On April 27, 2011, President Obama issued an executive order directing departments across the federal government to improve and streamline customer service. In cooperation with the Office of Management and Budget, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) is working to position itself as a leader in customer service for the executive branch. To evaluate the state of our customer service efforts, address existing process gaps, and deliver a comprehensive strategy for improving service throughout the Department, DOL has developed the Customer Service Modernization Program (CSMP).
DOL is a customer service agency. Our customers range from CEOs of Fortune 100 companies to migrant farm workers with limited English proficiency. Serving such a diverse population across the department’s nearly 30 agencies and offices requires a comprehensive customer service system that allows for flexibility while maintaining message consistency.
DOL’s efforts to improve customer service are guided by a customer-first mentality and emphasize a channel-agnostic, or “no wrong door” approach. This mindset ensures that customer inquiries are handled effectively and efficiently regardless of the customer’s preferred communications channel—phone, email, social media, or walking into a DOL office. Responses must originate from subject matter experts and be delivered in a timely, accurate, and complete manner.
DOL has initiated the CSMP by identifying three agencies—the Wage and Hour Division (WHD), the Office of Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP)—to participate in a pilot program. All three agencies are worker protection agencies, so quick and efficient communications with workers and employers is critical. They each receive complaints from employees, and assist employers with regulatory compliance, among other things. It is essential that all of these contacts are handled effectively and courteously, at a minimum.
To implement the technological components of the CSMP, DOL is utilizing a modular development process. Frequent, continuous, and close collaboration between the project team and participating agencies will encourage ongoing process improvements, and performance evaluation. More importantly, the ability to review outcomes throughout the development process will allow the CSMP team to make small or large changes in strategy where necessary. Instead of waiting months or even years to discover a particular approach is ineffective, a modular approach will help DOL maintain flexibility, and correct problems and inefficiencies as they arise. The product will be a better customer service system sooner and at a lower cost.
The agile approach also is an important change from the way many large-scale government IT projects are handled. In the past, DOL and other departments have secured IT solutions through long-term contracts which lock agencies into a specific approach at the program’s outset. The agile approach more closely resembles the way company-wide improvements are made in the private-sector --- an important lesson for government.
Finally, as part of the CSMP, the Labor Department has developed two “Signature Initiatives,” which will engage key stakeholders and the software developer community in delivering publically-available data to DOL customers. The Occupational Employment Statistics Challenge and DOL’s InformACTION App Challenge call on developers to use data from DOL’s Bureau of Labor Statistics and other agencies to help people find good jobs, take the next step in their careers, or make educated consumer decisions.
The engagement strategy of these “Signature Initiatives” (as well as the agile development strategy of CSMP as a whole) is meant to help DOL employees better serve American workers. By streamlining the way we deliver services, answer questions, respond to complaints, and liberate our data into the hands of the public, DOL can epitomize 21st Century government in action.