Engaging Employees in the Customer Service Mission

The following post is an excerpt from GovLoop’s recent guide, Defining Your Role in Government Customer Service. In it we offer practical tips to engrain a culture of service into your agency's daily routines, making it the standard rather than the goal of government. Download the full guide here

When organizations pursue customer service strategies, they often focus solely on the external clients they serve. Agencies dedicate significant time and resources to understanding the citizen, public preferences, and the constituent journey between services.

In a recent interview with ‎GovLoop, Senior Director Doug Taylor and Citizen Experience Lead Instructional Designer Nancy Wulff at citizen experience company HighPoint Global, explained that the real key to improving external customer service is to focus on your own employees.

We’ve all been in situations where we’re getting service from an employee, and we can tell the difference between someone who’s just going through the motions,” Taylor said. “Compare that with someone who genuinely cares and is engaged and wants to make sure an issue is resolved. There’s a huge difference.”

Employee engagement is the first step to a successful customer service journey, because agency personnel are the people who will actually create and deliver services to constituents. When morale declines, so does productivity and service. On the other hand, when engagement is high, your employees will be driven to provide exceptional experiences that serve the agency’s mission.

HighPoint Global provides services and tools that agencies need to improve customer experiences. Taylor and Wulff explained that these same tools should also be used internally, to better understand and engage public servants in their roles. Specifically, managers can leverage tools like persona building and journey mapping to better understand their employees and facilitate real engagement.

Managers are the key. “The open dialogue that a manager has with their employee is such a crucial part of employee engagement, as well as making them feel valued in what they bring to the table,” Wulff said.  “Working together as a team to create personas and journey maps is an invaluable experience for everyone involved. Taking the time to understand your employees is where the magic happens.”

Taylor agreed. “The biggest mistake that agencies make is underestimating the impact a direct manager has on an employee’s level of satisfaction and level of engagement. The best investment you can make is providing those managers with the skills they need to create a better relationship with their employees.”

To equip managers with the understanding they need to engage employees, agencies don’t need to invest in new tools and tactics. According to Wulff and Taylor, many agencies can leverage their existing customer engagement tools to empower managers.

For instance, agencies commonly deploy journey maps to understand how constituents execute specific service requests. That same tool can be used by a manager to map the process employees take to fulfill their daily tasks. In the same way the external process might illuminate pain points for a constituent, the manager can collaboratively identify points in an employee’s day that might decrease productivity, overcomplicate processes, or otherwise prevent engagement.

This exercise can act as an engagement tool in its own right, allowing the manager to directly involve their employees in improvements. It also helps managers better understand their employees. That understanding can then be used to build personas – templated breakdowns of a person’s goals, needs, and challenges – to guide managers as they make future decisions for their employees and engagement strategies.

But while these tools can be great resources to help guide managers, Wulff and Taylor emphasized that they aren’t the only solution to engagement. More important than any one tool is an understanding of your agency’s engagement and service objectives.

An effective engagement strategy will directly align customer-focused mission goals to employee actions. “At the end of the day, the primary driver of employee engagement is helping public servants see why their work’s important and the value that their work brings,” Taylor said. “And managers have to help position them so that they can use their personal strengths and what they’re good at, in order to achieve that outcome.”

In many cases, managers will require tactical and technical support to effectively engage their employees. From agency leaders, managers need a clear definition of service expectations and mission goals. Administrators and other leaders must “walk the walk” of service and strive to highlight how employee actions impact the constituents agencies serve.

Ultimately, agencies will need to create a clear alignment between customer service and employee engagement. They can do that by empowering managers to deploy the same customer experiences internally as they do when engaging citizens. An engaged workforce is the first and most necessary step toward better serving the public.

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