Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Creating a Culture of Customer Service - “And Would You Like Catsup for Your Fries?”

Last week, a friend told me about a presentation she’d just done for some local elected officials, on making government websites customer-friendly. She said the session had gone really well – they got it. But this is what caught my attention.  She said some of these government officials had never thought about their websites in terms of customer service. They used them as tools for program delivery.  Kind of here it is. One-way. No engagement. Not like the drive-up window at McDonalds, where we not only hear, “How can I serve you,” but also, “And would you like catsup for your fries?”

Are these officials anomalies among government leaders? Nope – I don’t think so. Nor do I think they’re bad because they hadn’t thought about their websites from their customers' point of view. The culture in government traditionally has been, we know best. Not, how can we serve you?  If we want government to deliver great customer service, we’re going to have to create a real culture change.

Some of you may think this is an impossible task – right? Government is too big. Too entrenched.  Well, you know what? Change already is afoot: social media. Look how many agencies are jumping on the social media bandwagon. True, some of them are doing it because it’s cool and honestly don’t have a business case (yet). But there are some who really do get it…who really are using it to listen to and serve customers better.  And they’re out there pushing. They’re risk-takers. They believe in the basic premise of social media - trust the crowd to get it right.

Changing government culture to value the customer – to trust the customer to get it right - is a huge challenge. It’s finding more and better ways to listen to customers and watch how they behave and adjusting our services accordingly. It’s re-thinking how, when, and where we deliver government services and integrating delivery channels so service is consistent. It's humanizing our service delivery.  It’s training employees at all levels to honor and respect our customers and rewarding employees who go that extra mile to give customers the very best experience possible. It’s showing customers we know and care about them by answering their questions before they even ask. “Would you like catsup for your fries?”

So, what next? Well, at the risk of being redundant, we need a Customer Service Summit to map out a government-wide (note I said “government-wide” – not “agency-by- agency” or “silo-by-silo” - because our customers see us as a whole) strategy. But you don’t have to wait for a Summit to start causing change.

To my government web manager friends… With great respect and affection, may I suggest you start by changing your motto from “better websites – better government” to “better websites – better service?” Serving customers better is the goal. I know that’s what you believe…saying it will help others catch the spirit.

To every single government employee... Put up a picture of your mom or your brother or your friend or someone in a magazine, with this caption under it: “I am your customer – can you help me?” Every day, in all you do, imagine that your customers are sitting right there with you. If your customers were in this meeting, what would they say? If your customers were helping you write that memo or complete that assignment, what would they ask?

Pledge to never say, “No, I can’t help you.” Or, “I don’t know.” Or to make customers feel stupid or wrong. Be a role model of customer service for your colleagues. Share what you learn about, and from, your customers. When you get that email or answer a phone call from a customer, take another minute to make sure you’ve really told them everything they need to know just as clearly and concisely as possible. Point out next steps or alternatives. Anticipate their questions. Leave them thinking, “Wow!  My government knows what I want even without my asking.  I'm really getting my money's worth when I pay my taxes.”

“And would you like catsup for your fries?”

Related Posts

Does Your Website Show Your Commitment to Customer Service, Government Executive?
Does Your Website Say “We Care?”
Evolving From Managing Websites to Managing Customer Service

Monday, June 14, 2010

Evolving from Managing Websites to Managing Customer Service

I was delighted to read Web Manager University’s first blog entry on Govloop the other day. Delighted for two reasons – first, that they’re using the widely-read Govloop to advertise the wonderful courses offered through WMU. But I was even more delighted when I read this: “WMU is expanding our training to include all aspects of delivering customer service (including phone, email, print etc).” Yes! Yes! Yes! This is the right thing to do. This is the way we should be evolving. Broaden our focus from managing websites to managing customer service. Focus on the customer – not the delivery mechanism.

Of the 6 customer service standards established by the Federal Web Managers Council in their first white paper, this is the one that is so key: when citizens need government information and services, they should be able to get the same answer whether they use the web, phone, email, live chat, read a brochure, or visit in-person. We’ve got to stop working in silos built around delivery mechanisms (web, phone, publications) and start organizing around customers.

Expanding the scope of WMU (dare we hope it will be re-named “Customer Service University?”) is a great start. I’d still like to see a Customer Services Summit (note that my vernacular has changed from “citizen services” to “customer services”) to come up with a comprehensive, far-reaching strategy to improve government’s customer service. Bring together players across government and across delivery channels…representatives of both the management ranks and the staff who actually interface with customers. Involve customer service experts from outside government. Make it a model of open government by involving citizens…before, after, and during. Stream some or all of the sessions. Take suggestions online.

The outcome should be a strategy for improving the way government, as a whole - not by agency, not within delivery silos – can and will improve the way it communicates with and serves its customers. The Summit should be just the beginning of ongoing gatherings and discussions across government and with customers, so we can monitor progress, make course corrections, and be transparent about what’s going on.

It looks like the folks at GSA and the Federal Web Managers Council (maybe one day the “Federal Customer Service Council?”), which co-sponsors WMU, are thinking big. That’s great. They are providing leadership. Now we need to get more people –inside and outside government – involved. The time is right. We’re building critical mass. The evolution is underway. Let’s see government step it up and really give us some great customer service.

Related Posts
Speaking With One Voice – A Basic of Good Customer Service
Customer Service Standards Worth Living Up To
A National “Communicating” Strategy

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Want to Be a Web Superstar?

So you want to be a web superstar! Doesn’t everyone? Well, in government, administrations change, priorities change, and technologies change. But the formula for being a web communications superstar – the ones with the great (or greatly improving) websites, the best web organizations, doing the most exciting new things - doesn’t change. Web superstars follow these 5 basic principles:

1.  Put your customers first
How many hundreds of times have we said this…listen to your audience and they will tell you what to put on your website – and where. They’ll even tell you what words to use. Believe it.

Know who your customers are, understand what they want and need, and do everything you can to deliver it to, when and where they can find it and use it. Be their advocate. Fight for doing the right thing for them.

Embrace the customer service standards established by the Federal Web Managers Council, and add your own. Measure them regularly, and make changes accordingly. If your bosses want you to do something you know isn’t right for your customers, don’t just salute and obey – share what you know about your audience; and suggest other ways they can accomplish their goals, while still meeting the needs of your customers.

Listen to your customers every single day. Read their email. Read what they’re saying on Twitter and Facebook. Get out and talk to them. Listen, respect, follow. Customer service - that’s Job One.

2.  Teach and preach
Web superstars are great communicators. They’re both savvy teachers and committed evangelists. Teach your agency what you learn about your customers – what they like and don’t like, what they need and don’t want. Show managers how to use the web to work faster and smarter and serve your customers better. Use social media to teach your audience how to find and use your agency’s services. Use your passion to convince others to try new things and venture into the unknown, to improve public service. Proselytize. Persuade. Inspire. Teach and preach.

3.  Stay organized
You always will have too much to do and too many people to please. That’s the world of government web communications. It’s how you handle it that separates the superstars. You absolutely have to stay organized.

Build your team – those assigned to work with you, those you need to work with you, and those you may want to work with in the future. Put in the time to train them, encourage them, and keep them on track so you’re working together like a well-oiled machine. Publish policies, content guides, and operating procedures so everyone has standard rules to follow. Work with your bosses to establish accountability across the agency.

Make time to plan. Publish work plans and monitor implementation. Be ready to make adjustments and trade-offs, as priorities change and opportunities arise. Keep everyone informed about those changes. Balance your workload. If you can’t do what you promised, raise the flag or make changes before it’s too late to succeed at anything. Roll with the punches.  Do your job, help others do theirs, and know the difference.

4.  Insist on plain writing
Government websites (including social media) live and die based on words. Good writing – good service…success. Bad writing – confusion, frustration, wasted time...failure. Use plain language yourself, and insist that everyone who contributes and maintains content on your websites or social media venues uses it, too. Stand up for good writing. Attack bad content. Find it. Test it. Fix it.

5.  Lead
Above all, web superstars are great leaders. They’re visionaries. They look into the future and see new ways to serve citizens. They see new technologies and imagine how they can be used to improve customer service. They’re excited about the destination, and others follow because they want to share that excitement. Web superstars don’t give up when they hit a roadblock…they start looking for ways around it – or a better destination.

Be strategic. Read. Listen. Network. Analyze. Know where you’ve been and where you’re going. Look at the past. What worked? What didn’t? Why? What might work now that couldn’t work before? What successes can you replicate (do not reinvent the wheel!)? Look at what’s happening now – what’s good? What’s bad What can you fix? What should you stop? Look at what’s coming – what are the opportunities? What problems can you avoid?

Be courageous. Show some moxy. Step into those voids. Be decisive. Brief those executives. Write that memo. Risk failure to do the right thing. When you do fail, recognize it and change course. Quickly. Celebrate success – and lavish credit on everyone who helped create it. Stay focused, stay positive. Lead up, lead down, lead sideways. Draw the map for others to follow.

Look at the superstars in the government web community – the people you admire and trust - and you’ll see people who follow these 5 principles. Want to be a web superstar? There it is. Go for it.

Related Posts
Customer Service Mantra: Listen, Respect, Follow
Knowing Your Audience Is a Web Manager’s Most Important Asset
Keep It Plain
Past Is Prologue: Learn from Web History
Creating Web Strategy – How You Do It Is As Important As What You Do
Are You A Great Web Leader?
Balancing Transparency With Volume and Accuracy