Let’s Start a Customer Service Revolution!

No – that’s not the leftovers from Hurricane Irene. Those are the Winds of Change you’re feeling. The pieces for building an exciting new vision of government customer service are swirling around us – do you see them? Everything’s starting to converge…ideas, leadership, support from the top. We’re on the verge of a customer service revolution!

Look around:

  • We have a President who “gets it” that it’s hard for customers to use our services when they have to hop all over government because related programs/functions are distributed across agencies. His Customer Service initiativeshows this Administration’s commitment to improving the way government serves citizens.
  • The .Gov Reform Task Force is focusing high level attention on roping in the renegades of U.S. government websites. Government web managers and CIOs and new media specialists and OMB leaders and White House staff, with terrific support from GSA, are working together to chart a new course for web-based customer service.
  • What’s more, everyone’s welcome to join this conversation (revolutions must be inclusive!) The .Gov Reform Task Force is open to ideas from anyone, anywhere. Good customer service strategies start with the customers, and that’s exactly what they’re trying to do.
  • Even the .Gov Reform surveys (that agencies are completing now) show “big think.” The Task Force is collecting data not only about the URLs and topics and audiences of the way-too-many government websites, but also about web governance…data that can help us understand where it’s working and where it isn’t, so we can make service better across government.
  • Great ideas are reaching critical mass. Thought leaders and visionaries, like John Kamensky and Wendi Brick, are blogging about “virtual government” and forming communities of interest around customer service. People inside and outside government are coming together – like GovLoop’s Symposium on Customer Service– to talk about serving better, faster, smarter.
  • USA.gov is leading by example by becoming a place where customers can get answers, rather than just referrals through links. The USA.gov team is creating content, based on information from multiple agencies, around important topics (check out “Consumer Protection,” for example), giving customers a single starting point.
  • Newly-created Howto.gov reflects prevailing thought that we need to blend customer service channels, to make sure customers get the same answers no matter how they ask: web, phone, in person, publication.
  • The Plain Writing Act is forcing agencies to change the way they communicate with customers, using their words and organizing content in ways that make sense to them.

In the next few months, we have a window of opportunity. Through the .Gov Reform effort and the Customer Service Initiative, we can create a clear, bold strategic vision for customer service in government. This is how customer service should look and work: customer-centered, rather than agency-centered; multi-channel, rather than a channel-by-channel; one stop, instead of a scavenger hunt; responsive and personal, instead of detached; a priority for government employees, rather than an after-thought. And we can build standards and governance that will help us achieve this vision.

The pieces are all there. If not now, when? Let’s start a customer service revolution.

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Brett de Boisserre

Starting a “customer service revolution” is a great idea, but it needs to be a distributed agency focused “customer service revolution,” not a “lets reinvent the wheel revolution.” I say that because, clearly, agencies do not know how to hone the skill sets that they already have inside of their own agencies. Employees have very unique expertises that never get utilized on the job.

One particularly large hospitality company that I worked for years ago had a great idea. They had every employee list all of the skills that they had that DID NOT exist on their job descriptions or resumes. From that, a database was created and housed in human resources as an internal tool.

There are plenty of employees in all agencies who have done some kind of customer service on some level. The customer service revolution could probably use their expertise locally. If those skills are maximized, that could make customer service better across government.

In terms of a “one-stop” shop versus a “scavenger hunt,” unless a great deal of work is put into reinventing the new customer service endpoint, there may be a new situation where customer service personnel are required to know too many things versus agency specific personnel who are focused on one or two specific things. I buy my ties at Macy’s because they know ties. I could buy them at the gas station food mart, but chances are the tie will not be such a great tie – probably more fit for a dipstick than a double knot.

In the end, I think that you have to at least try to train employees that you already have before spending time and money on hiring new people.

Dannielle Blumenthal

@Candi all these developments are welcome and exciting news. Great to see the energy is flowing in the right direction.

@Said I agre with you and would take it a step further – let’s start an “Employee Service Revolution” – take care of our people so that they can take care of the customer. #1 on the list should be an incredible amount of training to bring people up to speed in terms of the hard and soft skills they need to do their jobs.

The enemy of customer service is poor skill, apathy/complacency, fear, discouragement, etc. When people realize that their agencies WANT them to deliver superior customer service and they see that they are REWARDED for going the extra mile then it will be a no-brainer for them to deliver Four Seasons-type service without being asked.

But if we’re just going to dump more on the employee without any training or any reward, and on top of it not train the employees’ manager on the new world we are living in, the average fed (outside these special committees or agencies) isn’t going to deliver.