Stephanie Thum, CCXP
Can CX Practices Help Solve the Maze of Complicated Procurement Ecosystems?
Updated: Aug 12, 2021
Suppliers play a vital role in creating experiences for citizens and customers of U.S. federal government agencies.
Yet, the government buyer-seller ecosystem is known to be downright nasty terrain. Complicated acquisition systems, regulations, and policies come with navigating that scene.
That reality can send potentially great suppliers running in another direction, choosing to work instead with organizations where workflows are simpler and decisions are relationship-oriented, not compliance-driven.
A great supplier running in another direction doesn't really help the government's cause. It usually isn't the right scenario for eventual citizen and customer experiences. Some U.S. government leaders are seeing it clearly. Now, government procurement leaders are turning to customer experience practices as a way to work toward change.
If the U.S. government can push CX practices into the procurement ecosystem, then why not regular companies?
CX Practices Are Already at Work in the Procurement Ecosystem
Customer experience practices like feedback collection, journey mapping, governance, and human-centered design have been emerging across the federal government for several years. It only makes sense that the government buyer-seller ecosystem would eventually surface as a big pain point, and that CX practices would find a place in helping to improve things.
The U.S. General Services Administration, a government agency, has been working in this newer territory of CX as part of their Federal Marketplace Strategy (FMS). The intention of FMS is to simplify the buying and selling experience for suppliers and acquisition professionals.
Lora Allen of GSA noted in a recent virtual government CX conference that GSA is moving from measuring and mapping experiences throughout the purchasing ecosystem to using “feedback and human-centered design thinking to really add value to that experience.”
“Think about everything government buys and what industry sells—from laptops to cloud services, pencils, fire trucks, PPE equipment,” Allen said. The ecosystem is like a maze, and the result is usually an inconsistent buying and selling experience.
GSA wants to smooth those waters. People-centric processes are part of the FMS, as are reduced barriers for qualified suppliers, and moving government employees toward higher-value work.
Moving CX to the Bigger Picture: The Frictionless Acquisition President's Management Agenda Goal
Recently, CX concepts got an even bigger spotlight in U.S. government procurement.
The newly refreshed “Frictionless Acquisition” Presidential Management Agenda (PMA) priority goal signals that CX concepts have a bigger role to play across government. Here are some highlights from the most recent action plan:
Culture change. Shift thinking toward who matters in the government buyer-seller relationship. It is neither the agency buyer nor the vendor. It is citizens and customers of government.
Vendors are referred to as partners. Business relationships are referred to as trust-based partnerships, similar to the private sector.
Metrics. Timeliness targets and performance measures will become more important.
Employee experience. Formal program management skills will be developed for government acquisition employees, in harmony with PMIAA law.
Feedback. Feedback is a mainstay. Examples include crowdsourcing input on agency procurement policies, gathering feedback from vendors about their experiences working with agencies, and from acquisition employees.
There are plenty of skeptics in the ecosystem who believe the acquisition terrain will never change. But let's be fair. All big goals take time to accomplish. You have to start somewhere. Patience and tenacity are must-haves. It's important to be part of the solution in government.
Rough Ecosystems Aren't Exclusive to Government
Also to be fair, government agencies aren’t the only ones that present vendors with a confusing maze of paperwork and rules. Major private sector companies operate in much the same way.
The difference is government is working on the problem. They are using CX practices to clear away roadblocks in the ecosystem with improved citizen experiences as the intended end goal. They're publishing their goals and progress reports. In doing so, they are holding their own feet to the fire.
If government agencies can push CX concepts and principles into the procurement ecosystem, then why not regular companies?
I'm always interested in comparing notes. Do you think GSA's Federal Marketplace Strategy and the PMA "Frictionless Acquisition" goal can have a positive, eventual impact on citizens and customers of government? Feel free to leave a comment.