Great customer service is the goal – the objective. Serving our customers is why we exist. Communications and engagement are two ways we do that. They are processes…the means to the end.
If we don’t communicate effectively, we can’t serve. Period. So communicating is a “must have” if you want to provide great customer service. But it’s not the only thing involved in great customer service. You have to provide services customers want. You have to make those services easy to use. You have to make those services easy to find (communications comes in here). You have to provide that back-end service that helps customers who get stuck. And you have to evaluate and improve, constantly. Communications is a big part of customer service – but not the whole enchilada.
Probably the most important part of communicating is listening. Listen to what your customers want, how they want it, when they want it, where they want it. Listen to the words they use so you can communicate using their vernacular. You can do that lots of ways without actually engaging them – go to events/places where they are (yes, I mean get out of your office and go where citizens are!), through email, through social media, through reading (letters to the editor, Pew studies, anything you can find that tells you what people are thinking, asking, discussing), statistics about what publications customers are ordering or asking your correspondence units or your call centers or seeing where they go on your website. Believe it or not, you can listen without engaging. Eavsdropping is effective and really important.
Then there’s actually interacting with your customers – engaging. It’s two-way. Asking for their ideas and discussing it with them. Inviting them to participate in conversations. Involving them in problem-solving. Back and forth. When I think about “citizen engagement” as it’s being used in the federal govt today, this is what I think about. This is the best kind of listening.
I think it’s really important to separate – and understand – the objective and the processes we use to reach the objective. Communication for the sake of communication is what gets us in trouble (that’s when we get self-centered). Communicating to improve customer service puts the customer first. To me, we always have to put the customer first.
For what it’s worth…