March 12, 2015 | Dave Lewan

7 Steps to Successful Government Customer Service


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In the private sector, customer experience roles are often clearly defined. Every day, we at ForeSee work with people whose job titles are clearly reflective of their role and responsibility: Manager of Customer Success, Director of Customer Experience, Customer Insights Manager—the list goes on. But in the public sector, the role of a customer experience professional isn’t always as explicit, though it is equally important.

It takes a village to deliver great customer experience

In the public sector, anyone who is part of a team or program charged with delivering a great web experience, a positive interaction with citizens or potential donors calling your contact center or the developer who writes lines of code with the objective of allowing customers to access relevant, up-to-date information can be recognized as a customer experience professional. And just like their private sector counterparts, your customers today are multichannel (website, mobile, contact center, in-location, social media, email campaign subscriber), multi-device consumers of information.

So how can public sector customer experience professionals keep up with the ever-increasing expectations of today’s customers? Recently, I had the opportunity to share some customer experience best practices with leadership at the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO). The following is an abbreviated version of what was discussed. We also included this list in The ForeSee E-Government Satisfaction Index (Q4 2014), which is available for download here.

Step 1: Identify Who Your Customers Are

This is probably easier said than done. When you take this first step, keep these things in mind:

  • Understand the demographics of those you serve—gender, age, lifestyle, etc.—and then get smarter about it by developing personas. Diagnose your strengths, weaknesses and opportunities by audience segment.
  • Understand how frequently your customers are interacting with your organization. Are they first-time  visitors? Frequent visitors?
  • Understand your customers’ intentions: are they interacting with you to obtain information? Conduct research?
  • Successfully manage their expectations. Are certain segments of visitors coming to the right place when they come to your site or call your contact center?

Step 2: Actively Listen to Your Customers

When we serve, we also say we are listening. But are we taking action to truly meet the needs of our customers?

  • Find out what your customers want and how they want it. Is the information or material better accessed online via desktop, tablet or mobile? Should you delivering some types of information in-person or over the phone?
  • Allow customers to provide feedback at every channel, and follow up on complaints and requests.
  • Provide expanded dialogue opportunities. Give customers a way to share great experiences through other channels, like social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.).
  • Train agents on active-listening  skills.
  • Interact with all of your customers. Many reside in other states or other countries. Address their unique concerns.

Step 3: Follow Your Customer’s Journey

It’s important to understand the different ways people interact with the services you provide. Whether online or offline, every interaction should move them closer to their goal.

  • Address the entire experience from start to finish. Outline different paths people may take to find what they are looking for, both online and offline. Remember, you are serving multichannel, multi-device  consumers of information.
  • Understand how one channel influences another. Does a great mobile experience contribute to the customer getting enhanced, richer content when s/he moves to the desktop? Can we reduce the cost to serve if a customer self-serves via digital rather than calling the contact center?

Step 4: Establish Customer Service Standards

What are you going to do? How long will it take?

  • Clearly define your service standards. Success requires definition!
  • Incorporate performance goals and objectives. What are you trying to achieve?
  • Set standards by customer touch points: turnaround time will be five to seven business days, call wait time will be less than two minutes, etc. Focus on timeliness and accuracy. Only 100 percent is acceptable. “We got most of your order right” usually doesn’t fly.
  • Align all standards to agency objectives. Publish standards to staff, partners and customers. Be transparent and make sure everyone is on the same page.

Step 5: Gain Internal Adoption

It takes a village to deliver a great customer experience. Make sure everyone knows their role.

  • Identify the primary customer experience champion(s). Success will happen when the initiative is owned.
  • Formally educate leaders to gain executive sponsorship and buy-in. Initiatives won’t go far if leaders aren’t on board. Don’t just send out an email. Get the right leaders in the room and outline the plan. Focus on outcomes.
  • Host education sessions for working teams. Be inclusive.
  • Document, document, document!
  • Establish continuous collaboration. Discuss timelines and next steps, and make it happen.

Step 6: Measure

You may have heard this from us before: you cannot manage what you do not measure!

  • Integrate quantitative and qualitative metrics. Just because people download your app or spend 10 minutes on your site doesn’t mean it was a good experience.
  • Measure performance against your established goals and objectives.
  • Measure in each channel, the customer journey from one channel to another, and also the overall perception stakeholders have of your organization.
  • Leverage a standardized system of measurement. If everyone is doing their own thing, how do you know who is delivering high performance?
  • Measure satisfaction and the drivers of satisfaction. The more you can satisfy, the more likely your constituents will do the things you want them to do.
  • Establish baselines and benchmarks. If you are measuring, great. If not, start!

Step 7: Champion Customer Experience Insights into Action

If you are the customer experience leader or part of the team, this is for you.

  • Identify and prioritize key segments and opportunities. Invest resources and dollars in priorities first.
  • Communicate, or better yet co-create, proposed strategy. Gather influencers along the way. It will help you execute on objectives.
  • Assemble your team. Break down the silos. Get stakeholders from all areas of the organization.
  • Create a task force. At the end of the day, small groups get things done. For targeted initiatives, get a small group together and empower them to execute the plan.
  • Develop a “shared vision” of success. How does improving the customer experience drive success for all involved?
  • Communicate results and make it clear on where you compare.
  • Go bigger and long term. Often a customer experience strategy can start small, but develop a plan to integrate throughout the organization and make it a part of the overall “organizational  DNA.”

Customer experience improvement doesn’t happen overnight, but clearly defining how you’re going to achieve it is an important first step. For more on citizen satisfaction with federal web and mobile sites, download The ForeSee E-Government Satisfaction Index (Q4 2014), or learn more about our industry solutions for government.

Categories: Government

About the Author

Dave Lewan is responsible for managing the organization focused on the public sector, including federal and state government departments and agencies, non-profit organizations, associations and higher education institutions. He is charged with defining strategy and leveraging internal resources to initiate new business opportunities while delivering to existing ForeSee public-sector clients. Dave is also responsible for ForeSee’s growing Canadian business including public and private sectors. In 2016, Dave will serve as ForeSee liaison with the Partnership for Public Service for the Center for Presidential Transition, in an effort to educate some 4,000 appointees who will enter into the federal government from the private sector as part of the new administration. Prior to joining ForeSee in 2009, Dave led in key strategic areas at ADP, SalesLogix, Ultimate Software and Ceridian. Dave graduated from the University of Minnesota with a degree in speech communications.

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