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Making the Leap from Good to Great Customer Service

This is an excerpt from the recent Customer Service Playbook for Government. In the guide, we detail six plays to help you transform the way your agency serves its citizen users.

Customer service in government is not exactly stellar right now. Today, citizens expect seamless experiences similar to what they demand of the private sector – but this is an experience that is difficult for the public sector, given how the government is organized and what regulations and silos exist.

In order to better understand the obstacles and opportunities the federal government is presented with to achieve better customer service, GovLoop sat down with Tim Young, Principal at Deloitte Digital. “Numerous wakeup calls have shown that the lack of attention to customer service and deferred investment in technology has caused the federal government to fall further behind the private sector,” Young said.

The American Customer Satisfaction Index found that satisfaction with the federal government is at all all-time low. Young suggested that with many legislative and bureaucratic obstacles, such as budget cuts and sequestration, the federal government is already at a disadvantage when compared to private sector expectations. A major refocus on customer service will help the federal government raise their bar of expectations and capabilities. 

“IT is a key enabler to improving customer success,” Young explained. “When you look at the federal government and the legacy infrastructure that exists, it’s clear that it doesn’t help create an enriching customer experience because it’s based on outdated technology due to long processes. It requires time for updates, proposing a budget, getting it approved through the congressional lifecycle, and then even more time to receive funding and putting it into contract. The legacy IT environment is a contributor to substandard customer service.” 

But it’s not just outdated technology. Young noted that in order for a department to go from good to great customer service, they need to focus on the people aspect. “When you look at the people, process, technology equation, the government needs to take an ‘all of the above’ approach,” he said.

“First, employee satisfaction and customer service are closely linked together. The happier your employees are about treatment towards customers, the better job they’re going to do serving customers.”

The second point, Young explained, is that customer experience with the federal government includes many different transactions across agencies, and they should be customized for the unique experience that reflect the agency. Customers are experiencing different emotions and expectations at each agency, and should not be serviced with a rubber stamp experience. “Demographics of customers really matter, but also having greater predictability to the behaviors of your customers and users are important,” Young advised. 

Young also said that government needs to start looking to better customer persona research to inform their engagement and service strategies. 

Personas and, what we call, ethnographic research is a key part in understanding customer demographics and improving service,” he said. “Government needs to move away from structured analysis of customers to actual observation, focusing less on process and more on why people do the things that they do, and how to better design and produce better outcomes preferably at a lower cost.”

Ethnographic research includes observing contextual, behavioral, and emotional reactions. “The way in which we live, work, and play is constantly evolving, and our emotional responses, values, expectations, considerations, and constraints need to be factored in through continual ethnographic research,” Young said. The insights that this kind of research can provide are the context of customer expectations for that government service.

Understanding the relationship between government and the people it serves is key to developing a modern customer engagement and satisfaction strategy.

It’s the government’s absolute imperative and responsibility to provide great customer service to its constituents. The government was created by the people for the people,” Young said. “So if you’re collecting money from people and providing them services, but you’re not focusing on the quality of service then that is irresponsible government. Instead of looking at the federal budget as an entitlement, for the government to spend at its discretion, it should be looked as an investment in the federal government with a focus on what is the return of that investment to the constituent.”

Gathering feedback through formal and informal mechanisms such as online surveys and focus groups will provide the important insight that your agency needs to develop an appropriate customer service strategy. These metrics will gauge customer activities and happiness with the service they are receiving and, when implemented into the overall strategy, will change the way government incents behaviors that make the most sense for constituents and employees of your agency.

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