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What the U.S. Government Could Learn About Customer Service

How key customer service business practices could help bolster the Federal brand

November 5, 2012 By Paul Logan
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We are down to the final days leading up to the election, and we all can't wait for it to be over. While Americans may differ on the role of government in our society, we can likely agree on one thing: When we interact with our government, we want a positive customer experience.

According to Forrester Research, customer experience is defined as how customers perceive their interactions with an organization. Interactions include in-store visits, Website navigations, email exchanges, buying and using products or services, and discussions with customer service representatives. These exchanges are where customers make judgments about the organization. Companies that deliver positive experiences derive more loyalty from their customers, attract new customers through positive word-of-mouth chatter, and save money, which is critical to any business operating in today's challenging economy.

While government doesn't compete for customers like a typical retailer, it does compete for the hearts and minds of its citizens. Creating positive "customer" interactions with government agencies and representatives could be a great way to promote a perception that it is doing a good job.

Currently politicians' approval ratings are slumping, and for many Americans the idea of interacting with the government conjures up images of lengthy waits, inefficiency and less-than-cheery outcomes. However, we pay taxes to support government services and we should expect a positive and fulfilling experience when we interact with representatives at their brick and mortar office locations, government phone customer service, websites, etc. Consider: When was the last time a government agent asked you to rate the service the agency provided? 

As leaders try to convince Americans to get on board with their policy proposals for the next Congress, improving the customer experience with government could help. Here are a few business-proven ways the US government could begin improving that experience today:

1. Personalization Makes People Feel Connected
From our double mocha, half-caf, non-fat lattes to personalized logos for family stationary to customized news and suggested shopping items online—Americans are nuts about personalization and expect it in everything they do. New technology has made personalized communication possible and affordable when it is delivered through the right methods. Data programs have made it possible to predict what it is that people need before they say it. The government should be better at analyzing critical data to help personalize communications to citizens as a means to improve the experience with government.

2. Continuous Improvement of the Customer Experience is Paramount
Too many organizations set their customer contact strategy and then forget about it, and this is certainly true of government as well. In fact, most government websites appear to have been built 10 years ago. However, the key to achieving and sustaining a strong customer experience is continuous improvement. This begins with aggregating "customer" (citizen) interaction data. Government officials should keep in mind that customer interaction data is the voice of their constituents. It should be considered as valuable as receiving daily focus group results. It can reveal what issues matter the most, how constituents prefer to communicate, and more. Then, government can leverage this data to adopt a proactive, quantitative focus on consistently tweaking the customer experience. 

3. Create a Pleasing Experience and Save Tax Dollars With Self Service
People interact with a contact center because they want to get something done. Research shows that self-service options such as interactive voice response, online, or even SMS solutions can lead to high rates of satisfaction because customers can get what they need more quickly and with less effort. This has been proven across all income brackets, ages and demographics. Best of all, self-service solutions can save the business—or government, in this case—money by preventing additional calls from having to be handled by live agents on the phone or in person.

4. Maintain Continuity
Today people expect the most up-to-date information precisely when and where they choose, or they are not satisfied. Technology has made communicating with people quicker and easier than ever. However, the proliferation of communications channels (Web, phone, mobile, social media, etc.) creates an opportunity for message inconsistency, and government is famous for not connecting the dots. However, this means agencies have the opportunity to wow citizens through highly integrated communications channels. For example, allow citizens to begin an interaction online but finish it later via phone without having to repeat their questions. Also, ensure that information that is mailed out to constituents is also easily available online. Or allow voters to receive interactive responses from an agency or candidate via social media, etc.  

5. Be Proactive
Communicating with citizens proactively about issues that are important to them and to the government is a great way to drive a positive experience and save money by avoiding incoming queries about the same topics. Additionally, this creates more than good will; it generates an overall positive feeling about the government, something our lawmakers could certainly use these days.

Paul Logan is CEO of Contact Solutions, a provider of customer self-service solutions for the prepaid industry. Reach him at paul.logan@contactsolutions.com.


 

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