Leveraging the power of citizen engagement to dramatically improve customer service, agency focus and cost efficiency.
What is the relationship between citizen engagement and customer service?
June 24, 2010 at 5:08 pm #103973
There is a running debate in my office between people who see customer service as the ultimate goal and those that see it as a means to an end.
Those that see customer service as the goal believe that open gov; collaboration, transparency and participation are a means of getting to and providing excellent customer service.
Others think that providing excellent citizen service does not convey the larger open
government initiative ( transparency, participation and collaboration). To them, customer
service/citizen service brings to mind more of a one way relationship. They see customer service as an important piece of the how we get to the ultimate goal of engagement and collaboration.
How do you see it?.
June 24, 2010 at 5:38 pm #103983
That is a very interesting question. I see customer service as a key element of the relationship between any organization and its customers regardless of their line of business or purpose. It transcends short-term or long- term goals or objectives such as the Open Government Directive. Although excellent customer service should foster citizen engagement, collaboration and transparency, I would contend that customer service should not be viewed only as means to those ends. And, customer service should be delivered from a view of what the customer needs and wants – not what the organization thinks is best. All organizations should aspire to deliver excellent customer service.
So, I think my anwer to your question is: Customer Service is a way to promote citizen engagement but should be viewed more broadly as an integral and important part of conducting the organization’s business.
June 24, 2010 at 8:05 pm #103981
This is a timely question. Just yesterday, I attended a PRSA (Public Relations Society of America) conference in which Peter Shankman delivered the keynote speech. Peter Shankman is the founder and CEO of The Geek Factory, Inc. – a marketing and PR strategy firm in NY. He is well known in the PR industry for his innovative thinking and the way he uses social media tools as part of an overall communication strategy. For those of you who don’t yet follow him on Twitter, his alias is @skydiver.
Peter had some key points about business success that really resonated:
1. When in doubt, GO: turn when you need to. He likened this to skiing, but the point is that you can plan all day long and never get the courage to just do something. Take the step and if you run into a block, make a turn and continue going. Be flexible and agile.
2. Have a plan in case you succeed. Lots of people – like your parents when you were contemplating a college major – tell you to have a back-up plan in case you fail. Peter suggests we change that around and plan for what success will require from us or our business in the future. Think of Google or Facebook as examples. They were ideas that started out small and look where they are now.
3. This is the key point that really addresses your question: We don’t control the direction of our business – our customers and clients do. If Starbucks (a client) focuses on providing extraordinary customer service, people will talk about it. In the end, business is still personal for customers. If they can connect to a human and they have a great experience it will buy more positive mileage. This is where social media comes in. You will find all kinds of online discussions about friendly baristas – and occasionally, a cranky one. This often leads to a meaty discussion, and sometimes you will find Starbucks weighing in – which makes those customers feel as important to Starbucks as they are.
You can apply the same logic to the public sector. Enable happy customers or citizens to talk nicely about you, jump into the conversation when it’s relevant or start a conversation to get people talking. It’s a great way to learn from your customers, too, about what you’re doing right and what you need to improve upon.
June 24, 2010 at 8:10 pm #103979
I know that it is easy for people to get so fixated on intermediate goals that they forget (or never really knew) what the ultimate goal is.
Lisa: Are there people in your office who, as you indicated, actually think that “the ultimate goal [is] engagement and collaboration”?
If so, please direct them to the first paragraph of the Presidential Memorandum on Open and Transparent Government:
We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration. Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government.
“Efficiency and effectiveness in government” is the very same thing as saying “citizen/customer service”. (If the government is doing something that is NOT supposed to be contributing to the general welfare of citizens, then please let us know.)
So, according to the President (and I agree), we are doing all this “transparency, participation, and collaboration” because, in the long-run, it creates a government that does a better job (i.e., customer service).
Anyone from the Federal Consulting Group (this group’s host?) can tell you this:
The better the lines of communication between an organization and its customers, the better that the organization can serve those customers.
Communication, communication, communication. (P.S. It really works in personal relationships, too.)
Bottomline: It’s the “engagement” that improves the “service” (the ultimate goal).
June 29, 2010 at 4:20 pm #103977
Engagement in any organization is the first step in customer service whether it is at the front counter, on the telephone or on a website. How we react to the first contact will set the tone for the engagement and will often determine if we will have a good or bad relationship with a customer/client.
It sometimes seems our reliance on electronic communications has taken over our interest in providing good customer service on the front lines and that we are spending more money and time serving a sometimes elite group of first adopters while ignoring the walk in traffic to our front counters. Is this intentional? Are we deliberately trying to force customers to get “connected” in order to save the cost of training and supporting good front line employees?
In my view, complicated telephone answering systems, web-sites or other means of electronic communications will never replace the welcome greeting of “Good morning, how can I help you”.
June 30, 2010 at 12:20 am #103975
I think we might be gettting a bit confused by terminology here.
Surely the ultimate goal is to “deliver appropriate, required services” to our customers (community).
The term Customer Service tends to be used to describe the interaction we have with our customers (hence the customer service front desk etc).
Meeting, greeting, interfacing and listening to our customers (customer service) is an essential part of understanding what the customer wants and what we need to deliver. I emphasise, we do need to listen (and then act).
But the ultimate test (of success) is the acceptance of the “services” we deliver to our customers.
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