Monday, August 29, 2011

Let's Start A Customer Service Revolution!

No – that’s not the leftovers from Hurricane Irene.  Those are the Winds of Change you’re feeling.  The pieces for building an exciting new vision of government customer service are swirling around us - do you see them?  Everything’s starting to converge…ideas, leadership, support from the top. We’re on the verge of a customer service revolution!

Look around: 
  • We have a President who “gets it” that it’s hard for customers to use our services when they have to hop all over government because related programs/functions are distributed across agencies.  His Customer Service initiative shows this Administration’s commitment to improving the way government serves citizens.
  • The .Gov Reform Task Force is focusing high level attention on roping in the renegades of U.S. government websites.  Government web managers and CIOs and new media specialists and OMB leaders and White House staff, with terrific support from GSA, are working together to chart a new course for web-based customer service. 
  • What's more, everyone's welcome to join this conversation (revolutions must be inclusive!)  The .Gov Reform Task Force is open to ideas from anyone, anywhere.  Good customer service strategies start with the customers, and that’s exactly what they’re trying to do.
  • Even the .Gov Reform surveys (that agencies are completing now) show “big think.”  The Task Force is collecting data not only about the URLs and topics and audiences of the way-too-many government websites, but also about web governance…data that can help us understand where it’s working and where it isn’t, so we can make service  better across government.
  • Great ideas are reaching critical mass.  Thought leaders and visionaries, like John Kamensky and Wendi Brick, are blogging about “virtual government” and forming communities of interest around customer service.   People inside and outside government are coming together – like GovLoop’s Symposium on Customer Service – to talk about serving better, faster, smarter. 
  • is leading by example by becoming a place where customers can get answers, rather than just referrals through links.  The team is creating content, based on information from multiple agencies, around important topics (check out “Consumer Protection,” for example), giving customers a single starting point.
  • Newly-created reflects prevailing thought that we need to blend customer service channels, to make sure customers get the same answers no matter how they ask:  web, phone, in person, publication.
  • The Plain Writing Act is forcing agencies to change the way they communicate with customers, using their words and organizing content in ways that make sense to them. 
In the next few months, we have a window of opportunity.  Through the .Gov Reform effort and the Customer Service Initiative, we can create a clear, bold strategic vision for customer service in government. This is how customer service should look and work:  customer-centered, rather than agency-centered; multi-channel, rather than a channel-by-channel; one stop, instead of a scavenger hunt; responsive and personal, instead of detached; a priority for government employees, rather than an after-thought.  And we can build standards and governance that will help us achieve this vision.

The pieces are all there.  If not now, when?  Let’s start a customer service revolution. 

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Friday, August 12, 2011

Communities of Like-Minded People Can Cause Real Change in Government

GovLoop is sponsoring a symposium on Customer Service, August 23.  It promises to be a great event – bringing together customer service experts and passionistas from within and outside of government, and it hopes to culminate in some real actions to improve customer service in government.  Hurrah!  Wish I could be there (I was invited, but I couldn’t make it this time).

But this symposium isn’t the point of my blog today.  I want to talk about GovLoop.  And I’m not just talking about the social networking website by that name.  I’m talking about the grassroots community that has emerged and is shaking things up.  And I’m talking about a guy, Steve Ressler (a former Fed), and his band of colleagues who are showing us that real leaders don’t require legal authority and a job title to cause change in government.   Coalitions of like-minded people, working with principles and passion, can make a difference in the way government works.

Steve Ressler, who founded GovLoop, is a great example of government employee who has an idea and the courage to give it a go.  Three years ago, he threw up a social networking site with the idea that people in all levels of government, people who had retired from government, people who want to be in government, people who wanted to sell something to government, people who are advocates for others who interact with the government, and people just interested in government might want to come together to talk about common problems and ideas.  Bingo!  He was right.  GovLoop now boasts more than 45,000 members, and it’s growing every day. 

Plus 1:  GovLoop gives everyone a place at the table. Ideas can come from anywhere, and it’s better to risk a few bad eggs than exclude one really great idea-maker.
But this isn’t just a big leaderless blob.  Steve assumed leadership, and he surrounded himself with some equally-passionate co-workers (Andy, Megan), affiliated with GovDelivery, sought other sponsors and partners, and built an organization that supports the GovLoop community.  They started holding training sessions and symposia and conferences and other meet-ups.  They target the new and the next generations of public servants; but they also reach out to old-timers like me, brokering knowledge transfer and mentoring.

And here’s what I love most.  Steve and company dare to ask those “what’s next?” questions.  What should the next government CIO do?  How should we implement the new Customer Service Initiative in the federal government?  The GovLoop team gin up conversations on the website and do their best to get folks to participate.  And they encourage others to do the same.

Plus 2:  GovLoop provides leadership for an amorphous community, moving it toward connections and outcomes.  Grassroots efforts don’t succeed only by bringing people together.  Leadership is essential.

One more thing...

Plus 3:  the GovLoop gang communicates with the entire community, regularly.  If you’re already a member of GovLoop, you know that Steve sends a daily email alert to point out blog posts, interesting discussions, and new job listings.  He Tweets numerous times every day, making sure we know the latest.  They stir the pot and keep the community excited about ideas. 

Bet you think this is just a big ol’ plug for GovLoop, huh?  Well, it is.  I truly admire this effort.  If you aren’t a member already, I hope you’ll join the fun.  But that’s not my bottom line. 

My bottom line is this:  groups of like-minded government employees (and others!) can cause real, positive change in government, with good, consistent, visionary leadership.  The federal web manager community is proof.  GovLoop is proof.   You don’t have to wait for a charter or a designation or a sign from the universe to get the ball rolling.  It doesn’t take an appropriation or budget to bring people together.  It’s amazing how much we can accomplish if we’re brave enough to step into the void, be open to new ideas, and put the time and energy and ingenuity into making change happen.

Now let me circle back around to customer service.   So many of you have great ideas about ways to improve customer service.  Don’t sit in silence.  Don’t say it can never be done.  Find a group of like-minded colleagues, and create a grassroots community.  If you aren’t a natural born leader, find someone who is.  Be inclusive – good ideas and willing hands are everywhere.  Be gutsy, like Steve Ressler and the GovLoop gang.  And follow through.

Communities of like-minded people can do great things!

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