DHS Focus on Customer Experience Builds Public Trust, Security

Written by Anne Wright, Aptive Resources
Published by G2X

Serving over 1 billion customers each year — more than any other federal agency — the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has learned something about customer experience (CX).

With agencies as varied as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), U.S. Secret Service and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) under its purview, DHS knew a one-size-fits-all approach to CX would not work. The department serves a wide range of customers that includes disaster survivors, travelers, transportation workers, law enforcement officials, immigrants and many others.

DHS has been tackling CX issues for years, but a White House directive, the December 2021 Executive Order (EO) on Transforming Federal Customer Experience and Service Delivery to Rebuild Trust in Government, reinvigorated department efforts.

The EO, which defines CX as “the public’s perceptions of and overall satisfaction with interactions with an agency, product, or service,” identifies actions for federal government departments to take to improve CX. Among them are requirements for DHS to reduce passenger wait times at airport security checkpoints and streamline online disaster assistance applications.

“DHS is putting a lot of time, money and effort into CX right now,” said Jordan Atkinson, Aptive vice president for client development. “In the future, we expect every DHS component to have a chief experience officer (CXO).”

The department is also “getting serious about its leadership observation initiative,” according to Atkinson. DHS leaders “shadow” staff in the field for a first-person view of how programs are delivering services and meeting customer needs.

Making Progress

In May, DHS announced it reduced the total amount of time the public spends accessing services each year by 20 million hours. This goal was set by DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas in the DHS Burden Reduction Initiative he created following President Biden’s EO. The department estimates its programs and services impose more than 190 million hours of “paperwork” burden on the public each year.

DHS also created a permanent CX Office in September to underscore the importance of its department- wide CX initiatives and made improvements across multiple agencies, including:

  • Reducing processing times for immigration benefits, improving timely access to employment authorization documents and digitizing more forms within U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services
  • Accepting mobile drivers’ licenses at Transportation Security Administration checkpoints in Arizona, Colorado and Maryland, allowing travelers to simply tap their phones to go through airport security
  • Simplifying policies for disaster survivors to verify their residency or home ownership when applying for assistance through FEMA

Overcoming Challenges

Because of the broad and diverse customer population DHS serves, the department must develop and deliver a wide range of services tailored to many different groups with a variety of needs, as well as each agency’s mission, culture and processes — a tall order.

To do this effectively within a department the size of DHS requires user research and analysis. Although some of this research is already underway, the department has more work to do to fully understand its customers’ pain points — and what’s needed to alleviate them.

The department also needs to educate internal constituents about the importance of CX and encourage them to adopt a mindset that puts customers at the center of service delivery. A CX team is working to connect individuals and teams across DHS agencies and build communities of practice to help employees see and learn about CX together.

In addition to external customers, DHS has an internal customer constituency — its employees. To improve employee CX, the department needs to consider all internal processes through a CX lens, including budget, acquisition, onboarding, records management, programs and projects and more.

As the department continues to find new ways to modernize, streamline and improve services for internal and external customers, constraints on budget, new technology and other resources could pose additional challenges, according to Atkinson.

Benefits of Good CX

DHS acknowledges that CX is an investment that not only improves the employee experience but also builds trust with customers, creates better products and services and saves resources. Earning and maintaining the public’s trust is especially critical to the DHS mission, which relies on the public’s cooperation in responding to threats and national emergencies and keeping the country safe.

Streamlining processes and paperwork also frees law enforcement, security and other staff from administrative duties so they can focus more on their security missions.

With a continued emphasis on CX, DHS customers will be able to get services, such as disaster relief assistance, more quickly; complete forms, such as student and exchange visitor applications, more easily; and travel more smoothly. DHS staff will be able to focus more on customers and fulfilling their mission and the nation’s safety and security will be elevated.