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“.


Channel manoeuvres

May 15, 2011

There are two two very recent publications that focus on service channel management in the UK public sector. One from Deloitte is publicly available – Choosing Fewer Channels, the other from Socitm* is available only to subscribers, but in fact is a 20 page compilation of their two other recent reports, Better Served and Better Connected 2011. Interestingly Deloitte are supporting the Local CIO Council*, which was set up through Socitm, and their report does mention Surrey CC as an exemplar, which is also done in the Socitm one. However, the Deloitte report largely focuses upon those processes in central government, but still manages to project some relevance for the whole of the public sector.

Socitm is now targeting the management of customer channels being brought together, which may be a cultural change too far for some councils. My personal belief is that while this can be desirable, it is not a pre-requisite for successful multi-channel delivery. What is necessary is the comparative measurement and subsequent improvement of all citizen-facing channels. The Deloitte report does no go as far as pushing for this, but by default has to be a requirement of their proposals.

Two proposals in the Deloitte report that come over strongly are from page 10 where it states:

“Put user centric design at the heart of any move online so that the service is built from the customer’s perspective to be intuitive and quick to use”, along with “invest effort in building consensus around transactions that cut across bodies, and particularly those that transect Local and Central Government, where political and social barriers to cooperation have historically been a barrier to transformation”.

Now I wonder if either of those were taken account in the development of the recently launched

*Interest declared, I’m a member of both.

A new start

January 10, 2010

How can legislation create local government shared services? The proposal for legislation to enforce them is presented in a new report from Deloitte entitled “Stop, start, save – Shared service delivery in local government.” The report does admit that there are a lot of questions, it also admits sharing could initially focus around administrative systems like payroll and financial administration. However, overall, I don’t think there’s anything new in its twelve pages that I haven’t fallen over in the last ten years.

But what are the stumbling blocks in IT terms? I can add a few issues that Deloitte haven’t reported, that I don’t think can be resolved by legislation, only by concerted action by local authorities and government.

Even where common IT systems are employed, many software suppliers are obviously unwilling to lose revenue and hence don’t encourage sharing or don’t design their systems to permit easy sharing, unless of course, it is through some sort of additional shared services layer, that brings in greater revenue.

From my own experience of shared services there are a few minor points –

How are they delivered electronically so that citizens can still find them where they expect them to be? This may include branding or local data sharing issues. In other words, is the data split or can it be easily?

What about the politicians? Do they understand the implications and if so are they supportive?

What about the staff who behave like politicians? Do they really understand or just don’t want ‘change’? If they don’t want to change, what are you going to do?

The way forward is surely to align back office processes and align back office IT applications (it’s a lot easier if staff are used to seeing the same screens along with processing in the same way). It’s a big market out there and suppliers won’t like giving up to a competitor, so expect a fight.

Which of several applications to use? Surely go for the best in price and offering, but pull any three council’s out of a hat and they’ll all run a different application and won’t want to change. So there is a need to assess which really is the best application in the longer term (say five or ten years) for the three authorities. Which supplier will work best to get all three on the same quality platform for minimal costs in short and long term? The users need to be involved closely in this decision, they’re the ones that use it! This may even involve citizens, if there’s a web interface. But make sure that this is really researched. Imagine what happens if one authority uses Microsoft 200x and the other 200y, even if they run the same back office application, there’s yet another big cost and training budget to account for.

Instead, I suggest – start thinking ahead, stop buying different suppliers and start saving on procurement, support, training; in other words – get ready to start sharing.

This was all summed up my acquaintance Paul Henman in 2004 – E-government and the Electronic Transformation of Modes of Rule: The Case of Partnerships, The Journal on Systemics, Cybernetics and Informatics,  pp 19-24, where he concluded that: 

“the advent of the Internet has precipitated a growth in governing through partnerships. Materially, the Internet has made it technically more feasible to conduct extensive partnerships. But, arguably the Internet’s main contribution towards governing through partnerships is symbolic. It has been in helping to imagine what networked governing might look like, and thus contributed to the formation of rationalities of network governance.”

In other words, the IT only helps you think you can do partnerships, the real effort is on and from people and systems!