Businesses spend exorbitant amounts of monies on customer service. In addition, they spend hours training employees, from the frontline to executive level staff, on the importance of living out their organization’s mission, vision, and values. These organizations know that if they do not hear the voice of the customer, and then deliver quality services or products to the customer, they will not be in business long.
Many local governments spend almost no money on customer service. Many do not train staff on how to live out vision, mission, or values. As a result, people often walk through our doors never being spoken to. Surely, we have nice websites and great posters and pamphlets, but can you imagine walking into an Apple store and having no one speak to you and no products to interact with?
You might argue “customer service” and “government” do not belong in the same sentence. How can they since governments do not have customers? I agree governments do not have “customers” in the classic sense. That doesn’t mean we should reject basic customer service principles that can help us effectively serve visitors, businesses, and residents within our communities.
Some questions to consider:
- Have you ever trained your staff on how to properly use a telephone? Do they know how to meet the needs of callers? Do they understand basic phone etiquette? Do they take messages properly, transfer calls successfully, and respond promptly?
- Does your staff know how to properly format business documents and email? Have you provided training on the difference between a memorandum and a business letter? Do they know how to properly file sensitive information and set up retention schedules on employee and/or citizen-related documents?
- Do you offer a friendly greeting as people arrive at your workstation? Are those who walk through your doors for the first time left to find their own way? Do you have an e-newsletter, Facebook, or Twitter feed that provides details about upcoming events, festivals, volunteer opportunities, etc.? Do you take the initiative on “next steps” or do you leave initiative in the hands of others?
Excellent customer service demands that organizations understand the needs of their customers and identify how products and services meet those needs. Growing organizations carefully and consistently scrutinize both as a means of remaining engaged and relevant.
Our “customers” are our citizens, vendors, business owners, etc. Internally, our “customers” are those we work with.
Our “product” is easy to identify. We are public servants. Put another way, we exist to serve the public. Although a handful of our citizens will never be satisfied with any decision we make or service we offer, the vast majority want better communities. By offering excellent customer service, our desires are mutually aligned.
One of the most important aspects of practicing excellent customer service is making the conscious choice to do so. We don’t just talk about making people feel welcome — we actually welcome them. We take time to problem solve with them. We pause when we offer “government speak” and explain what may sound like a foreign language to the uninitiated.
I don’t expect to see the phrase “we’re about great customer service” popping up on local government websites as a result of this article. But I do hope leaderships will embrace the concept in practical and cultural terms and equip staff to confidently and enthusiastically meet the needs of those within their circles of influence.