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The difference between good and great customer experience in the public sector

A woman works on paperwork in an office.

What’s the difference between a good and great public sector experience? The secret is that there is no secret: what makes a customer experience great in the public sector is nearly identical to what makes a customer experience great in its private sector equivalent. But while both experiences might feel the same from the customer’s perspective, getting to a great experience in the public sector requires a different journey, with some unique challenges.

Public vs private customer experiences

In late 2021, the Biden administration signed Executive Order 14058 on Transforming Federal Customer Experience and Service Delivery to Rebuild Trust in Government. This executive order directed federal agencies to use a holistic approach to improve customer experience by making basic tasks and interactions simple, seamless, and secure. 

One way that agencies were directed to achieve this was by understanding the competition. Part of this mandate directed High Impact Service Providers (HISPs) to compare their experience directly with private sector counterparts. High Impact Service Providers are 25 programs across 14 agencies that, because of their breadth, interact with nearly every American at some point in their life. They found that many federal government services were falling short of their equivalent private sector experiences.


Comparison of Federal Government CSAT scores to private sector benchmarks according to McKinsey poll

During this discovery process, they also found that many HISPs were facing challenges that could be boiled down into similar themes:

  • Customers experience life events, not Federal agencies. 
  • Moments of stress often require complex decisions. 
  • People frequently navigate Federal services on behalf of someone else. 
  • Sometimes the confusing part isn’t the quality of the website.

These themes helped provide a foundation for how to understand these CX challenges, and a template to start solving them. One way that this challenge is being faced is by creating new frameworks for how agencies can work together. 

Life experiences framework

The Life Experiences framework tackles friction that citizens might experience at critical moments in their lives by understanding these experiences from the point of view of the citizen. Driven by human-centric design, this requires a new model of the Federal delivery system working within agencies, across agencies, and across different branches of government to solve problems.

Five cross-agency life experiences were chosen to start:

  • Having a child and early childhood
  • Facing a financial shock
  • Recovering from a disaster
  • Navigating the transition to civilian life
  • Approaching retirement

Each Life Experience team collaborated with the relevant federal and state agencies and departments to learn how people interacted with government program during these pivotal moments. Service designers, evaluation professionals, policy experts, program staff, and external experts collected data to generate insights and identify trends across real customer experiences. And what they found was that taking customer experience to the next level could be boiled down to a basic principle: providing the right information, at the right time, and empowering employees with that information to help people find what the logical next step. 

How to take your public sector customer experience from good to great

Taking customer experience to the next level in the public sector comes down to empowering employees to make these experiences better — whether it’s giving them the context or information they need to resolve an issue in one phone call instead of three, or providing a suggested action to take. 

How can public sector agencies empower employees with that kind of data in these situations? In commercial markets, employees are given access to training and tools to help, but not all government agencies are able to share information, even when there’s overlap – Housing and Urban Development and Health and Human Services, for example, may collect similar data, but these agencies have strict laws and regulations around when and how data can be shared. 

While these regulations exist for good reasons, it can end up creating data silos and repetitive intake processes between different agencies, resulting in a slow and frustrating customer experience. At the same time, private institutions like banks or hospitals that face similar data sharing regulations have been able to improve their customer experience while also following similar strict standards, showing that it is indeed possible to reduce friction in the customer experience while maintaining compliance. 

Customer expectations have been set by the private sector. Customers want that same intuitive experience when interacting with government agencies — to be known when they call, and then visit the website and interact with different portals. And to be remembered when they receive a follow-up email, with relevant information, after both of those interactions. 

Despite the different challenges provided by data regulations, public sector agencies can learn a lot from the no wrong door model. While it doesn’t offer quite the same frictionless experience that a customer can expect from a bank or insurance provider, it does ensure that the question goes to the correct place. That experience, especially when combined with employees who are empowered to provide the right information at the right time, can upgrade a public sector experience from merely ‘good’ to ‘great’. 

Where we’ll see results promises to “track the U.S. government’s goals” with data-driven progress updates that measure the success of some of these CX implementations, including the Customer Feedback Data dashboard, which shows continual updates on how these CX measures are performing. And HISPs are already seeing improvements in customer satisfaction

In September 2023, the General Services Administration (GSA) announced a partnership with TTEC Digital that would optimize, modernize, and transform contact center operations for federal agencies supported by the GSA. TTEC Digital was chosen in part because of its ability to meet the unique needs and cater to the strengths of each partner agency.

State and federal governments are right at the precipice of implementing and enabling the technologies that will enable the kinds of capabilities that will take public sector customer experience from good to great. It’s not quite there yet.  But it took 20 years for the federal government to adopt a cloud policy, 8 years to adopt a customer experience policy, and only 18 months to adopt an AI policy. 

Clearly there is more work to be done — but with each iteration we’re improving, and we’re improving faster. 

Steve Parowski

About the Author

Steve Parowski

Global Leader, Public Sector

Steve is team leader of the TTEC Digital's public sector sales executives and solution engineers. He champions innovative solutions driving exceptional citizen experiences.

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