Government agencies face unique challenges today as they strive to serve their clients. Due to variances in the economy and shrinking budgets, many agencies have been forced to lay off personnel. High numbers experienced and knowledgeable career employees of the government have retired. As a result, these agencies are operating with remaining employees who possess less training or experience and are stretched to provide services. In addition, their clients are demanding improved customer service, prompt and accurate answers, and personable staff.
The myriad of communications channels used by clients also provides challenges to outdated government agencies. People demand responses via e-mail, the internet, mobile devices, social media, the telephone, and occasional visits to brick-and-mortar offices. With focus, strategies, and synergism, government agencies can meet these challenges. The primary goal is for government agencies to consider clients as customers in the same manner private companies do.
Providing excellent and deserving quality services to clients, businesses, and other organizations is integral to the missions of federal agencies, but many seem unaware of how to implement policies that will provide this. According to the American Customer Satisfaction Index, which measures customer satisfaction across sectors and industries, the federal government ranks lower than nearly every private-sector industry measured, including airlines and cable television companies.
Citizens across American depend on the federal government for a variety of services like filing for Social Security, Medicare or veteran benefits. They also seek answers from the federal government for many questions ranging from questions about how to file taxes with the IRS, how to apply for a green card by immigrants to the U.S., how to apply for food stamps or disability, or more. Citizen satisfaction with services provided by the federal government dropped by 3.4% after two years of gains (“Customer Service,” 2014).
Low-income families receive a myriad of benefits and services from the federal govern-ment, but these services are organized on a federal website in a very complicated way. Information about the different programs offered by the various agencies are scattered throughout the website, based on funding received from the government. This makes it almost impossible for their citizens to navigate the complicated website site and obtain the information they need. The Partnership for Public Service and Accenture (Fox, 2014) reported that federal services are often arranged and delivered based on the bureaucratic structure of the government instead of the needs of its clients (Fox, 2014).
Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald criticized the large number of confusing sites the agency currently operates for his armed forces personnel to access to learn about governmental services available to them. McDonald states there “14 different websites that require a different username and a different password for veterans to access the VA” (Fox, 2014).
Many of the clients who utilize government services do state dissatisfaction with the website as a reason they are so unhappy with governmental agencies. A review of all internet presence and websites for all government agencies would reveal the deficiencies experienced by the clients. An overhaul and improvement of governmental digital services would cause an increase in overall client satisfaction. The bottom line is that navigation of federal websites should be seamless and easy to use, regardless of the number of departments they have to use. Clients of government agencies should feel like they are interacting one entity rather than segmented departments.
In a 2013 McKinsey Center for Government survey, representatives surveyed 17,000 people in 15 states regarding government services and found “citizens are less satisfied with governmental services than with private-sector ones” (Fox, 2014). These people were allowed to rate their satisfaction with specific activities and services, delivery of service, and categories of services compared to their experiences with similar private-sector interactions. After responses were tabulated, it was apparent that new approaches and procedures needed to be incorporated by governmental agencies. The following four recommendations to improve the customer experience in line with the private sector:
Make services for citizens a priority of governmental leadership.
This will require a new mind-set and focus of the entire organization from the director, the manager, to clerks, and on down the line. Processes and procedures for the particular department will have to be revised accordingly after new goals and aspirations have been set.
Establish top priorities for change and innovation.
It is imperative for leaders to identify the greatest areas of need for customer service to improve. To help determine where change should be made, government leaders should compare real-time analyses with judgment-driven evaluations and assumptions about where to focus changes.
Identify specific service needs and resulting changes on issues that matter the most. Government leaders should role-play what a citizen would experience from beginning to end during an exchange with a governmental interaction. This would help the leaders to understand the nature of citizens’ criticisms. They should also factor in information from citizen surveys and feedback. Leaders should also hold focus groups with citizens and agency staff to develop types of programs they think will work and then test these potential new programs.
4. Measure customer service satisfaction regularly.
Given the increasing importance and need for improved customer services in all levels of government, it is important to always get the input of the agency’s clients to the new improvements (Fox, 2014).
Government leaders must immediately recognize the need to develop workable strategies for improved customer satisfaction. This mandate is not optional and must be targeted for all levels of the government, its various departments, and the vital types of services it provides. Improvements to processes, innovations for procedures, and heightened customer relations can result in decreased costs, heightened citizen satisfaction, and more participatory employees who are willing and eager to deal with clients one-on-one. Government leaders must identify the departments that need the most revisions and reorganizations, which have caused disgruntled clients. Once this information is synthesized, government leaders can collaborate with their personnel to design approaches and initiatives for improving the citizens’ day-to-day interaction with the appropriate departments. The goal is for clients to be impressed and satisfied after interactions with government agencies whose employees operate in a more expedient and pleasant manner. These new goals are not unreachable when government leaders and staff work together.
In conclusion, the transition from client to customers for government agencies centers on 5 “C” success factors. They are: capacity, the depth and reach of the organization’s resources and its ability to absorb the changes; capability, the organization’s adaptive culture and the level its departments will collaborate; competence, how well the organization can handle change, new processes, and systems; commitment, how much the organization’s key stakeholders and staff adapt to the new initiatives; and critical success factors, measures used to determine the success of the new initiatives (Harter, 2014). In the end, it does not matter if users of government services are called client or customer. What matters is that they are satisfied with the information they seek, the tools they use to search for the information, and the actual services they receive.
- Baig, A., Dua, A., & Riefberg. (2014). How US state governments can improve customer service. Retrieved from http://www.mckinsey.com/industries/public-sector/our-insights/how-us-state-governments-can-improve-customer-service
- Customer First: Improving the Customer Experience across Government. (2014). 5 Insights for Executives. Retrieved from http://www.ey.com/Publication/vwLUAssets/EY-improving-the-customer-experience-across-government/$FILE/EY-improving-the-customer-experience-across-government.pdf
- Fox, Tom. (2014). Treating citizens like customers. Retrieved from https://www.washington post.com/news/on-leadership/wp/2014/09/17/treating-citizens-like-customers/
- Getting Serious on Client Service. (2011). Institute of Public Administration Australia. Retrieved from http://www.ipaa.org.au/documents/2012/05/getting-serious-on-client-service.pdf/?b7ce79
- Harter, J. (2014). Dear Customer: We are Ready, Willing and Able. Loyalty Management (Q2). Retrieved http://loyalty360.cladev.com/loyalty-management?Related_Issue=1st%20 Quarter%202014%20Issue