Monday, September 26, 2011

Get On the Customer Service Bandwagon

I hope you’ve already been participating in the National Dialog on Government Websites, sponsored by the .Gov Reform Task Force and GSA.  If not, it's not too late.  Tons of great ideas and comments and the opportunity to make your feelings known by voting (and you can do that anonymously).  This is important, folks.  Policy decisions are going to be made based on these comments, so jump right in.  It’s open until Friday, September 30.  Follow along on Twitter at #dotgov.

Then today, Govloop and RightNow Technologies published the Govloop Guide to Customer Service Excellence.  It’s a compendium of ideas based on a symposium Govloop sponsored in August.  Good stuff here, from colleagues and experts.  The Govloop community is trying to make a difference.

We’re all getting on the customer service bandwagon, and that’s a good thing for citizens and government’s business partners.  Check out these great opportunities to improve customer service for Americans. 

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Saturday, September 17, 2011

Join Us for a National Discussion on Government Websites!

Come one – come all!  This is your chance to help the U.S. government figure out how to serve better, online.  I told you a few weeks ago about the ground-breaking .Gov Reform initiative the White House and the General Services Administration have underway.  In a nutshell, they’re taking a hard look at U.S. government websites and looking for ways to make them easier to use and more efficient and effective.  And here’s the thing:  they want you to be part of this discussion! 

On Monday, September 19, at 2 p.m. ET, the .Gov Reform Task Force will open The National Dialogue on Improving Federal Websites.  It will last two weeks, until Friday, Sept. 30.  You'll be able to access it at: 

You can toss in your ideas in 7 categories:  content, search, usability, accessibility, social media, multilingual content, and online services.  Each category has one or more “discussion catalysts” to stir the pot and keep things going; and Craig Newmark (yes – the Craig of Craigslist) and I are serving as “discussion catalysts” for the online services thread.  We can’t wait to see what you have to say.   

But let me warn you – whiners aren’t allowed to play.  This isn’t a gripe session.  This is a chance to float your ideas and join citizens, colleagues, advocates, authorities, and others in thrashing out ways the government can improve customer service through the web.  If you don’t have any ideas to throw in, then just come and join the conversation. 

At the end of the 2 weeks, the .Gov Reform Task Force will review all the ideas and comments and use it to draft new policies and strategies for federal government websites.

This is a huge opportunity to participate in reshaping the way the U.S. government works for you.  I am so excited to debate my own ideas and learn from the rest of you.  Please – don’t miss out.  Remember:  Monday, Sept 19 at 2 pm ET to Friday September 30.  And follow the discussion on Twitter using hashtag  #dotgov.

See you there!   And spread the word.

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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Courage to Do What We Know We Need to Do

We know what our customers want.  We've known for years.  We don’t need to keep asking them because the answer is the same.  

We know what to do to make customer service better.  We’ve known that for years, too, because we’ve listened to and watched our customers. 

So why do 79% of the respondents to RightNow’s recent customer service survey say government could provide better customer service?  Because better customer service means challenging the ways we’ve been doing business in government for decades, the culture of distance, and the people who haven’t acquired the vision of great customer service.  It means working together to bulldoze old processes and organizations and build sleeker, better, customer-centered services. 

It means showing the courage to do what we know we need to do.

Let’s recap what we know. 

What do customers want?  To complete a task.  Solve a problem.  Get an answer.  Do something.

What do customers hate?  Waiting, wasting time.  Feeling stupid.  Can’t understand what they read.  Don’t know what questions to ask.  Feeling like they’re being treated unfairly or singled out.  Feeling like they don’t matter, that you don’t care.  Getting half an answer or a wrong answer.  Feeling like you don’t understand them and what they want.  Being treated impersonally - can’t talk to a real person.

What do we need to do to improve customer service on the web?  Help our customers complete their tasks, solve their problems, get their answers, and do what they want to do. 
  1. Make it easy to find what they want.  Through good design.  Put most important content where people look first (that top left quadrant of the screen).  Keep it simple.  Cut the gratuitous eye-stopping graphics, and eliminate clutter.  Good marketing.  Good writing.  Optimize content for search engines, and market with social media and links.  Work across agencies to offer one source, rather than twenty.  Example: uses plain language to help customers recognize what they want.
  2. Make it easy to use.  Minimize time/steps to complete a task.  Write so customers understand the words the FIRST time they read them.  Do usability testing – often.  Get customer feedback.  Use stats to see how many complete the tasks.  If they’re dropping out before they complete the task, fix the problems.  Work across agencies to consolidate tasks and like-tasks.  Example:  TSA puts one of its top tasks right on the home page.  “Can I bring (fill in the blank) through the security checkpoint?”
  3. Make it easy to get help if they’re stuck.  Customers want help quickly, while they’re trying to complete the task - not 2 weeks later.   Put “contact us” on every page.  Put FAQs on the task pages (make sure they’re really frequently asked questions…pick 10 – not 100).  Make it personal - real-time chat, 24-hour phone numbers.  What about Skype (or something similar)?  Face-to-face with a real human being…wouldn’t that be something?  Use mobile apps to help customers get help on the go.    Example: suggests:  “chat online with one of our food safety experts.”  And “Ask Karen,” on the go.
  4. Anticipate what they want/need to do next.  Offer “next steps” or “more information.”  Work across silos (within and among agencies) to connect the dots.  Example:  National Archives offers suggestions to researchers who don’t know where to start.  And then there’s, the king of anticipation.
  5. Give them confidence they got the right/full answer.  Conclude the task with “Success!” or “Finished!”  Do usability testing – Gerry McGovern reported as many as 10% think they finished/have the answer, when they don’t.   Follow up with email.  Tailor Domino’s fantastic pizza tracker to your own processes.  Example:  State Department emails passport customers, “We’ve finished processing your passport…you should receive your passport on or about (date).”
RightNow’s report is well worth a read.  More evidence of what we already know: we need to put services customers care about online so they can find them and use them quickly, easily, and effectively.

We know what customers want.  Let’s band together, tackle those challenges, and show customers we have the courage to do what we know we need to do.

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