This isn’t the first Presidential customer service initiative - President Clinton issued an Executive Order in 1993, requiring agencies to establish customer service standards - but it’s a huge step at a time when public expectations of government service have never been higher. As a long-time advocate for great customer service in government, I’m turning cartwheels!
But, wait…can it work?
My good friend, Bernie Lubran - fellow government customer service passionista and Regional Manager for ForeSee Results (home of the American Customer Satisfaction Index) – sent me a link to a great article last week, “The Rise of the Chief Customer Officer,” by Paul Hagen, published in the Harvard Business Review. It talks about a new kind of executive at many top private sector companies: the Chief Customer Officer (CCO). If you care about customer service in government, read it.
What really struck me was a quote from Roei Ganzarski, the CCO at the Training & Flight Services Division of the Boeing Company, "… in order to continue growing successfully, we needed to be more focused on our customers than ever before. Our organizational culture wasn't optimal to say the least. Our operations departments were focused on our products and services, our finance teams on collecting payments, and our sales and business development teams on meeting short-term revenue goals. But no one was looking at things from the customers' holistic perspective. We knew we needed to change our culture to better serve the one reason we all exist — our customers."
Does that sound familiar? How many government agencies are so wrapped up in carrying out mission that they fail to look at things from their customer’s point of view? How many agencies (and sub-agencies and divisions and officies…you know – all those silos) are so busy meeting those management goals that they forget their services may be just part of what their customers need to solve their problems and achieve their goals. Is achieving mission really the same as providing great customer service?
So back to President Obama’s initiative. Oh, I do so want it to work. I do. I do.
I remember when President Clinton’s Executive Order was issued. We knew it was the right thing to do. But – honestly – it asked so little of us. And we were so busy doing other good things. So while agencies met the letter of the requirements, there was no commensurate change in culture. And we didn’t have a leader dedicated to the effort – a Chief Customer Officer – to see it through. Leadership is oh-so-essential if you really want to create change.
So what do we need to achieve a happy ending this time? Real, comprehensive change to create great customer service from the federal government?
Well, we need to address the two problems. And do one more right thing.
- We need a real firm mandate to look at government services from our customers’ point of view. My one disappointment with the Executive Order is that it lets each agency do its own thing. I wish it said, “we need to look at things from our customers’ point of view and build our services in ways that make sense to them, even if – especially if - that means working across agencies to package a service.” Achieving your mission isn’t enough if the customer can complete only half the task. We need executives, managers, and employees across government to adopt “customer think.”
- We need a strong leader. We need someone to serve as our CCO – to inspire, excite, advocate for, oversee, coordinate, poke, prod, goad, and do whatever it takes to create great customer service across government. The Executive Order says the Office of Management and Budget, the General Services Division, and the Office of Science and Technology Policy will provide support and best practices. That’s great! And necessary. But we need one leader who really understands our customers (both individual citizens and other entities), who has the ear of the President, who will be at the table with all the other executives making decisions about how resources are handed out and what the priorities are, who can bring private sector customer service experts together with public managers to identify and adopt great customer service practices, who has the time and talent to cause the culture change we need, and – most of all – who has the passion to do this hard job because it’s the right thing to do.
- If we really care about open government and customer service, why not involve customers in this initiative? Establish a Customer Service Panel of typical customers – maybe at each agency, but certainly across government – to try out ideas, offer suggestions, and be partners in this whole thing.
Are we ready to provide great customer service in government? Oh, I hope so. I believe so. I want it to be so. If not now, when?
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