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What’sa Matter? You Too Big to Answer the Phone?

The ratio between government employees to the number of people the government serves is like a Bazillion to one. If every customer of government called just to say good morning, the entire telecommunications grid would crash – or at least that’s the way it feels sometimes.

Governments are increasingly turning to write-once / answer-many technologies like social media to make communication work. Sometimes however, the issues are too complex. Sometimes, cookie cutter solutions are not enough. There are exceptions to rules. Sometimes, customers need to pick up the phone, engage, and explain their personal situation – which is why I found these two recent GovLoop discussions so inspirational this AM:

Facebook Requiring Cities to Change Page Names, by Erin Vader – and –

Defending Brand and Trademark on Facebook, by Thomas Brazelton

These two discussions are excellent examples of Govies coming together to solve a problem: Facebook is reportedly turning off admin access and claiming dominion over Facebook pages that are named after cities. This presents a problem, of course, when it’s the city government that’s made the page in the first place! Essentially, Facebook is telling the city that it can’t use it’s own name – and oh, by the way, any work they already did to build a following up around their Facebook page may be lost because the URL has to change. Yeah… hand me the phone!

As serious and as significant this problem is, I was struck by a HUGE irony. The government is trying to plead its case, but Facebook doesn’t answer the phone! They don’t provide phone support. Each city is talking with a different rep via posts in Facebook forums and getting different levels of service. It also seems that as of this writing, Facebook’s official policy is not clear on the use of geographical locations as page names, and there don’t seem to be any exceptions for the governments of those locations.

Bob MacKie points out that Facebook has 3500 employees – which works out to something like one employee per 250,000 members. Man… how many times have employees in the government felt like the one employee facing 250,000 customers?!

So here’s the funny: Government employees, through this use case, find themselves in the same position that citizens and other customers of government services find themselves so often. A big organization has made a change that broke something at the local level. People are upset, but no one will answer the phone!

In this case, we seem to be on the outside looking in. It’s cold outside. While we huddle for warmth and support, I am wondering out loud if there’s a better way to handle customer communication. Outnumbered or not, big organizations (like Facebook or government) do owe their customers some degree of service.

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