The age of “me”
I study and write a lot about the "patient-as-consumer" phenomenon. If you think about this concept, we are bombarded by medical marketing, but often the choice is not ours – the choice is made thanks to third parties. Yet, in today’s age of “me” where there is desire for transparency even as we display a lack of trust – brands, even government brands (or third party vendors) must prove that they are serving the “customer” or “consumer” – thus introducing the idea of "wantedness."
What is wantedness anyway?
Wantedness may be a new term to you, but believe me, you know what it is…it’s the personal touch of getting your name on your to-go coffee cup, after ordering just what you crave and want. Or, perhaps it’s shopping online when and where you choose, with so many options you appreciate the “personalization” that comes with this access. Finally, maybe it’s the speed and efficiency of getting news and information that suits your interests or the in-home boxed meals that please your pallet and your pocketbook. In any case, you know (and desire) wantedness in all aspects of daily living.
Can we achieve wantedness in public service?
As public servants, meeting the demands of “wantedness” can be misleading, especially when choice is not always clear. We are wedged often between the need to serve and the need to meet the expectations of what some researchers today call “consumers-citizens-customers.”
Perhaps you are new to the government workforce and the idea of “marketing” government services seems natural; after all, how are we supposed to compete if we don’t “sell” our services to our customers? But if you’ve been around for a while, the concept of marketing is, in fact, new to government.
Way back in 1913, special interest groups and political activists began to express public concerns about the appropriateness of government agencies being involved in public relations, and particularly their attempts to influence legislative decisions. So, they lobbied Congress in an attempt to have strict limits placed on government spending for public relations or consumer marketing. The result is what is now known as the Gillett Amendment . This amendment was added to the statute that created the Interstate Commerce Commission. This modest-seeming amendment turned out to be one of those quirky but not uncommon acts of Congress that ultimately ended up having much more power and influence than its language originally suggested. In short, the Gillett Amendment states that "appropriated funds may not be used to pay a publicity expert unless specifically appropriated for that purpose."
Regardless of the service provider, however, as administrators of public programs or services, we must work to understand the “me” in who we serve. As public servants, we must seek to understand the transformative nature of marketing and better craft messages that target consumer expectations, reaching the uniqueness of the “me” in our “consumers-citizens-customers."
Today, our competition includes private sector businesses or third-party vendors that set the bar for excellence in customer service, innovation, speed and efficiency. While we can dispel the notion that there is a sovereignty of consumers, we cannot underestimate their need to be understood, respected, valued and even cared for - even when the provider comes from a government entity.
Going beyond the campaign
In an article summarizing a "wantedness" study, researchers found that businesses and brands must go beyond the campaign and focus instead on the 24/7 approach to getting it right for the “me” of each “customer-citizen-consumer” that we serve. The study offers these three keys to be there for “me” at every touchpoint:
- Get to know the me in your “customer-citizen-consumer”
- Deliver for the me in your “customer-citizen-consumer”
- Keep winning “me” at each encounter
Rise to serve the “me”
It is no secret that government services fall short in meeting consumer expectations, often excelling at quality, but struggling in serving the person who merely wants to be treated with respect, feel valued and be understood. However, it takes each of us – either as leaders to model or employees who value their service – to wake up each day and treat each person you encounter as you want to be treated (yes, sometimes it can be that simple).
Take time to understand the “me” in your public service domain and strive to make 2018 a little more authentic, a lot more personal and better than last year. Let’s rise to serve the “me,” putting the person before the process.
Stacie Rivera 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.