government customer serviceA new report by the Partnership for Public Service and Accenture Federal Services, Government for the People: The Road to Customer-Centered Services, finds that federal agencies are not doing enough to create a workforce prepared to deliver a great customer experience. Tackling this challenge is particularly important because nearly all agency employees affect the customer experience, whether they write policy, build websites, or provide direct service.

Jon Wolper, a writer and editor for The Public Manager, interviewed Eric Keller of PPS about findings from the report. According to Keller, there is a major disconnect between how government leaders view their agencies and how citizens view those agency services. While leaders may give their customer satisfaction a B score, citizens are grading them much lower.

Here’s the good news: government can improve the way it delivers services to the public. They can start, says Keller, by developing a plan and putting in place a leader who will be responsible for coordinating that plan. He says that government leaders can take a cue from recent endeavors to improve the customer experience at the Veterans Administration. To battle years of negative feedback, it has hired a chief veteran experience officer to lead improvements to customer service.

With a plan and champion in place, agencies can start to use “data and customer feedback when making decisions about how government services are delivered,” says Keller. The problem is that many agencies don’t have the necessary data to understand their customers. Consequently, “decisions are being made based on assumptions or conventional wisdom about what customers want.”

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Not surprisingly, the report advises agencies to engage and communicate with customers more frequently. Historically, agencies have conducted a “one-way dialogue,” explains Keller, “pushing information to customers but doesn’t get that feedback loop back from citizens.” Clearly, this tactic isn’t working.

Finally, agencies can improve customer service by focusing on their most important asset—employees. This includes not only looking at employees who work directly with citizens, but the people who create policy, develop budgets, build websites, and so on. Keller says that this starts with “ingraining a customer focus during the hiring process.”

Listen to the full podcast interview for more strategies on how to improve customer service at the federal level; you can also check out Keller’s article, “Supported Employees Mean Satisfied Customers.” This article and more appear in the May issue of The Public Manager, available on the TPM website and in the ATD Publications app. If you’re not already a subscriber, subscribe now.