized for the different browsers. It was chaos as companies spent millions of dollars and hours building and updating websites with every new HTML release.

Fast forward twenty years, and we now have online design standards and scripting languages that power commercial websites and mobile apps like Amazon, Google, Facebook, Uber and other online companies that form our everyday shopping experience. Thanks to the art and science of User Experience (UX), the online Customer Experience (CX) has dramatically improved from the early days of online commerce. Ever since my Presidential Management Fellow days (1997 to 1999) at the General Services Administration, government agencies have looked to the commercial sector in benchmarking the UX of government websites.

When I returned to the U.S. Federal government in 2008, President Obama’s administration launched many open government projects to significantly improve how the Federal government used online technologies to deliver services to citizens. For example, after the Healthcare.gov disaster, President Obama recruited technological talent from Silicon Valley to help jumpstart the government’s use of UX to improve the CX of delivering government services. These initiatives continued throughout President Obama’s two terms when he created the U.S. Digital Service and 18F, internal consultants to Federal agencies. Thirteen years from 2009, the U.S. Federal government has renewed its emphasis on using UX to build a better CX for citizens.

Executive Order on Transforming Federal Customer Experience and Service Delivery to Rebuild Trust in Government

President Biden released his executive order designed to rebuild trust in the Federal government by transforming the Federal customer experience. According to the executive order, “[w]e must use technology to modernize Government and implement services that are simple to use, accessible, equitable, protective, transparent and responsive for all people of the United States.” All the Federal agencies are directed to minimize the time citizens need to spend in requesting and receiving government services—time taxes. In addition, many of the Federal agencies are ordered to improve the UX of specific government services such as the passport application process and the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. It is an ambitious action, but can improving the Federal government’s UX increase citizens’ trust in the Federal government?

How Does User Experience (UX) Build Trust?

Social psychologist Julian Rotter defines trust as “’…an expectancy held by an individual or group that the word, promise, verbal or written statement of another individual or group can be relied upon…’” Good UX design builds a relationship with the customer by providing goods and services that customers can rely on. Every time I order a digital book through my Kindle, I expect the book to be delivered in less than a minute and ready for me to read. And 99% of the time, the book does arrive and is ready to read.

Contrast that to my recent experience in applying for a U.S. passport. It took two trips to the passport-processing center because my photo wasn’t correct the first time. The second time took 30 minutes, and I had to fill out the application form twice. Then, I waited ten weeks for the passport to arrive. I periodically checked the passport application site for the status of my application, but it only displayed “in process.” Then, even after receiving the passport in the mail, the site showed “in process” for another week. Not reliable and thus, not trustworthy.

How the Federal Government Can Improve Customer Experience by Improving the Federal Government Employee Experience

According to ICD’s Market Analysis Perspective: Worldwide Employee Experience Management Strategies, 2021, 85% of the survey respondents agreed that “an improved employee experience and higher employee engagement translate to a better customer experience, higher customer satisfaction and higher revenues for their organization.” Sixty-two percent of the respondents said that the causal relationship between employee experience (EX) and CX is significant and should be measured.

Good EX is built on transparency, trust and good communication between employees and managers. A good EX culture encourages belonging and inclusions with an emphasis on listening. Organizations with high EX offer a “frictionless, collaborative work environment with digital experiences embedded in the flow of work.” Doesn’t building a good EX culture in the Federal government help build a good CX culture for providing government services? Both EX and CX depend on creating excellent UX.


Author: Bill Brantley teaches at the University of Louisville and the University of Maryland. He also works as a Federal employee for the U.S. Navy’s Inspector General Office. All opinions are his own and do not reflect the views of his employers. You can reach him at http://billbrantley.com.

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