Monday, April 11, 2011

The Biggest Barrier to Great Customer Service? Egos

I had an interesting discussion with an esteemed colleague about my last blog post on making sure portal sites add value. One of my suggestions was to adopt a common design and publication standards across all agencies covered by the portal. He said, “Here's a fact...every government entity will do what is in its best interest...program, business unit, a bureau or a department will do what is in its best interest…there is no incentive for them to try to coordinate/manage.” Sadly, he speaks the truth. And though I’ve only worked in the federal government, I’m guessing that truth extends to state and local governments, as well.

In huge bureaucracies, the customer often gets lost among the competition for budgets, power, and prestige (which might lead to a better job). Both political executives and career employees – even web managers – thrive on doing something better than another office or agency. Normally, I think healthy competition is a good thing. But not in government, where great customer service often means bridging silos and cooperation is paramount. Self-interest – even if it isn’t personal…even if it’s for your office or agency – is the biggest barrier to great customer service.

So how do we overcome that barrier? How do we make it more important to serve our customers than to serve ourselves? The answer is both simple and horrendously difficult: change the reward system. Change both the tangible and intangible rewards for doing a good job. Reward government employees for cooperation and working together to produce the best customer service possible.

OK – so we aren’t the President or Congress or OMB. We can’t change things at a high level. But there are many things we can do to start changing that “me, me, me” culture.

Start with ourselves. Take a look at your to-do list. How could your customers get better service if you picked up the phone and called that colleague at another agency to see if you could team up to do something together? Look for opportunities to cross those organizational boundaries and connect the dots to make it easier for customers to complete their tasks.

Then there are things we can do as a community. Some examples:
  • Refocus awards to recognize groups of employees – not individuals - who work together to overcome barriers and improve customer service across agencies.
  • Sponsor an “Innovation in Customer Service” contest, and challenge agencies to work together.
  • Spotlight cooperative efforts in best practices and case studies used in courses and on
  • Invite conference and webinar and Web Manager Forum speakers who can relate real-life examples of customer service successes produced by employees working across organizations.
  • Publicize good examples of team efforts to break down barriers and improve customer service. Success begets success.
I’ll bet you can think of other fixes. Let’s hear ‘em.

Look, we can be cynical and sit back and sigh and say government executives and employees are only human and will always be self-interested and government will never change. Or we can try to do the right thing and cause that change, one baby step at a time.

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

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