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Government Executive Editor in Chief Tom Shoop, along with other editors and staff correspondents, look at the federal bureaucracy from the outside in.

Improving Customer Experience, When the Taxpayer Is Your Customer

Hundreds of passengers wait in the TSA security line at Nashville International Airport April 18. Hundreds of passengers wait in the TSA security line at Nashville International Airport April 18. James R. Martin/Shutterstock.com

The customer may not always be right, but successful businesses know that it’s best to treat them as if they are (and when they’re wrong, to let them down ever so gently). Friendly, efficient, competent service fosters loyalty, and in the private sector, that engenders growth and profitability. For government agencies though, where customers are taxpayers, the experience is often a lot more complicated—and more fraught.

As former OMB executive Shelley Metzenbaum noted in a recent column: “Any form of waiting [for service] is irritating, but we seem to reserve a special level of ire when waiting for government.”

In recent years, agencies have rightly put a much greater focus on improving the experience of their customers. The Obama administration has made improving customer service a priority goal across all agencies:  

The American people deserve a Government that is responsive to their needs. Citizens and businesses expect government services to be well-designed, efficient, and generally comparable to the services they receive from leading private sector organizations. Whether they call the IRS for an answer to a tax question or visit a Social Security Administration office to adjust their benefits, they should experience high-quality interactions with the Federal Government. 

While there are many reasons agencies struggle to offer stellar customer service—some of which are beyond the control of agency staff—there’s no doubt agencies can do better. Many have made great strides in recent years, but progress hasn’t been universal. We’ve discussed the progress and shortcomings of agency efforts in the pages of Government Executive and at numerous events. We’ve explored how to measure success, the importance of strong data, and some of the technological and human challenges agencies face.

We’re now planning our next customer experience event on Sept. 20 in Washington. If you’re reading this, then you’re probably one of our customers, and we’d like to know what you want to know. Whether you’re just starting out and looking for advice on where to begin, or whether you’ve been honing the services your agency delivers for years, please write to us at events@govexec.com and tell us what you’d like us to deliver on Sept. 20.

Image via James R. Martin/Shutterstock.com

Katherine is deputy editor of Government Executive Media Group, a division of Atlantic Media, where she oversees editorial coverage for GovExec.com and Government Executive magazine. She previously was executive editor of Nextgov.

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