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Transforming Experiences in Government Agencies

by Dan Gingiss

Avtex is happy to welcome Dan Gingiss as a guest author. Dan is a customer experience keynote speaker, consultant, author and podcaster. During his 20-year career, Dan has gained invaluable perspective on what it takes to delight customers.

TSA and NASA Paving the Way for A Renewed Focus on CX in the Public Sector

Customer expectations have been on the rise for years now, and companies have been expected to keep up. But what about government agencies? Historically, customer experience expectations for government agencies have been incredibly low. Therein lies an opportunity, however, for those agencies willing to put forth the effort to differentiate.

Some government agencies have adapted to the changing times. For example, the United States Postal Service (USPS) has made doing business with it simpler in recent years. No longer do customers have to physically go to a post office to order stamps or mail a package; both can now be done from any computer or mobile device.

But USPS faces stiff competition with FedEx and UPS. Most government agencies are monopolies or near-monopolies, so they don’t necessarily have to worry about losing customers to a competitor. Still, just as in the corporate world, an improved customer experience can serve to reduce costs by eliminating pain points and customer service inquiries.

Social media can be a great place to start, but it’s clear that the U.S. government has work to do. A recent study by Sprout Social, “What Consumers Want from Brands in a Divided Society,” found that 72 percent of U.S. customers cite government and political leaders as playing a significant role in dividing society. But social media publishing platform Hootsuite suggests that government agencies can accomplish a lot on social media, including improved public relations, crisis communications, citizen engagement, and building of public trust.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screens more than two million passengers and their luggage daily – and doesn’t always get a lot of customer love for its efforts. The agency was one of the first in the U.S. government to establish a Twitter account (@AskTSA) specifically aimed at engaging with the public.

“The audience was there,” Jennifer Plozai, then the Director of External Communications, told the Focus on Customer Service podcast. “We didn’t promote it…Right when we launched, we had passengers sending us good questions on Day 1, and it’s just grown from there.”

The most common questions include permitted and prohibited items, what types of ID are accepted, the popular TSA Pre✓® program, and people traveling with disabilities or medical conditions. The Twitter profile tells travelers: “We look forward to answering your questions.”

Plozai said that since the agency was a trailblazer within the U.S. government (@AskTSA and @USPSHelp are credited with being the first two government handles dedicated to customer support), staffers had to learn from other sources that were more established in social media, most notably airlines and airports. In addition to answering questions, the social media presence also helped TSA identify trends and operational issues with the traveling public.

TSA also has nearly 1 million followers on Instagram, and its account features photos of humorous items brought through security, as well as some interesting violations. For instance, a recent (and apparently unaware) passenger was stopped after the X-ray machine found a saw blade buried inside the sole of his shoe. The TSA’s post was clever and humorous:

Knock Knock
Who’s there?
Wooden shoe?
Wooden shoe who?
Wooden shoe want to know if your shoemaker accidently left a saw blade in the sole of your shoe!?!⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

Listen, we’re sure this was an innocent mistake. The shoemaker for sure has a good sole. Mistakes and accidents can happen to the best of us but there’s no sneaker around our officers. They are trained to find prohibited items. Allow us to jog your memory, although disposable razors and cartridges are good to go in your carry-on bag, razor blades like these must be packed in checked bags.

This discovery was made at Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (DTW) earlier this week. Learn more on what you can and cannot bring through security visit TSA.gov

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration, better known as NASA, is by far the most popular government agency in social media. NASA boasts more than 47 million followers on Instagram (@nasa) and more than 32 million followers on Twitter (@NASA). In both places, it shares incredible, one-of-a-kind imagery from around the galaxy.

Other popular government agency Twitter handles include:

  • Department of Defense (@DeptofDefense): 5.9 million followers
  • Department of State (@StateDept): 5.4 million followers
  • National Weather Service (@NWS): 2.8 million followers
  • Justice Department (@TheJusticeDept): 1.6 million followers
  • Centers for Disease Control (@CDCgov: 1.2 million followers

Hootsuite offers these tips for government agencies on social media: Listen for relevant conversations, educate your audience with valuable content, and engage. Of course, these are helpful tips for any organization.

As more public service agencies shift their focus to improving customer experience, the TSA and NASA will likely serve as excellent examples of what can be accomplished through strategic planning, effective tools and the commitment to effective engagements.

More About Dan

Dan's 20-year career has consistently focused on delighting customers, spanning multiple disciplines including customer experience, marketing, social media and customer service. He has held leadership positions at three Fortune 300 companies – McDonald’s, Discover and Humana.

Today he is an international keynote speaker and experience consultant who believes that a remarkable customer experience can be your best marketing.

Dan is the author of the book, Winning at Social Customer Care: How Top Brands Create Engaging Experiences on Social Media, a host of the Experience This! Show podcast and a regular contributor to Forbes.

Dan earned a B.A. in psychology and communications from the University of Pennsylvania and an M.B.A. in marketing from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.

Learn more about Dan.

Dan Gingiss, Contributing Author