A majority of Americans view government employees in a negative light; we are viewed as overpaid and underqualified according to most polls of the general public. While research shows that this isn’t true (see my last blog post), how do we improve public perception of government employees?
For those of us that interface with the public and for those that lead others that do, I have a novel idea to improve the public’s perception of government employees- a grassroots, one-at-a-time approach: aim to do one bureaucratic act of kindness per day, or if you are a government leader, make this the culture in your organization
I’m a biologist, but a small part of my job involves customer service for a system that is used by the general public. To say that a roomful of scientists are not customer service experts is an understatement. Listening to the phone calls of a select few colleagues and their general unwillingness to go above and beyond inspired me to start improving my own customer service skills and to spend a few minutes each day going above and beyond the call of duty and helping at least one caller navigate the bureaucratic landscape of the federal government. Every day I started trying to assist a caller with some other issue that they were having that went beyond the scope of what my office does.
For example, one woman was having trouble getting her printer to work one day, so I walked her through a quick fix. She was so grateful and left the conversation in such a great mood that I am relatively sure that she is one less person who will contribute to our negative poll numbers in the future. In another instance, I called another federal agency for a woman who was having trouble with something that was out of the scope of what my office does; she was similarly surprised and grateful. Seeing the effectiveness of these small, quick, almost effortless bureaucratic acts of kindness, I started to implement the idea in our training and it’s really caught on! My office now frequently gets verbal and written praise for our customer service, without any formal customer service training.
For this to be effective it is important to make it part of your training plan and it is crucial to empower employees to go above and beyond. If employees are not empowered to go the extra mile, customer service and public perception will inevitably suffer.
I would love to hear your ideas and examples of bureaucratic acts of kindness that we can all use in our daily work. Share yours below!
Samantha McCormick 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.
Great examples of random acts of kindness that we all can do every day. We all should get into practicing random acts of kindness, even if it is just to our co-workers. Random Acts of Kindness Week is coming next month! ://www.randomactsofkindness.org/. Our office is breaking a little early one day next month to put together some bagged meals for the homeless in Arlington.
I learned may years ago that “you can’t go home until you have learned something and done some good.” Just doing your job with a smile and positive tone sets one up to “do good”. If you can’t learn something new about the job, even ten minutes doing a randon Wikipedia article search can insipre you to learn.
In terms of office climate, please ditch the “client”, “partner” and other euphemisms for “people”.
Thanks for reminding us that a Random Act of Kindness has a positive effect not just on the other person, but also on you. I have to interface daily with customers on the phone, and I always go beyond my normal job scope to help a citizen. They are very grateful (I can tell because they always say “thanks for being kind”). I even received a “thank you” letter from a citizen. I only thought I was doing my job. So, yes, we can make a difference in how the government is perceived just by being nice to others.
I agree with the suggestion to provide an “act of kindness” each day in the work place. I would even take this suggestion outside the work place into the world! There are too many people in this world that have become distant or unfamiliar with the fundamentals of life. Courtesy, good manners and respect have just about fallen off this planet. Maybe we begin with a smaller portion, such as our work place and then advance it to other segments of our lives.
Good day to all.
Also consider paying compliments, either face-to-face or to someone’s supervisor. I have been surprised at the reactions I get. Maybe I’m finding them on “down” days when they have personal doubts. And this may be better as an underground movement that gains its own force. Decreeing “kindness” will bring out detractors, but you also have to build it into your workplace.
I work for a City government, but because we are the capital city, we get calls from people looking either for County, State, and sometimes even Federal offices. I always try to find some contact information for the office they are trying to reach – with the internet it’s not that hard and it doesn’t take that much more time.
I don’t know if it’s ‘kindness,’ to me it’s just plain old fashioned customer service (the kind I would like to receive if I was on the other end of the phone.
I love this! Our office is open 24/7/365 so we get a lot of calls that do not pertain to us… you’d be surprised how grateful people are when all you do is a quick google search for the right number.
Excellent ideas everybody!