Some Companies Get Customer Experience Right for Federal Workers Affected by the Government Shutdown

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The government shutdown has lasted more than 30 days. In that time, federal workers have lived with job insecurity and uncertainty, no pay, and financial challenges as result.

We don’t need to get into the politics of the shutdown for this discussion. The effects to 800,000 federal workers are real — working without pay, facing evictions, overdraft fees, bounced payments, downgraded credit, obstacles to health care and prescription access, cancelled utility service and food insecurity. And in response, some companies are saying: thanks for your business, but return when you can pay for services — despite the circumstances representing a national crisis to no fault of those workers.

Others are stepping up to the plate to offer unique exceptions to customers facing unique circumstances with national exposure. Aside from gaining potential lifetime loyalty from customers who have unusually positive experiences attached to negative experiences in their life, but they’re also gaining national media attention for going above and beyond their explicit call of duty to provide goods and services in transactional fashion.

Kraft Heinz opened a free popup grocery store with essential food items for federal workers, requesting that workers “pay it forward” and give back when they receive their back pay. Some workers are using food banks to meet immediate needs and received critical support from Kraft in a trying time. What do you think their impression will be of the brand in the future?

 
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Communications companies like AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile, for example, have all said they will waive late fees for workers impacted by the shutdown and work with them on payment plans to stay current.

Airbnb announced they will provide federal workers with “A Night on Us” — where federal workers who host a renter in their home for three nights to bring in extra income will receive an additional $110 (an extra night of rent) from the company. PayPal is offering $500 interest-free cash advances for federal workers, and Rosetta Stone offered federal workers a free 3-month subscription to broaden horizons and brush up on language skills while out of work.

These are just a few examples of how some companies are understanding the customer experience can go beyond meeting the exact terms of the transactions that drive the business.

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If we put this challenge to business in the context of experience management (XM), here are a few thoughts:

Brand Experience (BX): In many ways, this is the epicenter of companies looking to create solutions for federal workers affected by the shutdown. Any company that does not do the right thing here can face serious impacts to long-term reputation. Sometimes experience memories can last the lifetime of the customer or the company — and companies going above and beyond are reaping positive brand association for finding altruistic solutions during national turmoil.

Customer Experience (CX): Does your business have a strategy for addressing the unique concerns of your customers that are federal workers? Not only should you have accommodations for these customers, but also you should make it easy for them. Make it clear that you were prepared. The best kind of customer experience goes above and beyond. Some ways that you can do this is by proactively reaching out to customers that are federal workers. Create processes to apply for payment deferrals. Find something you can give them in their time of need. This may be counterintuitive, but they will eventually be paid and so will you. This approach can create customers for life and counteract the negative publicity associated with doing nothing.

Employee Experience (EX): Many in the XM field have come to realize the critical importance of employee experience, including that their engagement, commitment and attitude towards you can have a significant impact on the experience they deliver to customers. How will employees feel if, due to rigid and inflexible policies, a coast guard officer went into default while she was on a deployment? How will employees feel when they have to be the messengers of those policies? Employees want to work for companies they believe in. Organizational policies and actions impact how employees feel about working for those organizations. The extra mile here isn’t making accommodations for federal workers — that’s the new bar. To go above and beyond, try to identify employees that have a spouse, sibling or child affected by the shutdown and help them out. Think about how that might impact your employees’ perception of you.

Digital Experience (DX): Digital offers a huge opportunity to engage with those affected and communicate to the broader community what you are doing to help. For an example: The below page is currently the home screen for USAA. Whether prominently featured on your website, integrated into your chatbots, messaging on your intranet, or updating your digital reminders and communications — a lot can be done in the digital space to address the specific needs of federal workers.

 
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In the case of USAA, the digital experience is just one aspect of experience management. The company is also donating $15 million dollars in interest-free loans to federal workers affected by the shutdown. The digital experience is one way of communicating the efforts to improve the experience affected workers have with USAA during this time.

It is heartbreaking to see stories about government workers impacted by this shutdown — and especially so when they face rigid and unaccommodating corporate practices that result in unnecessary hardships during already difficult times. Companies creating flexible solutions for customers facing unusually challenging circumstances are not only potentially gaining customers for life in those they’re helping personally, but public goodwill that could last for years for observers and other customers with strong feelings about corporate responsibility.