10 Ideas on Streamlining Service Delivery and Improving Customer Service

On Wednesday, President Obama announced an Executive Order to “Streamline Service Delivery and Improving Customer Service.”

I agree that citizens’ expectations of government are increasing and I think having focus on energy on the topic is really important.

The good news is there is a lot of examples/ideas for agencies out there across government.

Here’s my 10:

1) Define and focus on key initiatives. Agencies touch citizens and provide tons of services. Start with an assessment of your key citizen services and focus on the initiatives that 1) touch the most people 2) have biggest impact (may not touch tons of people but huge financial cost) 3) quick wins/lowest hanging fruit for improvement

2) Tools to solicit feedback – there are actually a ton of tools here from Foresee Results surveys to RightNow to ideation sites like UserVoice, Ideascale, Get Satisfaction. Key is to embed the solicitation in the experience of the citizen (for example, right after a transaction….without proper promotion these feedback solutions usually fail)

3) Collaboration – help citizens help each other – Part of great customer service is having citizens help each other. SBA built a great online community at business.gov that had small business owners help each other. Most great companies do as well from AMEX Open Forum to Turbo Tax community to Apple support forums. You could see lots of great communities from a Recovery grant community to a H1N1 state government officials communities.

4) Coordinating across channels – I really hate when a call into a big company or agency and you get moved around and they don’t seem coordinated. Love the push on Executive Order to coordinate across channels. What does that mean technically – means most agencies probably have to invest more in CRM – systems where everyone that touches a citizen takes notes on the customer (in this case citizen). And train workers to make sure they track and put these touches in a system.

5) Cut paper, move to digital – I’m not sure if it’s still the case but TSP used to mail me a new password when I wanted it reset. Really? In 2011, citizens want immediate changes (new password now) and I think they want all things digital (I don’t know what to do w/ my print TSP statements they keep sending me – I’d love to store them online). If you think about it, most banks, 401k style companies have transitioned most of the interactions to digital.

6) Live Chat – My favorite thing for customer service. I hate when I have to call customer service. Love when there is a live chat box. A few government agencies have this – they all should.

7) Provide automated, personal reminders – If your Netflix subscription was to expire, they’d send you a series of 3-4 emails reminding you to renew. And honestly sometimes I’m just lazy and want to renew and appreciate the reminder. Government often just sends one item in mail on something really important and then leaves it at that. Government should remind its citizens in the format they like reminders (email, text, others)

8) Create internal/external FAQ and make it search friendly– What’s the first thing you do when needing customer service? You Google the problem. Government agencies should build strong FAQ but more importantly enable the communities sited in example #3 to build a robust library of information. If they organize this information with basic SEO (friendly with search techniques), you will decrease inbound requests as folks will have found the information needed

9) Plain Language – There’s a plain language act. Government needs to follow it. Great customer service is not talking from a confusing bureaucratic script. It’s using plain language and talking like a real people. Train your staff, work on your language

10) Social Media Customer Service – Citizens (your customers) are talking about agencies on social media from Facebook to Twitter and more. Great companies like Comcast provide customer service in those places but answering those questions. Agencies should also provide customer service in these channels. I’d suggest a 3 phase approach 1) Set up ways to listen – there’s a ton of tools from free to really advanced where you can find out where people are talking about your agency 2) Train/set up 1-2 key members of your team to engage with folks in these channels as a test.

P.S. – A couple extra ones for good measure 🙂

-Be Proactive – Simply if you get in front of customer service the better it is. The more information you provide the better. Write a blog on the topic, put out information on FB and Twitter, send email announcements, create collaboration areas for people working on topic.

-Provide data on your customer service on what people can expect. What’s the waiting time? Turn-around time?

-Read Delivering Happiness by Zappos founder. They talk about what great customer service is and are the best. (Plug – they are also speaking at our Next Generation of Gov’t Summit in July 28/29)

What else am I missing? Anyone got some great examples government is already doing?

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Preston G. Baker

Thanks for sharing your ten ideas, I will be leading a LSS team asiigned to improve customer service, I plan to share some of your ideas with our team.

Candi Harrison

Great ideas! I think we have to start with – and keep focused on – the customers’ point of view. Look at how they use our services. And when. And where. Look at what they do next and connect the dots. I’m a huge advocate for usability – actually watching customers use our websites (or call centers or live chats – and I agree with you that this is a HUGE opportunity). There is ample evidence that shows that what customers tell us and what they actually experience/do often are not the same. We want that experience to be the best!

What you’re doing on GovLoop is the best thing we can do…create buzz. Get everyone talking about customer service. Get “service think” going and keep it going. When Govies have customer service on the brain, they’re more likely to look for opportunities to make it better. Success begets success!

Wendi Pomerance Brick

A prime example is standing up one-stop shop contact centers to make finding information easier. We focus a lot on web and other social media, which is terrific, but the digital divide in this country is huge and many of the people that rely on government just don’t have access to these channels. Almost everyone has a phone.

When standing up a contact center, it’s important to establish and streamline your business case first, then apply the technology. This is true for any automation (see previous blog post).

A contact center must have strong quality control and measure both the quantity (number of calls per person per hour) and quality of calls (technical accuracy and customer experience). Contact centers in government are not the same as private sector, and special attention needs to be paid to this delicate balancing act.

A final note on government contact centers. Often staff who were trained to do something else (i.e. social workers) are moved to staff the new contact center. It’s extremely important to have a strong organizational change and transition component to help people adapt to the new environment and expections.

In short, a contact center is a great focal point for streamling and improving service. Pay attention to the People, Process and Procedures and driving the Technology and you will see success.

Eric R. Payne

There are many examples of moving the service closer to the customer (taxpayer). Its the opposite of going virtual and provides a high touch quotient. It could be as simple as census takers going door-to-door in order to appease privacy concerns or something more complex like deploying patient advocates to VA hospitals.

Providing real, live customer service reps at the point-of-service can be costly, but it provides for appropriately awesome customer service (think Ritz Carlton or Nordstroms).

Wendi Pomerance Brick

@Eric – This is a great point, and a certain segment of our population of customers do prefer this type of service. The thing about providing great service is 1) great service is defined by what the customer thinks is great service, and 2) differences in customer groups are considered. This comes into play quite a bit when talking about service to the four generations of folks in the workplace and in our customer base. Everyone agrees that good service is important, but everyone does not define it the same way. The best bet is 1) ask, and 2) provide a variety of options so people can have the experience they want to have.

Margaret Ann Ash

I was very interested in this discussion until you mentioned Comcast as a great company and then went on to recommend thier style of customer service. It makes me question every single issue discussed and totally distracts from the articles credilbity. For improved customer service make it part of your agency’s mission and part of each person’s individual performace objective for performance planning. If you do not have a performace planning process set one up.