Improving customer service at such public-facing agencies as the Social Security Administration has been a cross-agency priority goal.

Improving customer service at such public-facing agencies as the Social Security Administration has been a cross-agency priority goal. Mark Van Scyoc / Shutterstock.com

Agencies Advised to Be More 'Customer-Centric'

Government trails industry in delivering services that please.

Though “pockets of excellence” exist in government, most agencies are falling short on providing services that satisfy taxpayers, said a Tuesday report based on interviews.

“Federal agencies score far behind almost all industries and sectors, including state and local governments, in several customer satisfaction measures,” said the report by the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service and Arlington, Va.-based Accenture Federal Services.

Improving customer service at such key public-facing agencies as the Social Security Administration and the Education Department has been a cross-agency priority goal set by the Obama administration. The White House in 2011 issued an executive order requiring that agencies create customer service plans and identify a signature initiative to stimulate improvements.

“For an agency such as the Department of Health and Human Services,” the report said, “creating a good customer experience supports mission-critical goals such as increasing the number of Americans with health insurance. In addition to directly supporting an agency’s mission, a good customer experience can contribute to savings that can be allocated elsewhere in the agency.”

More broadly, the report adds, “Good customer service is also linked to increased trust and confidence in government. Research shows that low levels of customer satisfaction with specific services reduce citizen trust and confidence in the federal government, which is now at an all-time low.”

Interviews with agency leaders, however, show that while many agencies are striving to be customer-centric, most acknowledge room for improvement. Some are not “fully recognizing and addressing major customer experience challenges and, based on citizen satisfaction scores, the public seems to agree,” said the report. The agencies tend to give themselves a “B” for creating a high-quality customer experience, yet surveys show the public is less optimistic.

Being customer-centric requires “better coordination among agencies and within subcomponents—customer needs often cross organizational boundaries,” the report said. “Government can take an enterprise approach to improving customer service by collecting and sharing standardized data on the customer experience across agencies. It can also establish formal collaborations to pool knowledge and resources and accomplish shared goals,” the researchers found.

Surveys such as Forrester’s Federal Customer Experience Index generally put the National Park Service and the Postal Service at the top of rankings.

The quest for satisfied agency customers requires focus in four areas, the report said: data, governance, communication and engagement, and workforce management.

The partnership and Accenture recommended that agencies scrub customer experience data to be sure it is up to date and complete, that they appoint a chief customer officer, and that they improve inter- and intra-agency communication to make sure that services are in touch with customer needs. As Tom Allin, the Veterans Affairs Department’s chief veterans experience officer put it, “Our processes have been designed internally without awareness of how they might impact the customer.”

Other recommendations included adding “engaging customers” in all employee job descriptions and linking customer service improvements to funding decisions.

(Image via  / Shutterstock.com)

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