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Federal CX Pros Must Start Preparing For The Presidential Transition Right Now

Rick Parrish
Principal Analyst
September 17, 2015

It's been eight years since the last presidential transition. Since then, we've seen real progress on the federal customer experience (CX) front, including the creation of the "customer service" cross-agency priority goal; the launch of 18F, the US Digital Service, and similar digital services shops; and the appointment of chief customer officers at four agencies.

Unfortunately, the next presidential transition could derail it all. The new administration might have different management priorities, misunderstand CX and its value, or simply want to undercut the current administration’s achievements. Improving federal CX may be good politics for nearly every conceivable incoming president, but that may not be enough. Some presidential transition experts bemoan times when neither good politics nor effectiveness were enough to save existing initiatives from a new administration's desire to appear different. As one expert put it, "Never underestimate the power of crazy."

Formally, the transition won't begin until the next president is chosen. In reality, work on the transition has already begun. The current administration has already refocused from rolling out new initiatives to securing its legacy; many senior executives are already planning their retirements or looking for work in the private sector.

That's why federal CX pros must start preparing for the presidential leadership transition now. I wrote my new report, “The Top 14 Ways For Federal CX Pros To Navigate The Presidential Transition,” to help them. The report details the 14 things federal CX pros must do before, during, and after the transition to keep their work on track and lay the foundation for continued improvements under the next administration. Here are just three ideas from my report. Please check out the complete report for more detail on these and 11 others!

  1. Focus on what you can finish before the transition. Don't just make sure that projects scheduled for completion prior to the transition stay on track — determine which longer-term initiatives you can speed up to get in under the wire. That way, you'll have fewer partially completed projects vulnerable to the upheavals of the transition. Don't hesitate to reallocate internal resources and ask contractors if they can shorten their timelines, too. Most contractors I interviewed said that they would work with clients to complete projects before the transition if possible. But don't ask contractors to do slapdash work. As a director at Sapient Government Services put it, "We can't shortcut the quality process."
  2. Tailor your pitch to each incoming leader. Just like customers, different leaders have different interests and needs. You can't offer new execs a generic briefing and expect them to love you. That's why everyone I interviewed stressed that as soon as your new leaders are named, you should learn about their personalities and professional goals and interests so that you can customize the substance and style of the case you make for CX. Use Forrester's research about federal agencies' need to improve their customer experience to help justify CX to skeptical new execs. This research shows how CX improvement boosts mission performance, traditional process efficiencies, and even cost savings.
  3. Don't fight change — embrace it. Whether they put their own spin on existing initiatives or throw everything out and start over, new leaders will make changes. When change is inevitable, don't fight it — you'll only turn yourself and your projects into targets. Instead, identify where your ongoing CX projects and skills can contribute to the new priorities, and use your CX skills to help your new leadership succeed. That's what a senior careerist at one major agency did when new leadership restructured and moved her to a leadership role in a different office. Rather than fight it, she used her customer-centric digital government experience to improve that office's customer focus. As a result, she was nominated for a major award.
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