Great customer service happens when you exceed expectations — and expectations are higher than ever. People want to interact with government on their own terms. They want instant, accurate, easy-to-understand information delivered via their channel of choice. To deliver great customer service, government agencies must understand the needs of their customers, and adapt to improve the way those needs are met. — HowTo.Gov

These words ring true with citizens. The intention here is good, and Executive Order 13571 means well by directing government agencies to set service standards and use customer feedback to improve user experience. But how many agencies are listening? And how many have resources to spend improving customer-service aspects of things such as federal websites?

Meeting Customer Service Needs Through Cost-Effective Content Enhancements

Interested in agencies’ individual plans on improving customer service? Get the complete list on Performance.gov.

Many agencies with posted customer service plans focus on their websites as the means to accomplish improved service to citizens. But a good portion of the plans haven’t been updated since 2011, and fewer still seem to have been implemented wholeheartedly as you troll through government websites. It’s tough to know if this is a result of apathy, lack of oversight, inability in worker skill sets or shrinking budgets.

But it doesn’t take much to provide good customer service in a cost-effective manner. While citizens have certainly come to expect tools and applications that provide services in similar ways to what they’re used to in the private sector, developing those things does take dollars and man hours. But many times, getting back to the basics can do a lot of good without the need for an army of programmers.

Simple things such as page layout, information architecture and plain language can go a long way toward providing good customer service. If .gov website end users can access the information they need logically and quickly — and interpret it without having to Google every other term — then you’ve already provided a positive experience.

We’ve seen improvements like this work for our government customers such as the U.S. Small Business Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. By flattening architecture; making layouts more appealing and direct; and by making content more concise, search-engine friendly and clear, we’ve witnessed significant site-wide traffic increases and ForeSee customer service scores that tick up several points.

It’s time government gets the foundation in order before building the rest of its websites. After all, even if you have plenty of shiny new toys inside (applications), an ugly front door (design), windows in all the wrong places (architecture) and upside-down wall décor (content) just causes confusion and turns modern users off from the start.