Customer Experience Leadership in the Department of Veterans Affairs

Today’s podcast is a little different. I’m sharing the audio from a Daily Dose of OPTIMISM! that I recorded with Barbara C. Morton on LinkedIn Live. Be sure to follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn for resources to help guide you as we face this pandemic together!

How do you build a new customer-focused initiative within an established public sector organization? Barbara C. Morton, who joined the Department of Veterans Affairs in 2016 learned how to do just that. Barbara was brought on board to be the organization’s first-ever Deputy Chief Veterans Experience Officer and has been working diligently to bring a human-centered-design approach to her CX strategy.

Within this role, Barbara works with many different customers—her first customer being the veterans. She shares how her vision in creating a veterans-focused experience has helped improve client relationships and satisfaction. Those of you in the public sector who work with everyone from elected officials, to regular citizens, caretakers, lawyers, and more, will definitely get great value out of this conversation.

Is Your Customer Journey Baked Into Your Organizational Strategy?

When Barbara stepped into her role, she had to work through her first phase of getting the department’s mission and core capabilities defined. She wanted to ensure that the capabilities which focused on the veteran experience would be driven across the whole organization. Barbara worked with the Office of Enterprise Integration to lead an agency-wide effort to bake in the veteran’s experience story map as a part of the core strategy of the Department. 

Additionally, Barbara leveraged her lawyer experience to hardwire customer experience principles in the VA’s regulations and implementation as part of their values and characteristics. They recently amended the regulations to make this improvement. Though the Department of Veteran’s Affairs has multiple customers, Barbara states that the veterans are the first customer and the office’s philosophy is that they serve the public first, not the bureaucracy first. 

Barbara shares that once they implemented the journey map for the outpatient experience, they also developed new, relevant KPIs to measure against so that they could know just how successful their actual efforts have been. For Barbara and her team, it was about ensuring the customer journey is more than just post-it notes, but something that could be turned into action. With the journey map, they were able to create programs that addressed pain points for veterans based on the research. They knew what was important to the veterans and implemented operational changes to make certain accommodations. 

For Barbara and her team, it was about ensuring the customer journey is more than just post-it notes, but something that could be turned into action. -- @VetsExperience #leadership #customerexperience Share on X

Your Website is an Important Part of the Customer Journey

When working through plans to improve the Department of Veteran’s Affairs, Barbara and her team also revamped the organization’s website to be more user-friendly. By incorporating human-centered design, their goal was to redesign the website so that it was more intuitive to use. Since relaunching the website, customer satisfaction has increased by nine percent. To Barbara, this was reinforcement that when you design around the customer, you can provide better results for them.

Barbara thanks her supportive leaders and team for embedding customer experience performance metrics in every senior executive performance plan at VA. She recognized that people are motivated when they’re held accountable, and having metrics in place has helped others work towards achieving the customer-focused goals. 

In addition to working through new plans with the team that was already in place, Barbara also worked with the management agenda, which drives experience across government, to bring in talent that would help them focus on human-centered design practices. This means, looking for talent who can be empathetic leaders and those who have the personality trait and the emotional intelligence to help the VA with the cultural movement.

When you design around the customer, you can provide better results for them. -- Barbara C. Morton, @VetsExperience #leadership Share on X

What Do You Know Now That You Wish You Knew Then?

Barbara says:

“I wish I knew in the early days when it was a startup and there were some tough days. When I was starting out I had a small team near me, which was amazing. They were my initial coalition of the willing, but I wish I’d had visibility across government to my brothers and sisters and other agencies because we could have comforted each other and rallied around each other. So I wish I had known about this incredible network of brothers and sisters across government four years ago. I’m so happy I have them you know, close and tight in my orbit today, but I would have loved to have known them for years ago. But happy to have them now.”

About Barbara C. Morton

Barbara C. Morton serves the Department of Veterans Affairs as the Deputy Chief Veterans Experience Officer in the Veterans Experience Office.  In this role Barbara is responsible for building a lasting customer experience capability at VA and sharing best practices across sister Federal Agencies.

She received the Gears of Government President’s Award (2019) and the Service to the Citizen Award (2019) for her role in transforming VA’s capabilities to provide Veterans with an excellent customer experience.

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