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Research Report


CONTENTS ABOUT GOVLOOP . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4 FORWARD . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5 EXECUTIVE SUMMARY . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .6 SUMMARY OF ONLINE SURVEY FINDINGS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .8 CORE FINDING: GOVERNMENT IS CHALLENGED TO IDENTIFY CUSTOMERS . . . . . . . .11 Tactic: Develop Strategies to Identify Your Customer. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12 Tactic: Use Multiple Channels to Reach Customers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13 CORE FINDING: CHALLENGES EXIST IN USING CUSTOMER SERVICE DATA . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .14 Tactic: Consolidate Data Silos . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .15 Tactic: Identify Metrics that are Performance Drivers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .15 Tactic: Develop Customer Service Standards and Metrics for Agency . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15 CORE FINDING: CULTURAL HURDLES REMAIN FOR IMPROVING CUSTOMER SERVICE . . . . . . 16 Tactic: Find a Champion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17 Tactic: Work on Identifying Business Case . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17 Tactic: Learn to Navigate Organizational Culture . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17 Tactic: Be Transparent and Open to Critical Feedback . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17 CORE FINDING: TECHNOLOGY ENABLES IMPROVED CUSTOMER SERVICE DELIVERY . . . .18 Tactic: Implement, Train, and Staff . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19 Tactic: Use Collaborative Technology to Share Information . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19 Tactic: Use Technology to Improve Data Management . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .19 CORE FINDING: IDENTIFY AND REPLICATE BEST PRACTICES . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .20 Best Practice: Design With the Customer In Mind . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20 Best Practice: View Customer Service in Context of the Mission . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21 Best Practice: Share Resources Across the Agency . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .21 Best Practice: Tie Customer Service to Open Government . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .22 Best Practice: Consider Lessons Learned from the Private Sector . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 22 IN FOCUS: NEW YORK CITY . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .24 GOVLOOP RESOURCES . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 28 ABOUT ORACLE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .29 ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 30 ABOUT THE AUTHOR . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 30





ABOUT GOVLOOP Our mission is to “connect government to improve government.� We aim to inspire public sector professionals by serving as the knowledge network for government. GovLoop connects more than 55,000 members, fostering cross-government collaboration, solving common problems and advancing government careers. The GovLoop community has been widely recognized across multiple sectors as a core resource for information sharing among public sector professionals. GovLoop members come from across the public sector; including federal, state, and local public servants, industry experts, as well as non-profit, association and academic partners. In brief, GovLoop is the leading online source for addressing public sector issues. In addition to being an online community, GovLoop works with government experts and top industry partners to produce valuable resources and tools, such as guides, infographics, online training, educational events, and a daily podcast with Chris Dorobek, all to help public sector professionals do their jobs better. GovLoop also promotes public service success stories in popular news sources like the Washington Post, Huffington Post, Government Technology, and other industry publications. Thank you to our sponsor, Oracle, for sponsoring the Re-Imagining Government Customer Service Report. GovLoop is headquartered in Washington D.C., where a team of dedicated professionals share a common commitment to connect and improve government.

GovLoop 734 15th St NW, Suite 500 Washington, DC 20005 Phone: (202) 407-7421 Fax: (202) 407-7501



FOREWARD We have all had one: a great customer experience. It is that feeling of being satisfied, with a sense that a company or agency respects you, is listening to you, and is going to meet your expectations, from your first contact through the entire experience. Great customer experiences are full of surprising “wow” moments.


Vice President Public Sector CRM Solutions Oracle

The customer experience is the sum of all interactions for goods and services over the duration of a customer’s relationship with the government or suppliers. Our private sector experiences have dictated our expectations of what level of service we want and expect to receive in our interactions with government. The question now becomes, how do government organizations create “wow” moments that maximize the customer experience? This is particularly true when competition is minimized and culture is difficult to influence. It is possible to deliver optimal customer satisfaction to the citizenry every day, and many organizations are already receiving rave reviews for their efforts. However, customer service requires a commitment to delighting customers and making it a priority within the agency. Public sector entities need to commit to consistently providing customers with the information and services they need, when they need it. Re-imagining Government Customer Service is a practical guide revealing real world successes for improved customer service in the public sector. The report suggests solutions that disclose the opportunity for government organizations to become more transparent, improve responsiveness, and enhance interactions to maximize the customer experience. Organizations delivering superior customer experience are tapping into a core aspect of their mission- to service and fulfill the needs of the public and nation. Your opportunity to do the same begins right now.




Nearly one year ago, President Barack Obama issued Executive Order 13571 “Streamlining Service Delivery and Improving Customer Service.” The Executive Order states, “With advances in technology and service delivery systems in other sectors, the public’s expectations of the Government have continued to rise. The Government must keep pace with and even exceed those expectations. Government must also address the need to improve its services, not only to individuals, but also to private and Governmental entities to which the agency directly provides significant services.” With this order, President Obama created a far-reaching directive that made customer service a priority for the federal government. With improvements to customer service in the private sector, citizens have heightened expectations as to how services should be delivered by government.

customer service is delivered. Our research report also includes insights for state and local organizations, including a case study from New York City. The case study highlights procedures and steps the city has made to improve customer service, which can be adopted by governments at any level. This research briefing includes data from an online survey of 138 participants, interviews with eleven government employees, and a roundtable discussion, held on May 15, 2012 in Washington, DC. In collaboration with Oracle, we created this report to provide insights and recommendations to government employees and organizations focused on optimizing customer service for employees, citizens and other stakeholders. Throughout this report we identify common challenges and provide best practices to help you and your organization better serve your customers.

Executive Order 13571 identifies some of the challenges for federal government customer service. Our research report explores some of these challenges and reveals that customer service in government is multifaceted and serves a diverse set of customers that may be program specific, cross over channels and encompass both external and internal customers.

The research reveals five core findings that are featured in the report’s five sections. Each topic provides tactics and best practices to help agencies identify and address customer service objectives.

Core Finding 1: Government is Challenged to Identify Customers

This is not solely a federal issue, at all levels of government, organizations are challenged to improve how

One of our findings was the difficulty agencies often face in defining their customers. Many interviews re6


vealed that it is difficult to define customers at the agency level, but instead it is best to consider customers by individual programs.

proving customer service. This section explored some of the cultural challenges found in our research study.

Core Finding 2: Challenges Exist in Using Customer Service Data

Core Finding 4: Technology Enables Improved Customer A second area explored was how Service Delivery agencies can use customer service data to improve customer service. Our findings show that many agencies struggle with data collection and have a limited understanding how to analyze and manage data to optimize customer service.

Core Finding 3: Organizational Hurdles Remain for Improved Customer Service

prove customer service. This section provides additional lessons learned and insights beyond the core areas addressed in the report. There are five lessons learned identified in this section:

Technology was found to be one solution to help enable improved customer service. Although technology was mentioned as critical to improved customer service, concerns remained related to training and implementation of technology within an agency.

Design With the Customer In Mind View Customer Service in Context of the Mission Share Resources Across the Agency Tie Customer Service to Open Government Consider Lessons Learned from the Private Sector

Core Finding 5: Identify and Replicate Best Practices

The findings in this report could not have been accomplished withOrganizational and cultural issues The final section identifies best out the support of our interviewees, were mentioned as a barrier to im- practices to help government im- survey participants, roundtable attendees and the sponsor for this reRESEARCH REPORT INTERVIEWEES port, Oracle. GovLoop would like to thank all those who participated ARIANNE GALLAGHER in the online survey, and extend a Presidential Management Fellow, Policy Analyst, Office of Personnel Management special thank you to all of our interBENJAMIN JONES viewees for their insights for report Deputy Director of the Mayor’s Office of Operation, New York City and the panelists who participated BRACK BOEHLER in the roundtable discussion. Director, IT Compliance, Department of Transportation BRUCE PEACOCK

Chief, Environmental Quality Division, Nat’l Parks Service, Department of the Interior



Former Web Manager, Housing and Urban Development


Phase One Consulting Group, currently on contract supporting Office of the CIO, U.S. Department of Transportation



Executive Director, BusinessUSA

Customer Engagement Advisor, Department of Education



Assistant Secretary for Administration, Department of Health and Human Services

Director, USPS Office of Inspector General’s Risk Analysis Research Center (RARC)



Director of the Mayor’s Office of Operation, New York City

Deputy Director of Open Government, Department of Commerce



Customer Service Advisor, Mayor’s Office of Operations, New York City

Vice President, Public Sector CRM Solutions, Oracle


Director, Planning & Policy Analysis, Office of Personnel Management




This section provides an overview from our online survey and key findings. Throughout the report we have further identified results from our survey. The survey was conducted between April 9 and May 14, 2012, and had a total of 138 participants. The survey participants were recruited from the GovLoop community. The service used for the survey was Sur-


(scale from 1 - 5 5 = extremely satisfied 1 = not satisfied)



% : 11 VE FI

How Would You Rate Your Agency’s Customer Service?



: 15% THR



R: 3

FOU 4%



Using a scale of 1-5, with 5 as “Extremely Satisfied” and 1 as “Not Satisfied,” survey participants were asked to rank how well their agency provides cus-

% E: 5 ON

What Level of Government do you work for?

veyGizmo. The survey included government employees from federal (46%), local (30%), and state (24%) levels of government.



tomer service. The majority of respondents selected a 3 or 4 at 34%, followed by 2 (15%), 5 (11%) and 1 (1%).

efficiently do what we are called to tions that apply. The top response do for the citizens of state/country.” was improved services (70%), folAnother respondent stated, “Ex- lowed by friendliness to customers cellent customer service is what all (51%), shortest time to provide citizens deserve. They are paying us information (48%), shortest time The survey also explored what the to help provide services that don’t to resolve complaint (44%) and greatest benefit to providing cus- make sense for individuals to do or decreasing customer complaints tomer service is for government. that need to be done collectively.” (39%). Participants were also ofThe survey respondents identified Finally, a third participant stated, fered an “Other” option. Survey rethat the greatest benefit to provid- “Education of the public in their spondents stated, “Creating a steling customer service is improving right to know.” lar experience from start to finish,” government trust (50%) followed “Delivering an engaging service by improving government account- When asked, “How do you define that delivers to agreed timeframes ability (26%), improving trans- good customer service?,” survey re- and specifications,” “Ongoing comparency (7%) and the remaining spondents were presented with six munication to follow up on com17% of responders identified other options and asked to check all op- plaints and to share information,” benefits. In the “Other” category, survey respondents mentioned efHow Do You Define Good Customer Service? (Check all ficiency and one survey respondent that apply) stated that the greatest benefit to providing customer services is, “to

What Do You Believe is the Greatest Benefit of Excellent Customer Service in Government?



















25% 9



and “Understanding Customers.”

to review the case in question.” A final comment shared was, “If more information is needed, the Department will contact the customer via telephone/e-mail/regular mail to request the additional information to assist with the complaint. If the customer is not satisfied with the resolution, then we try to address their concerns to achieve a positive resolution.”

sector agency or department. The survey found staffing to be the key barrier (39%), a lack of organizational support (32%), technology (19%) and budgetary restrictions (17%). There were 32.3% of responders that listed “Other” and specified a variety of barriers to improved customer service. Some additional input included road blocks such as “Data, insufficient data across channels to formulate proper The survey also explored the com- business cases,” and “Knowledge of mon roadblocks to implementing Customer Service.” customer service within a public

Another question that revealed interesting findings was asking if survey participants had a defined process to re-engage with a customer if a complaint is not resolved or if more information is needed. The survey found that 56% had a defined process and 44% did not have a process to re-engage. Participants responded by stating, “We stick with it until it’s resolved. If the resident is not happy with the resolution, we have an independent ombudsman’s office that can investigate.” Another respondent stated, What is the Largest Roadblock You “Sometimes it isn’t that the comHave Seen to Improving Customer Serplaint is not resolved, it is that the customer does not like the resolu- vice Within Your Agency/Department? tion. We will continue to answer questions regarding the decision and we will offer another channel BUDGETARY (a supervisor or another specialist)


Do You Have a Process to Re-Engage with a Customer if a Complaint is Not Resolved or More information is Needed?

39% 19%




YES 55


NO 45%

32% 32% 10




Government is Challenged To Identify Customers Tactics: Develop Strategies to Identify Your Customer Use Multiple Channels to Reach Customers

Through the government employee interviews, we found that identifying and defining agency customers is a core challenge for organizations. Customer service was ultimately defined between external and internal stakeholders. The kind of customer the agency serves will truly impact the kind of service provided. Jon Foley from the Office of Personnel and Management (OPM) stated, “Our customers are varied. And it really depends on what people are interested in. At one level our customers are the American public, and that comes out in various ways, but probably most directly to job applications and people looking for work in the federal government. And so USA Jobs is one of our most prominent ways of reaching the American public.”

grated customer service approach across the agency. Many of our interviewees mentioned that customer service functions in a decentralized structure within their agency. Additionally, some functions of the agency work to help internal customers and others function to serve external customers. Again, Foley stated, “Our customer is also federal employees or federal agencies, or retirees, and their families when we talk about health services, annuity services, those kinds of things that have a direct impact on federal employees and their families. And so we tend to relate to them a lot. We also work a lot in tandem with agencies, because, we have a somewhat decentralized way of handling HR matters in the federal government, and so while we are the policy-setting agency, a lot of the operations and delivery is done by each of the federal agencies. So, there’s a lot of interaction with them as well.”

With OPM focusing on such a wide variety of customers, the challenge becomes how to have an inte11


Clearly, for agencies to improve how customer service is delivered, they will have to start by defining which set of customers they are serving. Ned Holland, Assistant Secretary for Administration, Department of Health and Human Services, also offered a great example of how he views his internal customers, and how they will ultimately serve external customers. Holland states, “For the most part, my office doesn’t deal with our external customers. My role is to provide support for the department’s internal customers, who provide support for our external customers. So I’m essentially the Chief Administrative Officer of the department. My staff supports the folks who provide services to our beneficiaries. I have made a major effort in the area of customer service internally.” The concept of a decentralized system and serving both external and internal customers also occurs at the Department of Transportation. Brack Boehler, Director, IT Compliance, Department of Transportation, explains, “We don’t have a centralized customer service organization here at the Department. So, that’s a huge problem that we have. Because it really comes down to each one of the operating administrations, each has to take a step back and look at their initiatives.”

customers. Brack states, “Some departments, for instance NHTSA (National Highway Traffic and Security Administration) deals with consumers. Others like FMCSA (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration) deals with small businesses. For example, they’re engaging and interacting with truckers and motor coach (bus) companies. Many of our other Administrations deal primarily with state and local governments, granting huge blocks of money out to build bridges or airport runways or different things like that. So they each have to look at their own stuff, they each have to figure out what their customer base is, and they all have to deal with them differently.” Clearly, in order to provide great customer service, agencies need to focus on defining the program’s specific customer, identifying strategies to improve, and then effectively sharing information across the agency.

A distinction that became clear during the interviews is the difference between a regulating agency and a service-oriented agency, and specifically the way they view their customers. Similar to the differences between internal and external customers, regulatory and service agencies will define customer service in different ways. “Agencies that are providing benefits tend to put more clear emphasis on customer service, so IRS, Social Security, those kind of Brack shared similar comments as agencies tend to use their data more other government officials inter- efficiently. But regulating agencies viewed, that within the Depart- have customers too, and need to be ment of Transportation the agency careful when thinking about how serves both internal and external to serve customers as a regulating 12

entity,” stated Dan Morgan, from PhaseOne Consulting Group. Morgan indicated that with direct service agencies, there are clear metrics that can be tracked, and the impact of customer service initiatives can be measured. Morgan also noted that, “It’s hard to calibrate customer service for regulating agencies.”

Tactic: Develop Strategies to Identify Your Customer The key lesson learned is that identifying customers is foundational to improving customer service in government. Agencies need to think critically about whether their customer is internal, external or both, and then craft a policy that identifies how to best serve their customers’ needs. Morgan identified, “No one is really the customer of the government; they are a customer of a program.” He then presented a challenge for federal agencies, “One of the things that we don’t know is whether or not people are customers of multiple programs.” As previously identified, agencies debated what constitutes a federal government customer, and how to best serve their needs. As we have found that customers tend to be from the program, and not the federal government, a clear idea of whom the program is serving is essential to improving customer service. Foley also ascertained that identifying your customer is one of the most basic starting points for improving customer service. Foley states, “The first and most basic thing is


What kind of CHannels Can Customers Use in Your Customer Service Initiatives? (Check All that Apply)













trying to understand who your customer is; it sort of flows from there. Who they are, and then how you can support them, and what are the different ways that you can support them. So, it’s really doing your homework in advance to try to understand who you’re serving and, how you can best serve them, before you spend a lot of money developing the process.” There is a clear distinction within government between external and internal customers. When developing a new service or process, for internal or external customers, the agency needs to be cognizant of developing a strategy that integrates all stakeholders. If this does not happen, the agency risks building itself into a silo, and creating an environment absent of collaboration.

Tactic: Use Multiple Channels to Reach Customers Since government serves a diverse set of customers, one recommendation is for agencies to offer information and services across multiple communication channels. Survey participants and interviewees are using numerous channels to engage with customers. Foley stated, “I think one of the things is that there are various ways of responding to customers, and listening to customers. And one of the things is to just keep current with the information systems in place. Facebook and Twitter were not something we engaged in a year ago. That was a shift in thinking here.”

IDENTIFY On May 15, GovLoop hosted an event specifically addressing how agencies can Re-Imagine Government Customer Service; this was part of the “GovLoop Conversations” series. GovLoop conversations events have a unique format that encourages participation from attendees. This event was sponsored by Oracle. Our experts sit at tables among attendees and serve as facilitators to a larger discussion. The speakers for the event were: JOEY HUTCHERSON, Deputy Director of Open Government, Office of the Secretary, Department of Commerce ABRAHAM MARTINEZ, Customer Engagement Advisor, Department of Education BRUCE MARSH, Director, Office of Inspector General Risk Analysis Research Center, USPS SCOTT FRENDT , Vice President, Public Sector CRM Solutions, Oracle CHRIS DOROBEK, Moderator There were 10 key findings from the event, and throughout the guide we will identify all ten. The first finding was Identify Your Customer. There was an interesting conversation that identified the difference between internal and external agency customers. Participants commented in order to provide improved customer service; agency leaders need to distinguish between their internal and external customers.




Challenges Exist IN Using Customer Service Data Tactics: Consolidate Data Silos Identify Metrics that are Performance Drivers Develop Customer Service Standards and Metrics for Agency

Many of the interviewees noted that they conducted surveys as a tool to measure their customer service initiatives. Dan Morgan believes, “There is a minimum amount of data that agencies need to collect to optimize customer service.” Along with collecting this data, Dan believes it is critically important to share the information across the agency.

experience, from the facilities, through the ranger led programs.” Although agencies collect data, agencies are challenged with using data to make informed decisions. The research finds that the use of data for improved customer service is complicated and compounded by a variety of factors. As many agencies are serving multiple customers, finding the right data to improve decisions is a challenge. Morgan also identified that for an agency focused on regulation, it is very difficult to measure impact. Further, with limited standards for customer service metrics, there is confusion to understanding the data and what value it represents. Without a clear set of standards for customer service, an agency will continue to struggle with how data is being used within the agency.

Bruce Peacock provided some insights as to how customer surveys are used within the National Park System, “One of the things that we’re keen on here in the National Park Service, is actually finding out what our visitors think of our parks and so we have a customer satisfaction survey that we conduct in most of the parks. Some of the parks are not very amenable to surveying. Every year, we survey roughly 330 parks, and we ask about all different aspects of their 14


Although there are challenges with managing and analyzing customer data to make informed decisions, the research did produce some best practices and recommendations to help organizations use customer service data to gain insights to im-

prove customer service initiatives.

Tactic: Consolidate Data Silos

for results. Agencies should work to centralize their customer service data and work towards standardizing their metrics agency wide to measure customer service.

Managing data is challenging enough, but when data rests in silos and across the agency, data becomes nearly impossible to mine Tactic: Identify Metrics That are

Performance Drivers Are You Using Data Collected to Make Informed Decisions to Improve Customer Service Efforts?


29% 6% 7%


Tactic: Develop Customer Service Standards and Metrics for Agency





Another core challenge for data is identifying the right metrics for the performance measures the agency has defined. Agencies need to improve what their core performance drivers are for customer service, and appropriately identify metrics.

A final data challenge is to develop common customer service standards and metrics for an agency. There remains confusion on how to leverage metrics to adequately evaluate customer service initiatives. With stronger customer service standards, agencies can work to improve their own metrics.


DATA A finding from the GovLoop Conservation, Re-Imagining Government Customer Service was to understand Customer Service Data and how data can help improve customer service. Data and analytics were touched on this morning, and the need for data to be used to help improve how agencies are making decisions based on customer service.




Cultural Hurdles Remain For ImprovING Customer Service Tactics: Find a champion Work on Identifying Business Case Learn to Navigate Organizational Culture Be transparent and Open to Critical Feedback

Many of our interviewees mentioned that there are still significant cultural barriers to improving customer service within government. Brack Boehler stated, “As much as anything, it’s a cultural issue. People don’t perceive the Department of Transportation as being customer focused. They perceive us as an Agency that provides blocks of money for people to do things.”

Government and Government 2.0 movements have also impacted customer service in government. Similar to the Executive Order 13571, President Obama’s memorandum to mandate government to become more transparent, collaborative and participatory has had a long reaching impact for federal agencies. Although there has been a movement to make government more transparent, participatory and collaborative, cultural barriers to impact customer service still exist, Survey participants indicated, “Management believes this is the way we have always done it.” “We’ve always done it this way.” Ned Holland asserted that he has encountered cultural barriers, stating, “People tell me all the time, Mr. Holland, you don’t understand; this is the government. And I say, no, you don’t understand. This is just another big complex human organization and they all have the same

Candi Harrison mentioned that one challenge to removing cultural barriers is that government functions within silos, “Throughout the federal government, we operate in silos. And sometimes even within agencies. We need to break down those silos and start looking at government from the customer’s point of view.” With Executive Order 13571 from President Obama, agencies have been forced to make changes on how they traditionally view customer service. The Open 16


kinds of problems.”

To receive management support of customer service initiatives, leaders Across all sectors, changing cul- need to see the new business value ture is challenging. It is not easy to created by improved customer serchange the mind set or norms of an vice, and how the old model is antiorganization. The study found four quated and needs to be replaced or key findings as ways public sector modified. organizations can work towards removing cultural roadblocks. Tactic: Learn to Navigate Organi-

Tactic: Find a Champion Interviews and roundtable participants stressed the need to identify customer service “champions” within the agency to push improved customer service initiatives. These people are critical to helping organizations improve customer service, and can serve as a way to build up support for new initiatives and help work through cultural barriers.

Tactic: Work on Identifying Business Case

data collection, how information is used, and putting the customer first. Further, administrators of customer service initiatives should be open to feedback. Being open to feedback is critical for improved customer service, and using the feedback constructively to improve services provided to customers.

zational Culture Many of the interviewees who had success improving customer service initiatives was due to their ability to carefully trend along political lines and balance contradicting interests. Being too assertive in views and not paying attention to the cultural environment can be damaging to working towards improved customer service initiatives.

Tactic: Be Transparent and Open to Critical Feedback

Transparency is an essential tactic Identifying the business case is criti- for improving customer service. cal to improved customer service. This means openness in regards to

CULTURE OF CUSTOMER SERVICE A crucial finding from the GovLoop Conservation, Re-Imagining Government Customer Service was to Develop a Culture of Customer Service. Culture was touched on a few times throughout the discussion. One of the themes was agencies need to “develop a culture of customer service.” This was a fascinating discussion, but agencies need to have support from all levels within the agency to improve how customer service is delivered in government.




Technology Enables Improved Customer Service Delivery Tactics: Implement, Train, and Staff Use Collaborative Technology to Share Information Use Technology to Improve Data Management

Technology is a critical component to improving how agencies can deliver improved customer service. Although technology is imperative to improved and optimized customer service processes, technology does have a set of unique challenges to implement efficiently within an agency. Dennis Alvord, Executive Director, BusinessUSA, stated, “Frankly, technology has been critically important to helping us to achieve better outcomes, including increasing awareness, and certainly increasing accessibility of resources.” In addition, Holland mentioned, “We couldn’t do what we do without technology.”

thing that technology is really going to help us with is providing that direct link to the customer, having that opportunity for customers to have better access to us, and to communicate to us about our programs and about the different ways that we serve them.” Arianne reiterated that the improved use of technology helps facilitate a better relationship between government and citizens. In order to fully leverage the potential of technology for improved customer service, it is important to remember that technology is only a tool to enable improved customer experiences. Alvord described this lesson learned, “It’s definitely not all about technology. Technology is really the tool that can help us to achieve greater outcomes. For example, connecting to the best program resource is great, but if the busi-

Arianne Gallagher, Presidential Management Fellow, Policy Analyst, Office of Personnel Management noted, “There is a lot of new technology coming out, with a lot of new opportunities. I think the main



ness or individual then gets to that resource and they have a really bad customer service experience because they weren’t prepared to handle the inquiry or they just didn’t have the right customer outlook; then while we won the battle, we got them to the right resource in a streamlined and efficient manner, we lost the war, because we didn’t provide good customer service.” Alvord said that at BusinessUSA the goal is to not only be efficient with the use of new technology, but also to provide a value added service, “We hope that we’re also improving the efficiency and the effectiveness of program delivery, not just getting them in a streamlined manner to the resources that they need, but offering them complementary and value added services.”

to be a very strong human aspect to agency. making sure that we’re delivering an improved customer experience.” Tactic: Use Technology to Im-

Tactic: Implement, Train, and Staff Technology facilitates improved customer service, but there is an enormous amount of planning and preparation that allows technology to work as intended. In order to fully leverage technology, agencies need to implement, train and properly staff to fully leverage new and emerging technology. As we have mentioned, technology will enable agencies to improve customer service delivery, but agencies need to focus on the correct strategy, staff accordingly and train end users how to use the new technology.

prove Data Management The third finding is that data management is critical, and agencies often have large volumes of data that they are unsure how to use and to drive decisions from the data. Technology can help with the data management and drive efficiencies and optimize services through improved use of data.

Tactic: Use Collaborative TechDennis was clear to mention that nology to Share Information technology offers various opportunities, but is only one element to improving customer service in government. “Technology offers us some wonderful opportunities, but it’s not the end all, be all of customer service. There’s always going

Another finding is the need for collaborative technology to efficiently share information. This could mean sharing everything from data, policies and best practices across the agency, all in order to facilitate the sharing of knowledge across the

TRAIN Providing training was another finding from the GovLoop Conservation, Re-Imagining Government Customer Service. Another result was a great discussion on how training has been used to improve customer service within government. Participants provided a few examples how they have required training for employees and they are considering using customers service as part of their performance evaluations.




IdentifY & REPLICATE Best Practices Best Practices: Design with The Customer in Mind View Customer Service in Context of The Mission Share Resources Across THE Agency Tie Customer Service to Open Government Consider Lessons Learned from the Private Sector

This section identifies five best practices to help agencies to improve how they deliver customer service.

Alvord also suggested that communication with customers cannot stop and that communication with key stakeholders is critical to the entire process. “You have to continually engage customers, in an active feedback loop, so you’re designing, testing, gaining their feedback, and adjusting to accommodate customer needs.”

Best Practice: Design With the Customer in Mind One of the keys to improved customer service is to design with the customer in mind. Alvord reminded us that this process should start from the very beginning. Alvord stated, “I think quite often, with the best of intentions, we embark on efforts to fix something without truly understanding what the customer wants, or what the customer needs are. It is very important at the front end to start by understanding who your customers are, and then designing your solution to meet the needs that they’ve expressed.”

Listening to customers throughout the entire customer experience is critical. Candi Harrison stated, “Great communication makes customer service better. It’s sharing, getting to know and understand your customer. I think a lot of it can happen at the grassroots level. It’s about thinking about the customer first, asking questions such as, what have I done to20


LISTEN An imperative finding from the GovLoop Conservation, Re-Imagining Government Customer Service was to Listen to Customers. The discussion included advice to be sure you are listening to customers and incorporating their feedback to improve customer service. This involves having a two-way discussion with the customer.

day? Did I answer the phone a little bit more pleasantly? Did I respond to that email a little more pleasantly? What have I done to help you get better service?”

really make customer service a personal responsibility of every single government worker.”

Best Practice: View Customer Service in Context of the MisCandi also asserted the importance sion of face-to-face communication and talking with the agency’s core customers. Candi mentioned, “You got to get out of your office. You got to get out and find out what those field people are talking about, what your customers are saying. You got to go where they are and listen to them and talk to customers face-toface.”

Designing with the customer in mind is critical as new services are released. Arianne Gallagher mentions how important it is to always remember the human element. Arianne notes the importance of bringing a human element into customer service, “It is important to bring that human aspect back into some of the work that they’re doing. And I think it provides a lot of motivation to know that there is a real person behind a retirement application, or that there’s a real applicant behind a USA Jobs profile.” Candi Harrison expressed similar sentiments, stating, “You need to

Agencies need to understand the business case and value of improved customer service for the agency. Jon Foley stated, “Really understand the business case first, and business process first and using the technology to support those aims, rather than the other way around. That is a lesson we have learned with a lot of the information systems we have.” For customer service to improve within government, there needs to be support from the most senior levels of the agency. This involves tying customer service into the core mission of the agency. It also means that agency leaders need to be

aware of the customers they serve, how multifaceted each department might be, and develop standards for departments throughout the agency to follow. “It really has to come from the highest levels of the department, and needs to be viewed in the context of the mission,” states Dan Morgan.

Best Practice: Share Resources Across the Agency Throughout the interviews we found a decentralized approach to customer service. This was predominately due to different agencies serving different customers within the agency. In order to improve customer service in government, agencies need to find ways to improve how they share resources. To improve customer service, the focus should be on the best practices and trends in customer service. Agencies will have to invest the time to apply these trends and best practices to multiple kinds of customers in a decentralized setting. By sharing information across agencies, although customers may be different, agency leads can learn, apply and modify strategies from colleagues throughout the agency to improve their customer service initiatives.

BUDGET A key finding from the GovLoop Conservation, Re-Imagining Government Customer Service was budget constraints. Budget constraints have been one of the most pressing themes across government - the charge of doing more with less and working to improve customer service. Throughout the event, open government came up and the connection between customer service and open government initiatives became clear.



Dan Morgan stated why there is a need to share information across the agency, “We need to understand cost across each channel, channels need to talk to each other, so government can optimize across channels and know where and how to move people to lower-cost, higherservice channels effectively.” The survey also provided some ways that agencies could improve customer service. 70% believed that increased collaboration is one way to improve customer service, followed by 45% increased staffing, 41% increased customer service channels, 28% increased funding and 32% responded with “Other.” Some of the responses included, “Customer Service standards and staff training. At present neither exist,” “Consolidating/making channels seamless because many/most customers use multiple channels; and the biggest one of all: valuing great customer service as a top agency goal,” and “Better guidelines, more policies that show the importance of customer service.”

Best Practice: Tie Customer Service to Open Government Initiatives In many cases, customer service ini-

tiatives are tied to open government programs. Brack Boehler stated, “For us, we were trying to make our data sets available to the public, so that entrepreneurs can go out and say what could we do with this information.” Dan Morgan further stated, “One of the things that we recognized very early is that we see a very strong connection between open government and customer service.” Morgan also reminded that, like open government, customer service does not involve just one solution, stating, “It’s not just about being open or just about APIs, it is about the whole stack in the context of the mission. Open Government doesn’t work well without some kind of context, or else it is just dumping data onto the Internet.” Dan continues, “You take the open government approach to fulfilling that mission need, put it in the context of the citizen, and figure out the technology and the channel to deliver that service most effectively.” The same goals of government becoming more transparent, participatory and collaborative can be applied in a customer service context. Agencies should look to see how they could leverage existing pro-

grams and initiatives within their agency to improve customer service in government.

Best Practice: Consider Lessons Learned from the Private Sector Ned Holland expressed that there are lessons learned from the private sector, Holland stated, “I don’t think you can run government like a business, because it has very different objectives. But you can run government in a business-like fashion. There is a subtle difference, but it’s an important one.” Holland continued to express the difference between providing a return on investment and a return to service, “In the private sector where your ultimate outcome is, if you will, the bottom line, you have to produce a return on the shareholder investment so you can return that investment to them, that is a different thing than in the public sector where what you have to do is return a service to the taxpayers. It’s measured differently, it’s thought of differently, but the processes of getting to those two things are surprisingly similar.” Dennis Alvord also highlighted that there has been much innovation from the private sector, and new technology can help enable

THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX Another lesson learned from the GovLoop Conservation, Re-Imagining Government Customer Service was to Think Outside the Box. Many participants and our speakers identified that in order to improve customer service in government, agencies will need to think creatively how they are providing services. There is no easy or quick fix, and things can change very quickly.



COMPETITION Competition was also mentioned during the GovLoop Conservation, Re-Imagining Government Customer Service. One interesting insight was how there is little competition in the federal government in how they deliver customer service. Without a clear competitor, it is important to tie customer service to a business objective and tie into the mission of the agency.

improved customer service in the public sector. “I think there are tremendous opportunities for the public sector to leverage some innovations that have occurred in the private sector to provide greater levels of customer service.” Dennis continues by stating, “I think the customer service space has evolved very rapidly over the last few years. We are now seeing static flat websites evolving into service portals,

where you can actually do things that are more transactional, and they’re providing a greater level of value to customers.”

Dennis Alvord also noted that the use of personalization is one important strategy in the private sector that can be implemented within government, “In the private sector, the aim may be monetary and it may be selling something. We have different objectives in the public sector, but can still benefit What Are Ways/Opportunities For Your from some of the tools that Organization To Improve Customer Ser- the private sector uses. One vice? (Check all that Apply) example of that would be something like personalization.”






41% 69%




The idea of personalization is intriguing, as personalization can possibly be implemented within government. Dennis states, “On many websites you come to now, you establish a login, and a user account of some kind, and you’d be able to preserve your history of transactions with that agency. And also get referred in a very effective manner to additional complementary solutions.” With the challenges of a decentralized customer service 23

system, the idea of personalizing and preserving a user profile would be an enormous benefit for customer service initiatives. Sites like and do a fantastic job of recommending similar products and services for customers to store and potentially purchase items at a later time. These kinds of innovations should be replicated within government.



New York City

As part of our research study, GovLoop sought to interview not only federal agency leads, but also those involved in customer service at the local level. Francisco Navarro, Customer Service Policy Advisor, New York City, agreed to sit down with us and talk through his role as Customer Service Policy Advisor.

walk-in center inspections, Provide plain language edits for rules issued by City agencies, Market and help oversee Customer Service Certificate Program, and Provide input, guidance, and analysis for other customer service related programs and projects.

In a city as large as New York City, providing great customer service is no easy task. Navarro listed his core responsibilities as:

Undoubtedly, Navarrro has his hands full to provide a great customer experience in New York City.

Coordinate participation of thirty agencies in New York City’s Customer Service Week, Edit, publish and distribute a quarterly customer service newsletter, Oversee the Citywide Excellence in Customer Service Awards, Provide guidance and leadership for citywide

Navarro described the City of New York customers: “Our customers are anyone who lives in, works in or visits New York City.” Navarro highlighted dozens of initiatives that the City of New York has undertaken to improve customer service in government. One initiative that is unique to New York is how the City conducts citywide inspections of walk in facilities; this 24


SHARE A critical finding from the GovLoop Conservation, Re-Imagining Government Customer Service was to Share Resources. Another finding from the event was the importance of sharing information across the agency, sharing best practices and working across government to improve customer service.

initiative is called Customers Observing and Reporting Experiences (CORE). Navarro stated, “I believe our City is unique in conducting citywide inspections of walk-in facilities via the CORE program. Our inspectors visit approximately 300 walk-in centers at 28 different agencies located throughout the City’s five boroughs, and observe and rate facility conditions and customer service. Inspectors visit sites that provide a wide range of services, from handgun licensing, to income support to payment of parking tickets. “ Navarro explained further how CORE works, “Inspectors rate both facility conditions and customer service interactions. Agency CORE overall results are available in each agency’s Agency Customer Service section of the Mayor’s Management Report, the MMR: (The main entry page to the MMR is here).”

stating, “The CORE inspection program has resulted in improvements in the conditions at walkin centers. Also, City agency staff looks forward to Customer Service Week and the Excellence in Customer Service Awards that are given during that week. This week has become a highlight for many agencies and their staff.” With great customer service initiatives like CORE, there are a lot of positive outcomes. Navarro believed that by providing great customer service, trust in government improves. “The most important outcome of good customer service is building trust in government. Too many customers have the attitude that “the City just wants the revenue”, or “you can’t fight City Hall.” When customers are treated fairly and with dignity, and when they understand why a certain decision is made or an outcome required, and that ultimately decisions and policies are made with some greater good in mind – public health and safety, a healthy environment, educational attainment, then customers will develop respect and trust for the staff and the government it represents,” said Navarro.

The CORE program is a great example of a successful customer service initiative. Navarro defined a successful customer service initiative as, “A successful customer service initiative is one that has tangible positive outcomes that last over time.” Navarro then credited the CORE program for this success, One requirement that distinguishes 25

New York City’s customer service approach is that NYC requires all agencies to survey customers at least once a year. Navarro stated, “We do require that all agencies survey their customers at least once a year and report the total number of customers surveyed. Agencies now report on their surveying activities via the Citywide Performance System. (The results can be found here.)” Navarro provided numerous examples how NYC uses data to improve customer service, and how NYC has worked to identify and measure their customer service initiatives. Navarro stated, “In June 2008 the City conducted a comprehensive feedback survey using data gathered from surveys sent to 100,000 randomly selected households.” Further, Navarro identified, “In 2009 our office created the NYC Feedback form, a small card with five customer service questions. Agencies are encouraged but not mandated to have these cards in their walk-in centers.” In addition to surveys, New York City has also set a standard of response to customers to 14 calendar days. Navarro stated, “The standard for response to written correspondence is 14 calendar days.


The expected response time for certain types of conditions sent by phone, text, iPhone or online to 311 vary by condition reported or complained about. For example, the Department of Buildings has three categories of seriousness of complaints with varying levels of expected response times.” New York City is also using feedback from customers to help enable policy change. Navarro provided the following example and insights as to how feedback from customer service initiatives is used, “Feedback from customers, where possible and appropriate, is used to make process and policy changes. For example, in response to a customer survey the Department of Transportation modified hours of operation and enabled cell phone service at one of their facilities.” Although New York City excels in providing customer service, there are still challenges. Similar to our survey results, Navarro cited that resources, budgets and time are the main barriers, “The two probably most obvious barriers are resources (people and money) and time. There is also the organizational cultural resistance to change,” stated Francisco. Even with these barriers, Navarro was able to provide some solutions to removing roadblocks and delivering great customer service. Navarro noted, “The most important element in overcoming barriers is the need for executive support. In our case Mayor Bloomberg is a

Other interesting initiatives from the City of New York include: Establishment of Customer Service Liaisons Establishment of Language Access Coordinators 311 iPhone Application Business Customer Bill of Rights Walk-in Center Inspections (CORE – Customers Observing and Reporting Experience) Customer Service Week Customer Service Certificate Program, including Customer service training Plain language training Cultural sensitivity training Excellence in Customer Service Awards Language Access Policy NYC Certified – Program to Certify City Volunteers to Translate and Interpret NYC Customer Service Newsletter NYC Feedback Comment Cards Language Gateway – multilingual web portal Mayor’s Management Report Customer Service Indicators Volunteer Language Bank 311 Service Request Map

champion of customer service in government who created the 311 customer service center and who signed an executive order compelling agencies to assign a liaison and make customer service an explicit priority.” Navarro continued by asserting, “Without adding new resources, another barrier to overcome are the barriers of time and money to prioritize projects. You also need to make sure that those prioritized


projects are adding real value in some way. To overcome resistance to change, customer service needs to be sold as something that benefits both customers and staff. Further, those overseeing change need to make sure that they can provide guidance and support.” Technology clearly plays a critical role in enabling customer service. Navarro stated, “Technology is an enabler of customer service goals, a means to an end. For example,


we developed a phone app that allows customers to report conditions like graffiti and dirty vacant lots via their iPhones. They can send pictures and text descriptions. This allows agencies to more firmly document conditions and to respond more effectively.” Navarro also mentioned that new media is at the forefront of enabling improved customer service in New York City, along with training, resources and technology. He stated, “Training, resources and technology are the enablers of customer service improvements. Today, new media is at the forefront of enabling these improvements via phone apps, social media networks, and online services.” New York City is a great case study for government to analyze for customer service. Navarro shared some of his best practices and lessons learned from his work in New York City, “A major factor in our success has been having the support from the top. In our case it comes from Mayor Bloomberg himself. In addition, establishing reporting requirements to track customer service indicators, as we do in the Mayor’s Management Report and

online through our Citywide Performance Reporting (CPR) system, reinforces the commitment to customer service.” Finally, Navarro advised to be persistent, and incorporate a culture of service within your agency, stating, “You need to be persistent and create an environment that sends the message that customer service is a permanent component of service, that it is not a “flavor of the month” or a temporary morale booster. This is accomplished by establishing various programs, especially training and recognition, and communicating the customer service message as many times and as many ways as possible.” NYC has made great strides in the way in which they deliver customer service. By offering a variety of services through multiple channels and using data to drive improved services, New York City has a great customer service model for government to replicate.

MOBILE An insightful and important finding that developed from the GovLoop Conservation, Re-Imagining Government Customer Service was to understand how Mobile is a game changer for customer service. Like many areas across government panelist mentioned that mobile is game changing for customer service. In particular, citizens expect to be able to access certain services on their mobile devices, participants stated that this adds pressure on the agency to deliver customer service through the right channels.




RESOURCES As the leading knowledge network for government, GovLoop focuses on seven core areas of government, acquisition, career, communications, human resources, leadership, project management and technology. Through partnerships with expert facilitators, GovLoop produces thousands of blog posts per month. GovLoop also offers trainings, events, and produces research reports and guides for the Government community.

10 Ways Government Can Re-Imagine Government Customer Service

GovLoop has developed a variety of resources available for employees practicing customer service. Below are some of the top blog posts and resources related to customer service in government.

Steve Ressler, GovLoop

Pat Fiorenza, GovLoop

22 Ideas to Improve Customer Service Steve Ressler, GovLoop

Announcing GL Infograph - How to Create Great Government Customer Service Pat Fiorenza, GovLoop

Should Local Government Offices Develop Customer Service Plans? Paul Wolf, Attorney

Does Customer Service Matter for Government? 5 Examples for Change

Listing of Federal Agencies Customer Service Initiatives Data.GovLoop

Announcing the GovLoop Excelling with Customer Service Guide Steve Ressler, GovLoop

Agency Customer Service Plans John Kamensky, IBM

NYC Online Newsletter Francisco Navarro, New York City Mayor’s Office of Operations

Customer Service Act is Good News for Customers and Employees Candi Harrison, Harrison Consulting



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Key links/resources t t t

White Paper: Seven Power Lessons for Customer Experience Leaders Eight Steps to Great Customer Experiences for Government Agencies Forrester Report: Navigate The Future Of Customer Service

Online Resources:



Learn 29



ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS Thank you to our sponsor Oracle for supporting this study. The GovLoop team would also like to thank all those who participated in the interviews, we would especially like to reiterate our thanks to Dennis Alvord, Brack Boehler, Jon Foley, Scott Frendt, Arianne Gallagher, Candi Harrison, E.J. (“Ned�) Holland, Jr., Joey Hutcherson, Benjamin Jones, Abraham Marinez, Bruce Marsh, Dan Morgan, Francisco Navarro, Bruce Peacock, and Elizabeth Weinstein. Also, we would like to thank all those who contributed to our online survey and attended the GovLoop Discussion Roundtable: Re-Imagining Government Customer Service. Jeff Ribeira, GovLoop Content and Community Coordinator created the design of this research report.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR All interviews in this report were conducted by Pat Fiorenza. Pat also served as the author of this report. Pat is currently a Research Analyst at GovLoop. GovLoop is an online knowledge network of over 55,000 government employees. In his role, Pat is the author of GovLoop guides, research reports and also writes a monthly a blog series on GovLoop. By authoring this content, Pat works to find best practices and identify solutions to help government employees become more efficient in their day to day responsibilities and facilitate knowledge sharing across government. Pat received his Masters of Public Administration degree from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University.


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Re-Imagining Government Customer Service  

GovLoop guide to improving customer service in government

Re-Imagining Government Customer Service  

GovLoop guide to improving customer service in government