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How Government is Enhancing Customer Service

The private sector is continuously evolving customer service standards. You can now do things like tweet issues you are having with a company and receive real time responses and give 5-star ratings for services right in an app. If you’re like me, you’ve probably gotten used to these luxuries and have come to expect them from public sector as well. Many public-sector organizations have become cognizant of this demand and are in turn working to improve and modernize their customer service practices.

This month’s DorobekINSIDER Live, “How Gov Does Customer Service Right,” aims to highlight some of government’s customer service successes and put forth best practices to further improve customer service. In order to get this public sector perspective, GovLoop’s Christopher Dorobek sat down with Anahita Reilly, Chief Customer Experience Officer, GSA; Alexandra Figueroa, Chief Web and New Media Branch, Center for New Media and Promotion at the U.S. Census Bureau; Terry Redding, VP of Customer Experience, Customer Satisfaction, and Customer Feedback at CFI Group, and exclusive partner of the American Customer Satisfaction Index in the federal space; and Jessica Reed, Director of Federal Consulting Group at the Department of Interior.

The conversation started by differentiating between customer service and the overall customer experience. Reilly explained, “customer service is the one-on-one individual transaction while customer experience goes beyond this and makes the entire experience a person has with an agency personable.” In order to provide the best service and experience, agencies must identify who their customers and create services that meet their needs.

Providing a positive customer experience to individuals who interact with government agencies is critical to improving transactions across government. Once an organization understands exactly what a customer wants, they can react in the most efficient way. Reilly emphasized, “we like to make sure our employees realize that they are serving a greater mission to the citizen and the public and that the human persona is at the forefront and something we consider through the entire interaction.”

Despite the inherent importance of providing an excellent customer experience, agencies still face challenges in doing so. Figueroa explained that about five years ago, Census realized they needed to improve their customer experience by enhancing their digital position. Some of the challenges they faced included understanding what customers wanted, figuring out what technologies could best help them meet customers’ needs, and maintaining buy-in from up and down the organization.

These challenges were not unique to Figueroa and Census. Throughout the discussion, all of the experts expressed similar sentiments. However, they also offered proactive solutions that they have employed to overcome these challenges:

  • The importance of listening: Perhaps the most important part of providing a good customer experience is really listening to what customers want. Reed explained that the best way to do this is to use analytics to show what you need to change and improve. However, when looking at the metrics, agencies have to make sure they are doing so in the most effective way. Reed explained, “random questions don’t work, you have to have a survey methodology that is repeatable so you can continually measure and listen to what customers are telling you.”
  • Don’t underestimate the data: The turning point for Reilly and GSA was when they started taking a scientific approach to listening. She explained that they began collecting information from customers to identify pain points. “Once we had this backbone of quantitative data we could show that changing one thing could positively impact another thing.”

Having this feedback allows organizations to plan around citizen needs and provide solutions for their pain points. Redding aptly added, “you can’t fix what you don’t measure and the outcome of these measurements is producing faith and trust in government and providing a great customer experience continue to foster this.”

  • Keep an open mind: Reilly emphasized that while GSA had support from leadership, it was important to them that the importance of the customer experience was permeated throughout the agency. As a result, Reilly’s position of Chief Customer Officer was created. “This role touches on all of the different parts of the organization and focuses on the customer by asking questions and making changes,” she explained. Her aim is to bring together all of the different organizations within GSA together around the customers and mission so employees can perpetuate the mission in every interaction they have.

Want to know more about how government is enhancing customer experiences? Listen to the full online training here and check out GovLoop’s recent customer service guide here.

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