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March 27, 2019

An Overview of the Customer Experience (CX) CoE Activities and Progress at USDA

The Customer Experience Center of Excellence (CX CoE) aims to improve the digital and human experiences of USDA customers—our nation’s agricultural producers, consumers, and users of public lands—using human-centered design, service design, user experience, and design thinking to identify and meet the core human needs at the heart of every customer’s interaction.

Phase 1 began in April 2018, and the team used modern CX practices including design-led field research —we’ll talk more about CX research methods in upcoming posts- in a pilot to help USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) better understand the burdens faced by farmers, ranchers, and service center staff as they direct farm loan applications.

For new producers, these burdens—a range of technology challenges, knowledge gaps, and process complexities—make an already-difficult application process even harder. Because these producers are new to the process, they don’t fully understand what their overall loan journey will look like. They’re faced with mysterious delays, strange terminology, and seemingly endless requirements for paperwork. All too often, something as simple as some missing data from a farm business plan or asset list can only be corrected by yet another long drive to a sometimes-distant service center. All this conspires to make the direct loans experience more stressful—and more costly—for new producers who are the least-equipped to absorb those costs.

During our research, we conducted interviews, field observations, and workshops with dozens of producers and USDA employees in six states and Washington, DC. This enabled us to map the Farm Loans Customer Journey, 13 key findings, and related recommendations—including areas where USDA can develop solutions that both address the biggest pain points between producers and loan officers and preserve the unique, highly valued collaborative relationship between the two groups Direct Farm Loans Customer Journey Map

You can see a full report of our work, including methods, resources, and other artifacts in the USDA Direct Farm Loans Journey. Our research revealed improvements that some service centers have already discovered and that need to be adapted and spread throughout the system. We also uncovered some relatively simple, low-cost solutions, that if skillfully applied at the right points of the loan process, could help relieve some of the biggest pain points faced by both producers and loan officers. For example, we’re currently prototyping targeted digital and paper farm loan eligibility guides to help streamline the process for applicants, and help them better understand their entire loan journey with USDA, and the steps they need to take within it.

During Phase 2 of the initiative, which kicked off in October 2018, the CX CoE team has been keeping up our momentum, following up on priorities identified in Phase 1, and partnering with USDA mission areas (and the other CoEs) to find additional high-impact USDA business challenges where we can apply CX methods to get better insights and build effective, customer-focused solutions.

Along the way, we’re going to be helping USDA agencies understand, grow, and develop their own customer experience capabilities. Together, we can expand USDA’s ability to use CX to help USDA achieve its vision of becoming the most customer-focused department in the federal government and fulfill its goal to goal to “Do Right and Feed Everyone.”

Stay tuned as we talk more about our work, including sharing progress on our current round of projects, showing you how we’re working to grow USDA’s CX capabilities throughout the agency, and developing tools and techniques that you or your organization can adopt into efforts to improve your customers’ experiences.


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