Make good customer service the goal of your government organization

Ramon Padilla discusses the role of good customer service in government organizations, and the benefits that can accrue from having a good service reputation.

Yesterday I spent nearly two hours resolving an issue in which one of my ISPs "turned off" my account because it had failed to update its records. The low point of the conversation was when one of the help desk/customer service reps decided I needed a new security phrase. He asked for my father's middle name. I replied he didn't have one. He then stated that we would use my father's first name. Being that I am a Jr. and he had just finished verifying my full name and address not more than two minutes before, I told him that he would have to figure that one out on his own, and I ended the conversation. I called back and finally spoke to someone in the United States who resolved my issue in less than five minutes.

Needless to say, I was infuriated by the whole affair. I am sure you have had similar experiences. In fact, how many of you can say that you actually look forward to dealing with a company's help desk/customer service/support?

It's easy to identify the cost-cutting measures responsible for this degraded service. Moving support staff to off-shore facilities, staff reduction, and cutting hours of availability leads to poor communications, longer waits on the phone, and frustrated customers.

Unfortunately this has become the norm in private industry, but what about government? I am talking with more and more people in government IT shops who are considering these same cost-cutting measures regarding their customer service. I see this as a negative trend. But you don't have to outsource to have lousy customer service. I know a number of government employees that refer to their help desks as the "helpless desk" and would rather have a root canal than have to call for assistance.

I hear how business and government leaders have lost faith in IT, and that we must start to change negative perceptions regarding IT performance. One way to repair that perception is to recognize that customer service (i.e., the help desk) is usually the face of IT for any organization. If you consistently present a negative or surly attitude to your customers and partners, you end up with low expectations and a bad reputation.

The customer service downward spiral

So why do we allow poor customer service to happen? Partly because we are always having to do more with less. With economic pressures being what they are, something has to give, and that something is often support. Secondly, I think it is partially related to the fact that we have a captive market. The public has to consume government services whether they like it or not, and government agencies don't have a choice in who provides them their IT resources. So why should anyone bend over backwards to make them happy? Thirdly, I think many IT departments have an inflated view of themselves. They have forgotten that the role of IT is to be an enabler. The organization benefits from them to the extent that IT makes the rest of the organization better, faster, and smarter. IT is there to serve and to be a partner. If IT is not performing those basic functions, there is a problem.

Achieving excellence in customer service

Despite these reasons above, good IT departments know that excellence in their government IT organizations starts with the customer service area of their operations. This is not the place to skimp or to put their "problem" employees. Good IT departments also know that good customer service is more than lip service, and it requires a culture change. Negative attitudes towards customers should be frowned upon. References to 1D10T errors by frustrated support engineers or displaying a condescending attitude toward users should not be tolerated. Good IT departments also know that excellent customer service is infectious and employees other than those at the help desk will participate in the process when user feedback is positive. Lastly, good IT departments know that excellent customer service affects the bottom line. If the organization is happy with you, funding for your staff resources and special projects tends to follow.

Check out these resources on improving customer service and help desk support:

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