When President Obama issued an executive order in April this year compelling federal agencies to improve customer service, the future seemed a long way off. But as the first leaves begin to change color here in Washington, a deadline for action looms. By October 24, agencies are ordered to publish a plan for how they will provide "streamline service delivery" and "improve the experience" of their customers — namely, the other agencies, state and local governments, and citizens they are responsible for serving.
The executive order is ambitious in scope, yet reasonable in its approach and timeline, given how important it is to have a well-functioning, responsive government. Take away the Presidential seal at the top of the page and a few alphabet-soupy acronyms, and what's left resembles a customer service pledge you might find at a big box retailer more than your typical executive order.
How can agencies comply with the demands set forth in President Obama's order (E.O. #13571 if you are keeping score at home)? Here is a plain English guide to 7 things that government agencies can do to embrace the spirit and letter of this important presidential mandate...
1. Create FAQs and publish them prominently in multiple formats.
Whether your agency's core constituency is other government agencies, citizens at large, or some combination of the two, all are well-served by simple access to the most frequently asked questions — with answers, of course! Publishing a list of FAQs is an easy win. Constituents will appreciate being able to find the information fast, without having to make phone calls or wait on hold. Done right, FAQs will cut down on the number of phone calls and emails that agency personnel must respond to. cutting costs, freeing up time, and reducing duplicate work. ("Reducing the need for customer calls" is right there in the E.O.!)
Don't just throw the FAQs up on a hidden corner of your agency website either. Put them front and center. While you're at it, make them available via email, Facebook, even text message... the more access, the better.
2. Centralize your customer and case management, so profiles are in one place, accessible to anyone who needs them.
When you do need to process calls or emails from customers, you want to maximize the effect of each touchpoint. Customers don't like having to repeat themselves over and over when talking to different agency contacts, never mind that it also eats up valuable time and adds to call center costs. A clear, complete history of interactions also leads to just plain better service. Having centralized case management that is accessible to everyone in the direct service chain is a best practice throughout industry. And wouldn't you know... the president's E.O. directs agencies to adopt "proven best practices."
3. Post your own agency customer service pledge... and include some stretch goals.
Goals make a difference. Publicly posted goals — especially when echoed repeatedly by management at all levels — really make a difference. And stretch goals, ones that seem impossible at the outset, light a fire under employees and managers like nothing else. They tend to inspire ingenuity and build to a sense of confidence and accomplishment as the goal gets closer and closer.
Putting up progress boards around the office is an effective way to create a sense of shared ownership and accountability around the goals, especially if done creatively. Basic thermometer charts are fine for the local bakesale fund-raiser, but something with added graphic pizzazz will have greater effect in an office setting. The E.O. calls for "setting clear customer service standards and expectations" — don't just set them, have fun with them and your employees will respond to the challenge!