About 1/3rd of the most memorable customer service encounters in government are negative. Does that number seem low? Well keep in mind that the statistic was taken from a survey of employees of Federal, State, and Local governments, and even the sub-50% number from employees still isn’t positive.
But this GovLoop survey was more focused on the future than the past. And many of these employees are optimistic about the future because of some key trends they see developing including “Self-service opportunities, from grocery store kiosks to online applications, will allow citizens to access, process and monitor their government requests on a more widespread and frequent basis. Citizen engagement and partnership efforts that empower citizens will also become more prevalent. Mobile applications, increased social media interactions and the expansion of live, online chats also will radically change the way government delivers services in the next five to ten years.”
So these are the trends to anticipate, and the question becomes, What does this mean to the typical local government or employee? Here are three key takeaways:
- Here Comes Proliferation. More service channels for the taxpayer mean more complexity, more need to monitor standardization of information and the experience, more staff training, and more metrics to gauge and improve performance. More, more, more infrastructure, training, and monitoring.
- Calling All Techies! Tech-savvy employees will be a requirement, not a nice-to-have, and most local governments won’t be able to have separate divisions/departments dedicated to separate service channels because staffing is too small. Therefore, many staff will have to learn to be jacks-of-all-trades (responding to e-mail requests, social media complaints, calls, web issues, and potentially onsite visits – all in the same day).
- Teach the Citizens Well. “Self-Service” means that the customer can do for themselves. This requires a mindset and intentional planning and work to train citizens on how to do for themselves. It’s the proverbial teach them to fish, but the fish they’re catching is information, or a recycle bin, or compost, or an inspection, or a tax payment, or a reservation at a park shelter. For Self-Service to succeed, we need to serve as a teacher to inform, educate on what they can do and how to do it.
With variety comes complexity, and with a greater tech emphasis comes the search for people who can blend a technology skill set and a customer service mindset.
Get ready for the future of government customer service.
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In the article New city administration sets priorities at day-long planning session, El Paso city officials met to identify 2014 goals. According to the article, “Customer service emerged as a key focus, for the new administration, during the planning session. The city’s mission statement says that it is ‘dedicated to outstanding customer service for a better El Paso.’ City Representative Larry Romero added that part of the city’s duty in providing high customer service is first identifying the priorities and levels of service needed. Deputy city manager Jane Shang said the city needs to revaluate and change processes to streamline city government and, ‘deliver services quicker and better.’”
Based on those points, here are some nuggets for any business to consider:
- A Mission Defines Your Daily Purpose. Use the Mission to guide your planning efforts. Are you aligning your plans to your Foundation Statements (Mission, Vision, Values)?
- Define “Customer Service” for Your Organization. Customer service is a general term, so is it defined as the employee attitudes, systems, processes, facilities, or something else?
- Define Where You Want to be GREAT! Don’t strive for perfection in everything – there have to be priorities set. Are you going to delight the customers with your attitudes, systems, processes, AND facilities? If so, do you have an unlimited budget?
- Define Your Customer Service Standards. Where you don’t have an unlimited budget, define bare minimum expectations. If we’re not going to have facilities that resemble the Ritz-Carlton, what is at least a minimum expectation?
Whether you work for a municipality or not, to create a focus for your customer service initiatives, give customer service some definition.
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When you retire, you get reflective. And with reflection, you sometimes come up with nuggets – words of wisdom.
Brenda Fraser is a County employee retiring from 37 years of service, and in the article Face of Hernando County government says customer service, good hires were keys to success, she addresses some of the difficulties in serving customers as a local government employee. Fraser noted that “The hardest part of her job has been ‘communicating to people when it was something that was not positive, communicating that the county really does care. We understand there is a problem. We’re not being cavalier.’ Frazier said she knows, from her view on the inside, that county employees care and work hard. That has made the last few years difficult, she said, as employees have been the subject of public criticism — at a time when many also feared they could lose their jobs because of budget cuts.”
There’s several key points in those words:
- First, when something’s not positive, you must communicate with the customer about it; also, it pays to be proactive so you can have some control over what’s discussed, where and how.
- Second, don’t just do a task for a customer and expect them to know you care. Most customers want to be treated as something that’s far more than a cog on your assembly line; therefore, you have to think beyond the task; you have to convey you care about the person for whom you’re doing the task.
- Third, we need to be empathetic with staff. When constantly preaching about the need for great customer service that they need to deliver to customers, we have to understand that their morale impacts their attitude. Leaders need to take ownership over their role in keeping morale and spirits high since employee feelings will flow to the customers.
When you think about how to deliver great service, remember to be proactive, communicate that you care, and be a spirit-builder with staff.
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