At the beginning of fiscal year 2020, VBA declared that it would strive to make 2020 its best year ever. The commitment to achieve #BestYearEver was a VBA-wide effort to improve service to Veterans and increase agency productivity.
Despite ongoing challenges, VBA met the best year ever goal and remains committed to getting the nation’s Veterans the benefits they have earned in a manner that honors their service.
VBA has responded to Veterans’ needs during the pandemic effectively, in part, because it implemented a framework that prioritizes improving the customer service experience for Veterans. VBA knows that when it listens to its customers, improves to meet their needs, and empowers its employees to act, the organization can overcome challenges and improve outcomes for Veterans and their families.
VBA was able to quickly shift to remote operations for the safety and health of Veterans and employees by leveraging technology and telework.
VBA is fortunate that we were already using telehealth technology to hold video appointments with Veterans in some capacity before COVID-19. When we had to shift our operations to telework for safety, we didn’t slow down. We didn’t skip a beat. But we needed to make sure Veterans knew we were still providing services and that they knew that they could reach us. And we wanted to hear from them.
How can the organization listen to customers when they can’t even get in the same room? To address this, VBA began an ongoing series of local Tele-Townhalls to listen to Veterans. So far, VBA has conducted more than 91 town halls and has reached more than 3.8 million Veterans and their families.
These townhalls focus on callers’ questions and are all hosted by the Under Secretary for Benefits Paul R. Lawrence, Ph.D. Each event is held for a different state and publicized to Veterans with the help of numerous Veterans Service Organizations and the State Departments of Veterans Affairs.
“The Tele-Townhalls have been a success because they have allowed us to connect directly to Veterans around the country,” said Lawrence. “We have been able to answer questions, respond to concerns, address problems. Hopefully we’ve shown we are here and working with them to solve issues.”
The events have allowed Veterans to talk directly with Lawrence. Specialized VBA teams have followed-up with hundreds of callers after these events to ensure they are getting the assistance they need.
Additional methods VBA uses to connect with Veterans include tele-counseling, customer experience surveys, social media channels and maintaining consistent operations with updated information at its national call centers.
All these channels allow the agency to hear needs directly from Veterans and identify opportunities to improve.
VBA call centers have been an important listening channel. In fact, VBA turned them into agile feedback loops – call center representatives are identifying emerging trends in questions or types of information Veterans need during the COVID-19 pandemic. In fiscal 2020, VBA received almost 6.2 million calls from Veterans. When agents identify an emerging need or issue, VBA responds by developing solutions and tools for the agents so they in turn can better support Veterans.
This is the essence of VBA’s “Listen, Improve, Empower” customer service strategy. For example, when VA Solid Start representatives identified an increased concern about employment from recently separated Veterans, VBA worked with their Department of Labor partners to identify additional employment resources and incorporated those resources into their employment discussions with recently separated Veterans. This has led to reduced transition stress and promoted services, such as health care, mental health, education, insurance, vocational rehabilitation and career planning.
By listening to Veterans, improving to meet their needs, and empowering employees to act, VBA was able to make 2020 its best year ever, even in the face of unforeseen challenges. VBA is confident that the strategy of “Listen, Improve, Empower” will help us make fiscal year 2021 even better for those we serve.