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?”

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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

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