Yesterday, Oct. 7, marked the start of “National Customer Service Week” – an international event devoted to recognizing the importance of customer service and honoring the people who serve and support customers with the highest degree of care and professionalism. In 1992, the U.S. Congress proclaimed Customer Service Week an event to be celebrated annually during the first full week in October.
This past summer, in a bi-partisan measure, the House of Representatives passed the “Government Customer Service Improvement Act,” which would task the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to set target dates for government to respond to e-mails, calls and also to the processing of benefits and payments. Under the legislation, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and two other agencies would be selected to participate in pilot programs to gather feedback about the level of citizen customer service. Should the bi-partisan companion bill pass in the Senate, the act will become law.
As a government “for and by the people,” the requirement for responding to constituent needs should be a top priority. With the number of citizens who will require government service interactions growing every day, and those very same citizens demanding a leadership role in how they receive those services, “customer-centric government” is no longer a buzz word, but a necessity.
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Rep. Henry Cuellar (D) stated on the House floor in support of his bill that “the primary goal of the federal government is to serve taxpayers.” The formalization of metrics for government customer service standards would be very welcomed and is needed. However, better customer service does not have to wait for enactment of legislation to improve the quality and effectiveness of response. The operational experience and systems already exist in the private sector.
With advancements in technology and service delivery, government agencies are faced with the challenge to keep pace with the rising expectations from the public to deliver the same level of service received in the private sector, or even better. In order to deliver on this expectation, government agencies are faced with creating a cultural shift that literally shapes a new citizen engagement strategy involving technology, policy, programs, intra/inter-agency collaboration, customer friendly interaction and two-way mechanisms for feedback and best practices in service delivery.
Much like other areas impacted by the rapid development of information technology, customer service has also evolved in capability. Largely because of commercial investments, the technology for contact centers (call centers and service desks) is much more effective than it was just a few years ago. New offerings allow real-time monitoring, tools and techniques to handle calls with fewer resources and better quality. There are multiple levels of end-user support and reporting available and processes have been refined to assure that problems or incidents can be addressed quickly. Data analytics also allow for more predictable and scalable allocation of government resources. And, because of the integration of these tools and processes, contact center employees are much better trained, often incentivized, and more accountable for the resolution of customer needs.
Technological innovation has also benefited government document services by enhancing efficiencies and streamlining processing. Advanced imaging technologies provide for metadata extraction of document files at rapid speeds and yield quicker cycle times. In the federal government, millions of images are tracked, scanned, and transmitted every day with amazing accuracy standards. The process is transparent and can track records of agencies and deliver real-time status data for compliant project management. This digitization technology and the accompanying process is especially valuable in the processing of veteran’s benefits, workers compensation, and immigration forms that are vital role of government administration.
In a new era where taxpayers need to get more with less, the combination of technological innovation and enforcement standards in customer service is paramount. The acceptance and adherence to the proposed legislation will also improve government accountability to the taxpayer and will certainly make the annual observance of “National Customer Service Week” more meaningful.
Edited by Alisen Downey
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