Perspective

As You Design Your Agency’s Cloud Program, Don’t Forget to Wear Mouse Ears

June 19, 2019
Business of Cloud

The criticality of customer experience management in successful federal cloud initiatives

This is the first in a series of articles highlighting various aspects of business best practices needed to support a successful federal cloud program. Look for future articles on “The Business of Cloud” in coming weeks.

On the first day of my first job in early June 1983, I listened intently as my new manager spun a tale about a family taking their first trip to my new employer, Walt Disney World. The story started optimistically enough: a family of four with young kids was driving across the country on their dream vacation. Along the way, disaster ensued. The car broke down, the hotel in Kansas lost their reservation, and little Timmy got sick. The intrepid family finally arrived at the Magic Kingdom, paid a lot of money for admission, and spent over an hour in the hot Florida sun waiting in line for a Jungle Cruise boat piloted by yours truly. I can still hear my manager’s golden words: “At this point, the father is at his wit’s end. It is not your fault these bad things happened, but you are the one responsible for delivering the service they expect. These are your customers. Let your boat ride become a lifelong memory for them.”

It probably seems odd to compare the fun of Disney World to managing a federal cloud service, but the fact is, nobody knows how to deliver a great customer experience (CX) better than Disney; unfortunately, most federal leaders design around directives rather than service attractiveness. Many federal agencies define their cloud strategy, rationalize their data applications and operations, go through lengthy procurement efforts, and deploy their cloud services only to fail. While handling all the complexities surrounding a cloud deployment—managing costs, figuring out how to transfer funds, designing service-level agreements (SLAs), dealing with networks imposing high latency, meeting authority to operate requirements, and more—the customers' experience is often pushed to the sidelines. Service owners either do not understand how or cannot find a way to give their customers what they want.

A good CX is critical to the success of any federal cloud program. Many agencies forget that, when they move from buying and managing bespoke assets for their constituents to deploying a service, their sub-agencies, departments, and employees become customers. Program leaders must closely engage with their new customers to ensure that the services meet customers’ needs and desires (within reason). Beyond that, service owners need to actively sell their service’s benefits and value. Remember, by deploying cloud services, you are disrupting the culture, processes, risk profile, and even personnel of your agency. Change is hard. To get folks onboard, they must want it, which means you must sell it.

Even though circumstances may force your customers to your service, you are endangering your program by failing to provide a good CX. Your customers will find a way to get what they want, or they will resist adoption.

Taking pointers from Disney, here are CX tips for federal cloud service stakeholders, managers, and designers.

Business of Cloud

A good customer experience (CX) is key for the success of any cloud program.

  • Begin CX engagement early.
  • Use lures to focus customer attention.
  • Evolve without jeopardizing your value proposition.
  • Innovate.
  • Train your staff constantly.
  • Test your CX capabilities regularly.

CX starts long before the service is available. 

Disney World’s first national TV ad campaign was in 1984. Disney parks cast members answered calls from ad respondents because our knowledge and training conveyed excitement and authenticity, cementing the image of Disney World as an enticing destination. Great CX set and reinforced the expectation of an amazing vacation.

Many cloud programs are CX challenged before they launch. Department managers are invited to give feedback as a service is being designed, but users (including executive administrators, accountants, and doctors) are rarely asked for input during the design phase. Make sure customer representatives at all levels are engaged before, during, and after your program launches. Use knowledgeable and credible champions to generate excitement for the service’s capabilities. Once you launch, use a good, consistent way of measuring customer satisfaction in addition to common metrics, such as application response times, the number of clicks to perform a task, and resource availability. Review CX metrics weekly with executive staff members, frontline troops, and customers. Address any downturn in these numbers immediately. Always ask what you can do better. If you can’t satisfy your customers, tell them why, then try to find another solution to their problem. By doing this, you tell customers that they matter and that the service will help them.

 

The shining castle on the hill is there for a reason.

As you enter a Disney park, you will immediately see something large and interesting ahead of you—a castle, a huge aluminum sphere, or perhaps an enlarged Chinese Theater. These visuals draw you into the park along the radiating paths towards the attractions.

For your cloud program, create a series of visually appealing features that highlight the services you want your customers to browse and consume. Highlighted services should be better developed, show more innovation, offer increased value, and have higher demand, giving the customer a feeling that everything is well put together and useful. Employ a good user experience designer to use color, graphics, highlights, animation, and other tricks to direct customer attention to specific items on your website, service portal, and notices. Easily and intuitively focusing users’ attention on what they want boosts their confidence and interest.

 

Evolve but don’t lose your key value proposition.

Disney parks change over time. Many attractions are not an enduring draw (like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, which was ultimately removed from the Magic Kingdom in 1994), and their value proposition can diminish because they seem uninteresting to new generations or are expensive to maintain. In contrast, iconic attractions, like Space Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean, Splash Mountain, and the Jungle Cruise, remain because they are the main draw year after year, creating a key value proposition people expect to experience.

For your cloud program, you need to understand the costs, the risks, and the value that each of your services brings from your customers’ point of view. Make sure you know what your customers’ needs and desires are and how the various services rank in importance. To select services that are key to your customers’ value proposition, you need to employ people, processes, and tools to gather metrics on numbers of instances, adoption rates, and customer satisfaction trends. Don’t eliminate a lower value service unless it is a huge security risk. Instead, deploy a better service and entice customers to migrate. Evolve by keeping your customers’ needs and desires at the forefront of any service decision. Provide them with a path to success even if you must direct them to a different service provider. Make sure they get what they need and what they desire if possible.

 

Innovate, innovate, innovate!

In 1983, Disney was almost bankrupt, and a corporate raider wanted to break up and sell the company because Disney had stopped innovating over the previous decade and the stock price dropped. When all seemed lost, the Bass brothers bought enough Disney stock to become the principal shareholders and installed Michael Eisner as the new CEO. Eisner knew the value of the Disney brand and unlocked it with Disney stores, a newly reenergized movie production company, and park expansions. Since then, Disney has consistently reimagined ways to draw in new customers while making sure the old ones keep coming back.

Federal cloud use is rapidly expanding, and federal cloud innovation is moving quickly as well. With defense programs focused on data colocation to speed analytics and streamlining incident response by limiting the parties involved, agencies need to move quickly beyond the basics (cloud services of server, storage, web platforms, etc.) and into using cloud capabilities to drive innovation and mission success. Cloud providers must constantly find new ways to support customer tasks and agency missions. Get help researching new ways of solving tough customer problems. Attend events, such as hackathons, seminars, and user groups. Pose problems and questions to the people who live on the edge of cloud capabilities. Network with peers across the government and in industry to learn what is trending and how to adapt it for your customers. Once you have a new capability, communicate it to your customers and ensure they understand how they can use it to solve problems. If you do this regularly, customers see a pattern of innovation. Above all, never stop innovating.

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McCaleb_Lee

LMI's Lee McCaleb (author) at Walt Disney World's Big Thunder Mountain tower in 1984

Train your people, then do it again.

Disney trains its cast members continuously. Everyone is hired to play a role and is cross-trained in other roles so that staff members can respond to unexpected surges, seasonal demand shifts, or an unexpected illness. Cross-training keeps employees from getting bored and boosts careers, while complex roles require periodic retraining to hone skills and ensure governance is enforced.

Similarly, good CX practices must be taught and retaught. Technical competency, service design, and customer interaction are all key elements to your services that also strongly influence CX. All staff should be trained regularly to sharpen skills and apply what they learn to improving CX. To enable a training culture, clear expectations around training must be set and enforced. Require contractors to achieve a certain training goal to receive bonuses or meet program SLAs. Ensure contractors build time into their pricing models for training at least two weeks per year, per employee. Award bonuses to contractors whose employees earn relevant technical certifications and are retained on contract for a year. To ensure that your staff are capable, their skills must be measured and evaluated. Get help to design and field an employee evaluation tool. Measure in-house and contractor staff equally across technical ability, process, governance, security, and CX. Ensure everyone is retrained regularly on what good CX looks like and what their role is in providing it. Reward staff who generate ideas to improve CX the same way you do for an idea to improve a cloud service. Training can be expensive, but a workforce that can’t handle technical tasks and provide a good CX can kill a program.

Deploy shoppers and use what they find.

Nothing strikes fear in the hearts of a Disney cast member more than a manager saying, “You were mentioned in a shopper report.” Shoppers are paid to play tourist for a day and report on everyone and everything they encounter, both good and bad. While they cause a lot of stress, shoppers have a necessary function: test the system and find out where it needs help.

In the case of your cloud program, CX, like any other critical factor, should be tested. Give an accountant a script, have them call the helpdesk, and see whether the agent can help them properly provision a small infrastructure. If the agent can’t bridge the knowledge gap, then make sure the proper escalation processes are followed. Above all, make sure the agent leaves the tester with a feeling that they are genuinely going to work on the problem until it is fixed. Hold a secret contest to see who can come up with good realistic scenario-based tests and then run them in a way that is unexpected by your staff. Watch how they perform. After the test, debrief your staff. Ask what they were thinking during each step and where they had difficulty. Reward staff members who receive a good review. Everyone has an off day, but make sure to change processes, tools, training, and procedures to address pervasive problems.

The need for good CX is constant and everywhere.

Disney is Disney, and the federal government is not. They have different missions and different rules. A good CX program and collaboration with customers, however, can uncover efficiencies and get everyone pulling in the same direction to achieve mission success. Just like agencies will not put up with a contractor who gives them poor service, your customers will go elsewhere if you give them the same. A good CX program can be the difference that gets everyone singing “Zip-a-Dee-Do-Dah.”

You may now remove your mouse ears.

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