Customer service guidance

June 26, 2011

Having frequently and publicly stated that we should make more of the experiences of our Canadian and Australian counterparts, rather than the UK government fetishization of the US model, I am reporting on the fact that some weeks ago President Obama signed an executive order, “Streamlining Service Delivery and Improving Customer Service”, which was unfortunately lost in the mass of other budgetary issues the US government was dealing with. This was followed on June 13 by guidance from the US Office of Management & Budget (OMB) entitled Implementing Executive Order 13571 on Streamlining Service Delivery and Improving Customer Service (6 pages, 2.37 Mb!).

This is the reason why I am for promoting Canadian practice. The Canadians went through a recession some years ago and as a result they looked at government services in-depth and how they might improve them. As a result they developed guidance and a sample was in one of my blog posts in January 2008. In June 2011 the White House issues its own. These are some of the key demands –

“Establish mechanisms to solicit customer feedback on government services and use such feedback regularly to make service improvements, such as:

Collect ongoing, timely, actionable customer feedback to identify early warning signals of customer service issues; and conduct customer satisfaction surveys and report the results publicly to provide transparency and accountability.

Improve the customer experience by adopting proven customer service best practices and coordinating across service channels (including on-line, phone, in person, and mail services), such as:

Develop a process for evaluating the entire customer experience, ensuring consistency across service channels; coordinate with other agencies serving the same customers, identifying opportunities for using common forms and application materials and processes; analyze customer preferences for interactions and redirect resources from less preferred and more costly channels (such as printed materials) to preferred, less costly, and more widely accessible channels (such as Internet and mobile services), where appropriate and applicable; and ensure access and usability for people with disabilities and hard-to-reach and disadvantaged customer populations.”

I have often heard it said in central government that local government is frequently more advanced than central government. I think that these six pages demonstrate that local government (including in the USA) is further advanced in serving the citizen than central government.  So why do we keep looking west, when locally or north-west may better provide solutions? In fact Lisa Nelson who is responsible for Research and Strategic Partnerships within Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies at the American GSA has pointed the W3C e-Government Interest Group towards a new Deloitte report for the Canadian government “Innovation in government – Conversations with Canada’s public service leaders“. The report spells out what are essentially cultural changes to the way government behaves, not unlike the recently published Socitm strategy for UK public services – “Planting the flag“.


Improved thinking

March 8, 2011

The new report from the Institute for Government entitled System error: fixing the flaws in government IT is a welcome approach to a long known issue, that of government IT project management. What is also welcome is that the report points to Canada and Australia, rather than the USA for best practice. I’ve frequently promoted the Canadian model on this blog, along with the occasional Australian example, but for far too long we have been taking our guide from the USA, the Canadian model has also had the benefit of being formed in an ‘age of austerity’.

Ian Watmore, Chief Operating Officer at the Cabinet Officer is one of those involved in this production, along with former Government CIO John Suffolk. Ian was reported by Computer Weekly welcoming the report at the launch event.

The word that reverberates through the report is ‘agile’, but also we are finally being expected to consult the user. The nature of agile is that it encourages ‘commoditisation’ of applications, and if the government were to follow the suggested Australian route of ‘opt-out’, there is more chance of not re-inventing wheels.

There appears to be a lot of buy-in across central government to the report, so perhaps we should wait and see what happens. However, I gather the ‘skunkworks‘ is in operation, so the fruits of their labours may soon be evident!

Return to Canada

July 1, 2009

Whilst away presenting a paper at the European Conference on E-Government ’09 in London, I read a new report from Canada entitled: From Research to Results: A Decade of Results-Based Service Improvement in Canada.

This turned out to be extremely appropriate, since all three papers in the stream my paper was in identified the missing link between academic research and the e-government practitioners.  In this excellent, small and readable 46 page guide, what Marson and Heintzman conclude is the key to Canadian success, it is the implementation of “action research focused on obtaining feedback from citizens that can be quickly translated by public managers into service improvment that citizens want and notice, including single windows, electronic gateways and service clusters.”  They also list “service improvment methods that focus rigourously on the drivers of citizen satisfaction with government service delivery.” 

Their documenting of the last ten years in Canada reinforces what this blog has been saying, that is, the need for web managers, IT managers, customer service managers and service managers to focus upon citizen satisfaction, but not as interpreted by by annual surveys or ad-hoc measurements, but instead by the continued monitoring of service delivery across the multiple channels.

The Canadians employed their academics and practitioners to prove that the customer is always right – but as to how far one takes their advice is down to the politicians and their budget management.

Why bother?

December 29, 2008

I had started academic research before the Millennium examining the challenges to District Councils in England, this had confirmed my suspicions that a lack of integration, citizen-focus and partnership working were drawbacks, perhaps as a result of the centrally-imposed targets and laterly  the Priority Service Outcomes that were to be detailed following 2001.

Even more contradictory was the lack of consideration for the Community Planning aspect of the Modernising Government agenda. I had discussed a joint piece of work with a regional university around examining citizens’ views of service delivery arrangements in parallel with views on meeting the electronic targets being attempted, but unfortunately pressures to meet the targets didn’t leave enough time to carry out the research further.

Following the target deadline I breathed a sigh of relief and was left attempting to embed the learning of the last few years with providing services in the manner wanted by the citizen. At this point I attempted again to consider the research and contacted a university that had a history of work in local government, digital inclusion and electronic voting, De Montfort, with a research proposal, which was accepted! Unfortunately or fortunately I was then seriously ill but the period of rest and recuperation gave me time to focus on reading and the the reading distracted me from the gravity of my situation.

The reading indicated that very little academic work had still been done on e-government and that studies by the likes of Gartner Research had revealed some quite complex systems for measuring electronic service delivery that were probably only fit for national governments. What was also revealed was a long running debate as to whether government was dealing with customers or citizens, with most of the votes in favour of calling the people a government deals with citizens, this included the Government of Canada supporting the move. Another long running piece of work review ended up around assessing customer satisfaction, which along with measuring the gap between expectation and delivery, has seen a great number of papers published but no great conclusions made.

The recent favourite approach in business is to employ customer engagement measurement rather than customer relationship management and this I conclude is a viable approach, which is that by pushing for and collating feedback from all customers, which, in the context of government, I prefer to call citizens, across all channels, we can try  to improve issues in end-to-end services by correcting them using the feedback.

We still have a long way to go in channel management and  I think citizen engagement management is a move in the right direction, it will also assist in both avoiding digital exclusion issues along with creating quality services, It was also the approach I took when I created the blog, in order to discuss these issues and promote them amongst practitioners. Academic research tends to be focused on learn-ed conferences, very wordy and expensive journals, so my approach of sticking the outcomes under the nose of anyone interested and asking for their participation seemed a sensible approach.

In the New Year I intend to have another survey along with starting a series of interviews with particularly appropriate individuals. Any volunteers or suggestions?

Season’s greetings and a prosperous new year to everyone!

Measuring what matters!

September 23, 2008

Having wondered in the last blog if I was a lone voice crying in a wilderness, it now appears even less so! Not hot news but current and relevant is the fact that the Government of Victoria, Australia has taken out a two year licence on the Canadian Common Measurements Tool (CMT)! The CMT is a set of survey questions and scales that allow individual agencies to survey their own customers’ satisfaction and identify service delivery improvements for service users. This follows on the Government of South Australia  doing the same thing but Victoria is frequently seen as a leader in matters e-government. 

My personal view is that whilst the CMT might be a great instrument for large governments its a little too big for those without the resoiuces to act upon the feedback.

A further reinforcement was reading relatively recent papers such as  Understanding Customer Experience by Christopher Meyer and Andre Schwager (Harvard Business Review, February 2007), which demonstrates a move from thinking about customer relationship management to customer experience management. Schwager is a founder of Satmetrix Systems that actually produces software to collect customer feedback.

I believe government organizations, despite being in a different market, need to collect the satisfaction data but instead of comparing with competitors, allow for the gap with  public expectation and monitor changes and feedback across channles. If expectation levels are managed honestly and the gap identified, management can then be attempted for any major variance. This needs to be done across all public facing channels to ensure adequate resourcing.

Primarily there is a need to be realistic with expectations.