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4 in 5 vets trust the VA. The secret lies in employee experience.

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Veterans’ trust in the Department of Veterans Affairs is growing.

Seven years ago, just over half of veterans enrolled with the VA had trust in the federal agency, Chief Veterans Experience Officer John Boerstler said. Today 4 in 5 do. 

Speaking Thursday at the ACT-IAC CX Summit in Arlington, Virginia, Boerstler attributed the growth in trust — a cornerstone of any good customer experience — to the agency’s focus on improving its experience for employees.

While federal agencies are looking to improve customer experience and service delivery as part of President Joe Biden’s push to improve CX and rebuild trust in government, the VA has found that the solution to good customer experience lies in employee experience.

“The reason that VA has had such great success is because we have trained 400,000 plus individuals in our ‘Own the Moment’ training, our signature customer experience training,” Boerstler said. “You can’t have a world-class customer experience without world-class employee experience.”

The VA provides health, education, disability, funerary and financial benefits to 9 million veterans and their families. The federal agency began measuring trust in 2015 to provide better access to its resources and measures trust through online surveys that evaluate the ease, effectiveness, and emotion of veterans’ experiences with the VA.

Leading the VA’s trust score is its healthcare system, which 90% of patients said they trusted. 

“If you think about the success that we’ve had in VA, we really started in the middle of the veteran journey map with health care,” Boerstler said. “And it made sense, because the Veterans Health Administration is the largest integrated health system in the country, and they had 400,000 employees, so we had to arm them and train them and prepare them to deliver a world class customer experience. And that’s how we move the needle.”

By examining the employee experience and patient experience at 141 VA healthcare facilities, the VA found that where employees felt more engaged with the VA, patients tended to report that their healthcare provider was attentive to their needs.

Room for improvement

By investing in employee experience, the VA rose from the 17th best place to work in the federal government in 2016 to the 5th best place to work in 2022. 

Though its trust score leads most government agencies, Boerstler said the organization wants to boost its overall trust score from 79% to 90% by doubling down on employee experience. 

The VA is also working to engage Gen Z and millennials, a cohort that makes up 80% of those serving today, and to increase the number of veterans enrolled in VA benefits.

There’s a trust gap between generations, with older generations trusting the VA at higher rates. 

Veterans under 40 years old trust the VA 15% to 20% less than veterans 50 years old and above, according to Boerstler. “So how might we better design for these younger customers thinking that they will be our future customers for the rest of their life?”

Key to moving the needle is engaging younger generations in how they want to be engaged, Boerstler said. That means improving mobile, digital and texting.

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