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Three Thoughts As I Deck the Halls

I’ve been neglecting this blog. Too busy with holiday doings. So before I forget them, here are three quick thoughts that might deserve longer pieces…after the holidays.

1. Dashboards I’m beginning to wonder about the wisdom of all these performance “dashboards.” I understand that, in the spirit of open government, it’s good to have some way for agencies to report what they’re doing. But if your customers aren’t seeing real commensurate improvement in service, does this actually work against public trust? As my sainted grandmother used to remind me, “actions speak louder than words.”

2. Less Is More Ten ago, Sam Gallagher and I started traveling around the country doing web clinics to help HUD’s partners (nonprofits, state and local governments, public housing agencies, etc.) create good websites that deliver the services HUD funds. One of the take-aways we emphasized (before we’d even heard the term “top tasks”) was this: if you do nothing else, go to the person/people who answer your phones, find out the top 5 questions/requests, and put the answers to those on the home page of your website. If you do that, you’ll probably satisfy a significant portion of your web audience.

Hmm. What if we tried that on federal websites? What if you put your top 3-5 tasks on the home page, add a big search box, make sure you’ve written your content in plain language so searches are successful, and be done with it? Forget the complicated navigation. Give up all those hero boxes and photos. Just give them a few big ticket items and a great search. Wouldn’t it be fun to test that?

3. The Power of Leadership Finally, I’ve just got to give huge kudos to GSA for really stepping it up this year to become the strong, strategic, enthusiastic, bonafide leader of federal customer service efforts.

GSA seems to understand the difference between “leadership” and “management.” Customer service is the responsibility of every agency across government, and there are plenty of managers who are (or should be) responsible for making it work. What was lacking was a leader to form strategies and get all the players to work together, to deliver easy-to-find, easy-to-use, high quality services that customers want and need, across government. GSA is coordinating and supporting, without dictating and offending.

But here’s something even more important. GSA is nudging the federal government to look at customer service as a whole, not just a sum of its parts. So not only are they connecting the dots, they’re also causing new thinking about how we can collaborate to restructure customer service across government, across delivery channels, to improve service. Look at the mission statement for the Center for Customer Service Excellence: “…provides support and solutions for web, social media, mobile, phone, e-mail, print and newly evolving media.”

Leadership is a powerful asset – no, make that requirement – for lasting, positive change across government. Well done, GSA!

In case I don’t get back to this blog until 2011, Happy Holidays, everyone!

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Terri Jones

I agree about #2. I love the theories we discuss here but there is no substitute for seeing an average day through the eyes of the front line staff and then bringing your technology in through that filter. ANd, I am impressed with the progress that the GSA is making and I hope that the GSA staff is being energized by the progress and by getting kudos for leading the charge!