BLOG: by Robin Steis, Sales Director at Interactive Intelligence… For the most part, government has no competition. Have a great idea and need a patent? You’ll need to submit it to the U.S. Patent & Trade Office. Remodeling your home? You’ll need a permit from your city’s zoning office. And if you’re negotiating late fees for your federal taxes, you’ll be talking with the IRS.
So why then would government care about providing good customer service? If you’re the only game in town, where else are people going to go?
There are, of course, many good reasons for government agencies to focus on providing good customer service to constituents: it coincides with higher productivity (think first call resolution); it’s often included in government charters; it (dramatically) reduces complaints and bad press; and it’s simply the right thing to do.
There’s never been a better time than now to focus on it. Forrester Research recently released its 2016 Customer Experience Index, and once again government still finished last across the 21 industries, with ratings falling between “very poor” to “ok.” Notably, though, it does show generally improved scores for government agencies when compared to last year’s survey.
When it’s shouted across social media
Probably one of the most poignant examples of government customers exclaiming that they are fed-up with poor customer services was the fervor earlier this year with the Transportation Services Administration (TSA).
In May, airlines grew weary that their complaints to TSA went unheard even though thousands of passengers were missing flights due to extremely long security lines. So the airlines encouraged fliers to voice their frustration on social media using #HateTheWait. And they obliged.
Posts on Twitter and Instagram show pictures and tell stories of sometimes hours-long waits. The result? On May 26 TSA was brought before a House Committee to begin explaining ‘why’ and ‘how’ they were going to fix it – and within months additional employees were hired and other resolutions were set in motion. Given that no agency wants to be thrust into hastened remediation as TSA was, there’s really two ways initiatives for improvement get underway in government.
When it starts at the top
For the U.S. Federal Government, it all started April 2011 with an edict from the top. An executive order from President Obama instructed federal agencies to determine ways and technologies to help them improve customer service. It states that “with advances in technology… the public’s expectations of the government have continued to rise. Government managers must learn what is working in the private sector and apply these best practices to deliver services better, faster and at a lower cost.” Today, some progress has been made across a few agencies, though it’s slow going as many are still in stages of conducting analysis and pilot programs.
When it starts at ground-level
Another way customer service improvement initiatives get started is from the front-lines. I’ve worked first hand with many departments within Federal agencies who see a need and take it upon themselves to go out and win small, incremental gains. These gains are possible because they are smaller in scope requiring less budget and level of approvals, which measurably increases the probability it will move forward.
So what motivates government to provide better customer service? Occasionally, it will be instances such as #HateTheWait that are the springboard, or the far-reaching directives with wide spread impact that can often falter in an uber-bureaucracy with changing administrations and priorities. In the end, though, it may be the smaller, incremental changes that help push government into better customer experiences. Because when you add a lot of incremental changes together—it may just be enough to move an entire industry.