Across the federal government, a push is underway to improve the public sector’s customer experience. Now, the state of New York is hopping on the bandwagon.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul announced last month that Tonya Webster would head up the role of chief customer experience officer, which Webster says is the first of its kind for a state government.
Webster, who's held roles at Blue Cross Blue Shield and NBCUniversal, will oversee the customer experience of New Yorkers across scores of agencies. She will work closely with Dru Rai, the state’s chief information officer, and Colin Ahern, the state’s chief cyber officer.
CX Dive spoke with Webster, who’d only been on the job for a little over a month, last Wednesday to hear about her priorities, how she’ll improve New Yorkers’ experience with the state and the unique challenges she’ll face operating in the state government.
Top of mind is improving New Yorkers’ experience with child care services, tax services, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children program, and family services, Webster said. That begins, she says, with customer-driven insights. “But again, we do have the opportunity to take a look across all of our agencies [with] that customer experience point of view.”
“We currently have several different surveying platforms across the state,” Webster said. “So we’re working with agencies to think about: how do we standardize the methodologies around what we're asking, how we're asking it and what we're measuring in these types of interactions?"
"And then, most importantly," she said, "what are we doing with the information that we get from this voice of consumer data collection?”
Webster is focusing on establishing customer-centric metrics to “drive accountability across the agencies” and improving New Yorkers’ experience connecting with state services online.
Key to the digital experience is “simplification” and “making sure that we have the correct channels available for New Yorkers to interact with us the way they want to interact with us," Webster said.
That includes implementing the self-service capabilities and ensuring that New Yorkers have access to real-time information on the status of their inquiries, whether that’s the status of their unemployment insurance check or tax refund.
To support this effort, Webster’s team is ramping up staffing for its user research and design teams.
‘We don’t have a blueprint’: CX arrives in state government
Working in the state government comes with its challenges.
Public and private chief customer experience roles are “fundamentally similar because they have a common thread — customers,” Webster said.
But public roles bring a unique set of considerations; leaders have to contend with outdated legislation, legacy technology systems, and complex data sets and siloed processes.
“We'll have to work within the confines of regulations,” Webster said. But there’s room for maneuver.
“When we're reducing bureaucratic red tape, we can use that as a banner, but what you're really doing is creating operational efficiencies so that employees are working optimally, and therein lies a better experience for the customer,” she said.
In her first month on the job, Webster undertook a listening tour, where she spoke with the heads of different agencies. Already, she’s seen just how siloed each’s legacy systems are.
The problem with these data silos, Webster says, is “how customers interact with us shouldn't be agency by agency, but really based on you as a customer, what you need.” Modernization efforts are underway, and Webster is working with NY’s CIO as the state looks to remove barriers to data sharing across agencies and streamlining New Yorkers’ digital interactions.
The other challenge Webster faces is her role is the first of its kind at the state level, but it’s an opportunity that excites her.
“We don't have a blueprint because it hasn't come before,” Webster said. “I think the other exciting piece of it is having the partnerships to be able to build this out. It's being able to do something different for New Yorkers and improve their interactions with government.”
She acknowledges that New Yorkers expect some level of customer experience in their interactions with the government when “quite frankly, the rest of their life has elements of customer experience.”
“It's important for New Yorkers to know that this role is really about them,” Webster said. “And it's not just about customer service, but it's about all of their interactions with government. They have a voice and a seat at the table for that.”