How many times in your role in government have you heard the term “you people”? “Look what ‘you people’ are making me do.” “I’m a taxpayer and I pay your wages.” “You people are just trying to make things difficult for me.” It’s a phrase government workers hear every day and can be very demoralizing, but how do we change it? How do we introduce the “you” in “you people” and get personal with our citizens and stakeholders to change their perception of “big government?”
This may be back to basics for some of you, but that’s not a bad thing. We are all so busy with our day-to-day duties, we sometimes forget the smaller things that can really make a difference. For example, when you walk into the DMV or your local permitting office, do you think about who is helping you? Chances are, you are more concerned with how many people are in front of you and whether you can connect to Wi-Fi to check your Twitter feed or Facebook. So if we have that reaction, what makes our customers any different?
The more a customer gets to know you, as opposed to the function you perform, the more they are likely to treat you as an individual. Think about confrontation – it is much harder to confront someone you have a personal connection with. We are the ones who can take the lead in building that connection by getting personal with our customers.
I don’t mean our offices should be used as speed dating locations. That would be inappropriate, and you don’t want to be overly familiar with your customers as that could just get weird. But a little sharing can go a long way to help build relationships and change perceptions.
Here’s a few tips and tricks I have learned over the course of my career that help make me appear more human:
- Always make sure your customer knows your name. Wear a name badge. Have a sign with your name on it or simply introduce yourself. It’s amazing how knowing you really have a name (other than “you people”) goes a long way toward making customers feel you are just like them. If it’s appropriate, use their name and try to remember it the next time they come in to see you. Think about how welcome you feel at your favorite pizza place when you walk in and the owner greets you by name. The same can work in a government setting.
- Share a little about your personality through the items you have around you or on your desk. I’m a huge Dr. Who? fan (a.k.a. a Whovian) and my desk is littered with Dr. Who? memorabilia. Ice-breakers for me often involve stories of why I have a hovering blue British police phone box on my desk (a TARDIS for those of you who are non-Whovians). Of course I do get a little geeky with that, but hey – that’s part of who I am and I’m not afraid to show it!
- I’m also British and accents and connections about your heritage can help a customer see the real you – and also take their mind off the reason for visiting you. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been asked for my story of how I ended up in Port Charlotte, Florida from Yorkshire in the north of England. I’ve also learned people are very proud about their heritage and love to tell me about their ancestors from other parts of the world and the traveling they have done.
- Don’t let this bonding detract from performing your function or giving great and speedy service. We still have a job to do, after, all but make it personal. Set out today with a goal to start telling your story, just like me writing this post. How many of you are planning to Google Dr. Who? or are curious how I ended up in Port Charlotte?
The bottom line is, sharing a little about yourself with your customers can get a big return in the way they view you, your job and, ultimately, the function of government. If you can move them away from saying “I have to go to the tax collector” towards saying “I’m going to see Claire at the tax collector’s office” you have helped change one person’s perception. If we can all change one person, imagine the impact we can make together. So head out there, do great things, and introduce the “you” in “you people”!
Claire Jubb is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.
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