Courage to Do What We Know We Need to Do

We know what our customers want. We’ve known for years. We don’t need to keep asking them because the answer is the same.

We know what to do to make customer service better. We’ve known that for years, too, because we’ve listened to and watched our customers.

So why do 79% of the respondents to RightNow’s recent customer service surveysay government could provide better customer service? Because better customer service means challenging the ways we’ve been doing business in government for decades, the culture of distance, and the people who haven’t acquired the vision of great customer service. It means working together to bulldoze old processes and organizations and build sleeker, better, customer-centered services.

It means showing the courage to do what we know we need to do.

Let’s recap what we know.

What do customers want? To complete a task. Solve a problem. Get an answer. Do something.

What do customers hate? Waiting, wasting time. Feeling stupid. Can’t understand what they read. Don’t know what questions to ask. Feeling like they’re being treated unfairly or singled out. Feeling like they don’t matter, that you don’t care. Getting half an answer or a wrong answer. Feeling like you don’t understand them and what they want. Being treated impersonally – can’t talk to a real person.

What do we need to do to improve customer service on the web? Help our customers complete their tasks, solve their problems, get their answers, and do what they want to do.

  1. Make it easy to find what they want. Through good design. Put most important content where people look first (that top left quadrant of the screen). Keep it simple. Cut the gratuitous eye-stopping graphics, and eliminate clutter. Good marketing. Good writing. Optimize content for search engines, and market with social media and links. Work across agencies to offer one source, rather than twenty. Example: Texas.govuses plain language to help customers recognize what they want.
  2. Make it easy to use. Minimize time/steps to complete a task. Write so customers understand the words the FIRST time they read them. Do usability testing – often. Get customer feedback. Use stats to see how many complete the tasks. If they’re dropping out before they complete the task, fix the problems. Work across agencies to consolidate tasks and like-tasks. Example: TSA puts one of its top tasks right on the home page. “Can I bring (fill in the blank) through the security checkpoint?”
  3. Make it easy to get help if they’re stuck. Customers want help quickly, while they’re trying to complete the task – not 2 weeks later. Put “contact us” on every page. Put FAQs on the task pages (make sure they’re really frequently asked questions…pick 10 – not 100). Make it personal – real-time chat, 24-hour phone numbers. What about Skype (or something similar)? Face-to-face with a real human being…wouldn’t that be something? Use mobile apps to help customers get help on the go. Example: FoodSafety.govsuggests: “chat online with one of our food safety experts.” And “Ask Karen,” on the go.
  4. Anticipate what they want/need to do next. Offer “next steps” or “more information.” Work across silos (within and among agencies) to connect the dots. Example: National Archivesoffers suggestions to researchers who don’t know where to start. And then there’s Amazon.com, the king of anticipation.
  5. Give them confidence they got the right/full answer. Conclude the task with “Success!” or “Finished!” Do usability testing – Gerry McGovernreported as many as 10% think they finished/have the answer, when they don’t. Follow up with email. Tailor Domino’s fantastic pizza tracker to your own processes. Example: State Department emails passport customers, “We’ve finished processing your passport…you should receive your passport on or about (date).”

RightNow’s report is well worth a read. More evidence of what we already know: we need to put services customers care about online so they can find them and use them quickly, easily, and effectively.

We know what customers want. Let’s band together, tackle those challenges, and show customers we have the courage to do what we know we need to do.

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Suzanne Salichs

Very well stated, Candi. I also enjoyed your “No One’s Gonna Make You Do the Right Thing” blog, Our commitment to service delivery excellence starts with us!

Jeff S

Customer service is worse for those agencies that are tax dollar funded. Govt agencies that are based on fees charged to industry tend to be much better at customer service. The other detriment to customer service is when a federal employee quotes a regulation. In order to file for Veterans Benefits for my WWII era father I was told “we have 45 days to provide that information”. My reply was if your going to pull the info this afternoon and then place it in a file to be distributed 40 days later please just send the info and not wait. I received the information in two days. Unfortunately my own agency was holding FOIA info for two weeks in a file since they had “20 days” to provide it. The theory was that sometime we may be inudated with FOIAs and it will take the full twenty days so we do not want to provide the info to fast when we can. Incidentaly, this practice has been stopped and FOIAs are sent as soon as the info is gathered.

Carol Davison

Please realize that customers may not want to TALK to you, but they do want an answer soonest. So when you respond by phone or email, include your answer, and the statement please contact me at X for additional information. I am infuriated when people tell me to “Call Pat” with no additional information.