Sunday, May 29, 2011

No One’s Gonna Make You Do the Right Thing

I enjoyed Steve Radick's blog post on Govloop about implementing the Plain Writing Act.   Steve speculates that it will take years (actually, he says “decades) to implement the Act.  He gives several reasons, and they’re all good. 

I’ve read a number of opinion pieces about the new CustomerService Executive Order, saying, “Yeah, yeah, yeah – Clinton tried…Bush tried…what’s different now?”  Good question. 

The truth is this:  no one is gonna make you do the right thing for your customers.  

There are no OMB customer service police.  There won’t be any budget consequences if you don’t write so your customers can understand it the first time.  No programs will be cut or jobs lost.   Indeed - we’ve had these initiatives before.  We created plans.  We posted reports showing how we’d completed our plans.  No one cheated.  We did what we were asked to do.  We met the requirements.  But those requirements didn’t change anything.  These new ones won’t either.   Only YOU can do that.

Government employees can create change, when they are passionate enough and courageous enough to figure out the right thing and do it.   Just last week, Facebookers and Tweeters were all a-flutter about an extremely clever blog piece published by the Centers for Disease Control, Preparedness101: Zombie Apocalypse, written by Ali S. Khan.  There you have it:  a government employee in an agency willing to do something out of the ordinary, to serve their customers better.  And it worked! Bravo to Ali Khan and the CDC. 

Other examples are everywhere.  Look at the government winners of the recent Clearmark PlainLanguage Awards (and use them as models!).   Look at some of the fantastic mobile apps popping up like “Ask Karen,” where you can get advice on food safety, whenever and wherever you are.  There is progress.  We can serve our customers better.

So here’s the thing.  It won’t be a law or an Executive Order that will create a culture of customer service in government.   YOU have to figure out the right things to do and then do them. 

You have to work together, across government…across governments.  You have to find others who share your vision and your passion.  You have to go to other agencies with similar or related customer tasks and figure out how to make it easier for customers to get great service across government, without having to know which agency provides it.  You have to help one another, share strategies, find ways around obstacles, and prop each other up when the going gets tough.  You have to be gutsy.  And when something works, you have to replicate it…again and again…until it’s common practice.  That’s how you change the culture. 

The law and the Executive Order are important.  They serve notice that Congress and the President care about great customer service.  But don’t limit your efforts to doing what they say to do.  That’s just a baseline.  Focus on their intent.  Seize the opportunity to change the culture. 

No one’s gonna make you do the right thing for your customers.  You’ll have to do that yourself.

Related Posts
Are We Ready to Provide Great Customer Service?
Creating a Culture of Customer Service – “And Would You LikeCatsup for Your Fries?”

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Do You Hear Bells?

About 10 years ago, I helped a colleague build a case that managing government websites is “inherently governmental.” A-76 (OMB Circular A-76: Performance of Commercial Activities) was rearing its head again, and some agencies were asking the question: could web management be done more efficiently and effectively by the private sector? A few agency web managers were scrambling to justify their existence. In the end, I don’t think anyone lost a job; but it was a wake-up call.

As I looked at the recently-released “,” that fire drill came back to me.

Basically, a high level official the United Kingdom government got disgusted with the cost and inefficiency of government websites and asked for a study. An outside reviewer concluded that U.K. government websites were a mess, that they were organized around government agencies instead of customer needs, and that the best thing to do is dump them and start over. They concluded there should be a single domain – one website – where citizens could go to find the government services they need. Oh - and PS - eliminating all these agency sites should result in significant savings.

They hired a team of outside consultants to build the site – apparently didn’t even give govies a chance to redeem themselves – and “” is the result.

It’s not a perfect website – and they’re very honest about that right up front – but it’s a good start. Lots of positives. For example, I really like the box, placed in the top left quadrant of the screen so my eye sees it first, asking me where I am and then explaining that if they know where I live, they can tell me what services are available to me. Spot on. That’s what customers everywhere want – what’s available to me, where I live.

Then you choose a task (and I’m hoping the ones on the front page are their top tasks), and you go to a page that has nice big print and looks easy to use. The first task I tried was “calculate holiday pay,” and – what’s this? It actually tells me how many steps are involved and about how long it will take me to complete this task, before I start. Now these folks respect their customers. They know people want to get in, get it done, and get out. TIME is critical.

Next, I chose “pay your council tax,” and – oh, look…they tell me right at the top I have to have a credit card. I don’t have to waste my time filling out the form, only to discover I can’t pay by e-check.

There are just a few “related items” links on each page - they don’t overwhelm me with choices. Whew!

Best of all – it’s written in plain language. I understood every page I looked at, first time I read it. If I were a U.K. citizen, I’d be happy with this direction.

Don’t get me wrong – it’s not perfect. I’d like an option to browse topics. I don’t really like all that news stuff below the fold. It’s clunky going back and forth. And I really didn’t poke around beyond the front page tasks, so I’m guessing they have a lot of kinks to work out. But all things considered, I’m impressed.

And it’s got to be chilling for our colleagues, the U.K. government web managers.

So I’m thinking…could this happen in the U.S.? If the UK model turns out to be a success (or even just perceived as a success), will advocates or media or the public start asking, “why not us?” Could consultants come in now and do what we do, better and/or more cost-effectively?

I think we need to talk about this, as a community. We know our government is facing a huge deficit, and people are looking everywhere for ways to cut costs. 24,000+ websites…gotta be some savings there. So what’s our strategy? How can we make sure we’re more efficient and effective than the private sector could be?

Did you guess what my title refers to? John Donne’s “No Man is an Island.” Always a good reminder. Send not to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.

Related Post
Reorganizing Government? Start Online!