Three Goals for 2011

Ah, a new calendar year! A fresh start! Time to look at the year ahead and figure out how we can make the best of it.

So, what goals would I set as a government communicator? Three things jump to the top of my list.

Develop and implement a governmentwide customer service strategy

Most of us know that we need to make customer service our priority and that we need to work together to make sure customers are getting consistent answers/services, no matter how they access their government. OMB (Office of Management and Budget) is encouraging a customer service philosophy. GAO (General Accounting Office) issued a report last October, suggesting ways government could improve customer service. GSA (General Services Administration) is leading the way, turning the web best practices unit into a Center for Customer Service Excellenceand incorporating all delivery channels. The customer service bandwagon is rolling, and everyone is getting onboard.

Next step? Get down to the nuts and bolts, with the nuts and bolts players. Get everyone together to figure out exactly what we need to do – at each agency and among agencies – to accomplish the changes needed. If ever there were an initiative that requires cooperation and coordination across government, customer service is it. Start with the premise that our customers don’t know – and don’t care to know – how we’re organized. They just want to get great services from “the government.” They see all of us as one. So this cannot be a competition. It has to be a group effort, and we have to get together and stay together to achieve success.

Start with those 6 simple objectives offered by the Federal Web Managers Council in their 2008 White Paper. See if they still make sense or need to be tweaked. Figure out steps that each and everyone can and should take. Form teams to help one another. Use ideas and help from customer service specialists and gurus outside of government. Create a communications plan (beyond a dashboard) to let everyone – inside and outside government – know what you’re doing and what you’re achieving. Invite customer feedback and ideas and involvement.

The upcoming Web and New Media Conference(is it time to change that title to “Customer Service Conference?”) in March would be a great venue for a strategy session. Or at least a good place to kick off the idea and build excitement.

Improving customer service should be the theme of the year. Let’s figure out exactly how we’re going to do it.

Make sure all top tasks are (re)written in plain language.

Oh, I am so hopeful! With the mandate we always needed (the Plain Writing Act), let’s really tackle that bad writing on our websites and in our government publications and documents. Start with your customers’ “top tasks” – that information and those services that your customers want and use most often. That’s only 3-5 “tasks” per agency. A very reasonable and doable first step.

Web Manager University is offering webinars and courses on plain writing, if you don’t have the skills in your own agency. PLAIN (plainlanguage.gov) and the Center for Plain Languagehave tons of resources, including experts who can help you.

Before, during, and after your re-writes, don’t forget to test with typical customers. Watch them try to find the answers to their questions. Listen to them struggle with wording and organization. Then fix it. Webcontent.gov and Usability.gov offer all kinds of support.

This is neither hard nor expensive. Test. Write. Test. Write. Test… If we don’t communicate effectively, we can’t serve our customers effectively. Write right!

Trim the fat. Lose weight. Get healthy.

I’m talking about all that content, friends. It’s killing you. It’s killing your customers.

In 2010, we saw the proliferation of “micro-sites.” Some folks got so frustrated with their behemoth agency websites, they just gave up and started rolling out theme sites. OK, maybe that’s a good strategy. Not sure. But the problem is they didn’t fix the bloated websites. They didn’t take down all that excess content. They just added more content to customers’ search results.

So it’s time for a diet. Time for tough love. No more procrastinating. No more excuses. It’s a question of will power. It doesn’t require years of expensive analysis. Look at your usage stats and just eliminate anything that hasn’t been used in 6 months. If there is an outcry for something you took down, put it back up. Want to start a pool on how often that will happen? Let’s help our customers and make our own lives easier. Trim the fat. Get healthy.

It’s a new year! Set just a few goals, get them done, and then move on to others. These would be my 3 goals for 2011. If they work for you, too, get going. If they don’t, pick 3 others. Shake off the old and start anew!

“Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities have crept in. Forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Wendi Pomerance Brick

On point with all, Candi. All three of these are critical to providing a great service experience

Success isn’t an accident – we have to plan for our success, then implement the plan. When I work with organizations I often find a missing link is the failure to designate a Champion. Someone needs to be in charge of the care and feeding of every organization, and that includes making sure every contact every day is making the best impression possible. That person is the one that will make sure the plan is implemented, and isn’t another great report that is put on a shelf.

In the plan, internal service needs as much attention as external service. How many time have you called someone in your own agency and didn’t receive a call back?

As far as plain language goes – absolutely agree. I often re-write form letters so that a) people understand what is says the first time they read it, and b) they know who to call if they really do need more information. Receiving a letter from “THE GOVERNMENT” is a anxiety-filled experience for most people. Practicing great service by making the letters more customer focused will decrease the anxiety, make a better impression, and prevent a bunch of angry upset phone calls!

People also make the mistake of thinking that great service is all about “being nice.” That may be part of it, but it’s certainly not the whole picture. Good service is fast service. How many of us go to the grocery store and intentionally get on the longest line? Government processes are terribly cumbersome. Any process that makes you want to roll your eyes should be BPRd. In my experience, most processes could easily loose about 50% of the steps, sometimes 75%.