Customer Service In Focus: New York City

Post Highlights

  • GovLoop is Celebrating National Customer Service Week: Follow Here
  • Francisco Navarro, Customer Service Policy Advisor, New York City, discusses customer service initiatives in New York City
  • Story is an excerpt from GovLoop’s research report: Re-Imagining Government Customer Service

This week GovLoop has been celebrating National Customer Service week. The following is an excerpt from the GovLoop Report, Re-Imagining Customer Service in Government. This is a fantastic interview with Francisco Navarro, Customer Service Policy Advisor, New York City. Francisco shared some fascinating insights, and provides some great insights for customer service officials in government.

In Focus: New York City

As part of our research study, GovLoop sought to interview not only federal agency leads, but also those involved in customer service at the local level. Francisco Navarro, Customer Service Policy Advisor, New York City, agreed to sit down with us and talk through his role as Customer Service Policy Advisor. In a city as large as New York City, providing great customer service is no easy task. Navarro listed his core responsibilities as:

  • Coordinate participation of thirty agencies in New York City’s Customer Service Week,
  • Edit, publish and distribute a quarterly customer service newsletter,
  • Oversee the Citywide Excellence in Customer Service Awards,
  • Provide guidance and leadership for citywide walk-in center inspections,
  • Provide plain language edits for rules issued by City agencies,
  • Market and help oversee Customer Service Certificate Program, and
  • Provide input, guidance, and analysis for other customer service related programs and projects.

Undoubtedly, Navarrro has his hands full to provide a great customer experience in New York City. Navarro described the City of New York customers: “Our customers are anyone who lives in, works in or visits New York City.” Navarro highlighted dozens of initiatives that the City of New York has undertaken to improve customer service in government. One initiative that is unique to New York is how the City conducts citywide inspections of walk in facilities; this initiative is called Customers Observing and Reporting Experiences (CORE). Navarro stated, “I believe our City is unique in conducting citywide inspections of walk-in facilities via the CORE program. Our inspectors visit approximately 300 walk-in centers at 28 different agencies located throughout the City’s five boroughs, and observe and rate facility conditions and customer service. Inspectors visit sites that provide a wide range of services, from handgun licensing, to income support to payment of parking tickets. “

Navarro explained further how CORE works, “Inspectors rate both facility conditions and customer service interactions. Agency CORE overall results are available in each agency’s Agency Customer Service section of the Mayor’s Management Report, the MMR: (The main entry page to the MMR is here).” Other interesting initiatives from the City of New York include:

  • Establishment of Customer Service Liaisons
  • Establishment of Language Access Coordinators
  • 311 iPhone Application
  • Business Customer Bill of Rights
  • Walk-in Center Inspections (CORE – Customers Observing and Reporting Experience)
  • Customer Service Week
  • Customer Service Certificate Program (Customer service training, Plain language training, Cultural sensitivity training)
  • Excellence in Customer Service Awards
  • Language Access Policy
  • NYC Certified – Program to Certify City Volunteers to Translate and Interpret
  • NYC Customer Service Newsletter
  • NYC Feedback Comment Cards
  • NYC.gov Language Gateway – multilingual web portal
  • Mayor’s Management Report Customer Service Indicators
  • Volunteer Language Bank
  • 311 Service Request Map

The CORE program is a great example of a successful customer service initiative. Navarro defined a successful customer service initiative as, “A successful customer service initiative is one that has tangible positive outcomes that last over time.” Navarro then credited the CORE program for this success, stating, “The CORE inspection program has resulted in improvements in the conditions at walk-in centers. Also, City agency staff looks forward to Customer Service Week and the Excellence in Customer Service Awards that are given during that week. This week has become a highlight for many agencies and their staff.”

With great customer service initiatives like CORE, there are a lot of positive outcomes. Navarro believed that by providing great customer service, trust in government improves. “The most important outcome of good customer service is building trust in government. Too many customers have the attitude that “the City just wants the revenue”, or “you can’t fight City Hall.” When customers are treated fairly and with dignity, and when they understand why a certain decision is made or an outcome required, and that ultimately decisions and policies are made with some greater good in mind – public health and safety, a healthy environment, educational attainment, then customers will develop respect and trust for the staff and the government it represents,” said Navarro.

One requirement that distinguishes New York City’s customer service approach is that NYC requires all agencies to survey customers at least once a year. Navarro stated, “We do require that all agencies survey their customers at least once a year and report the total number of customers surveyed. Agencies now report on their surveying activities via the Citywide Performance System. (The results can be found here.)”

Navarro provided numerous examples how NYC uses data to improve customer service, and how NYC has worked to identify and measure their customer service initiatives. Navarro stated, “In June 2008 the City conducted a comprehensive feedback survey using data gathered from surveys sent to 100,000 randomly selected households.” Further, Navarro identified, “In 2009 our office created the NYC Feedback form, a small card with five customer service questions. Agencies are encouraged but not mandated to have these cards in their walk-in centers.”

In addition to surveys, New York City has also set a standard of response to customers to 14 calendar days. Navarro stated, “The standard for response to written correspondence is 14 calendar days. The expected response time for certain types of conditions sent by phone, text, iPhone or online to 311 vary by condition reported or complained about. For example, the Department of Buildings has three categories of seriousness of complaints with varying levels of expected response times.”

New York City is also using feedback from customers to help enable policy change. Navarro provided the following example and insights as to how feedback from customer service initiatives is used, “Feedback from customers, where possible and appropriate, is used to make process and policy changes. For example, in response to a customer survey the Department of Transportation modified hours of operation and enabled cell phone service at one of their facilities.”

Although New York City excels in providing customer service, there are still challenges. Similar to our survey results, Navarro cited that resources, budgets and time are the main barriers, “The two probably most obvious barriers are resources (people and money) and time. There is also the organizational cultural resistance to change,” stated Francisco.

Even with these barriers, Navarro was able to provide some solutions to removing roadblocks and delivering great customer service. Navarro noted, “The most important element in overcoming barriers is the need for executive support. In our case Mayor Bloomberg is a champion of customer service in government who created the 311 customer service center and who signed an executive order compelling agencies to assign a liaison and make customer service an explicit priority.”

Navarro continued by asserting, “Without adding new resources, another barrier to overcome are the barriers of time and money to prioritize projects. You also need to make sure that those prioritized projects are adding real value in some way. To overcome resistance to change, customer service needs to be sold as something that benefits both customers and staff. Further, those overseeing change need to make sure that they can provide guidance and support.”

Technology clearly plays a critical role in enabling customer service. Navarro stated, “Technology is an enabler of customer service goals, a means to an end. For example, we developed a phone app that allows customers to report conditions like graffiti and dirty vacant lots via their iPhones. They can send pictures and text descriptions. This allows agencies to more firmly document conditions and to respond more effectively.”

Navarro also mentioned that new media is at the forefront of enabling improved customer service in New York City, along with training, resources and technology. He stated, “Training, resources and technology are the enablers of customer service improvements. Today, new media is at the forefront of enabling these improvements via phone apps, social media networks, and online services.”

New York City is a great case study for government to analyze for customer service. Navarro shared some of his best practices and lessons learned from his work in New York City, “A major factor in our success has been having the support from the top. In our case it comes from Mayor Bloomberg himself. In addition, establishing reporting requirements to track customer service indicators, as we do in the Mayor’s Management Report and online through our Citywide Performance Reporting (CPR) system, reinforces the commitment to customer service.”

Finally, Navarro advised to be persistent, and incorporate a culture of service within your agency, stating, “You need to be persistent and create an environment that sends the message that customer service is a permanent component of service, that it is not a “flavor of the month” or a temporary morale booster. This is accomplished by establishing various programs, especially training and recognition, and communicating the customer service message as many times and as many ways as possible.” NYC has made great strides in the way in which they deliver customer service. By offering a variety of services through multiple channels and using data to drive improved services, New York City has a great customer service model for government to replicate.

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