Private and public sectors are terms that are thrown around loosely no matter what end of the spectrum you or your business falls under. In government, it’s not unusual to hear people say, “Well if we were in the private sector…” In many instances the two seem like they are different worlds, but ultimately they are both used to describe parts of the economy, and what services each sector provides. Where the private sector part of the economy is concerned with private enterprises, the public sector is concerned with government services.
In customer service, it is imperative to know the difference between private and public sectors, because it helps define your customers’ needs. Though the terms are important, it’s not uncommon to see people use them incorrectly. But both the private sector and the public sector have distinct characteristic that distinguish them from each other.
The private sector is privately owned
The primary differences between the private and public sectors are who they employ and who they work for. The private sector is usually made up of privately owned organizations, like corporations. However, the private sector is not limited to big corporations and can include local business, credit unions, non-profit partnerships, and charities.
The public sector serves the public
The public sector mostly operates through organizations owned by the government, and as a result, public sector workers are paid by the government. These organizations can include: holding political office, the U.S Postal Service, and federal, state, or municipal governments. The public sector provides services that directly influence their governing province and/or country.
Private provides tangible products, while the public sector often outputs “anti-products.”
Ron Ross of The American Spectator put it nicely when he said, “The private sector’s products all around us — food, shelter, clothing, automobiles, home appliances, entertainment, for example. The public sector’s products include defense, the justice system, roads and highways, public schools, income redistribution (welfare), laws, and regulations…” It’s easy to recognize the private sector because of its products, yet it’s important not to overlook the significant services that the public sector provides.
We see that the private sector and public sector have their clear distinctions, yet they often find themselves in communication with each other. Customer service methods are a great way to share a dialoged between the two. Part of my job as the Chief Customer Service Officer is understanding that there are different approaches when it comes to customer service in both sectors. A customer is a customer regardless of the product, yet in the public sector, when your customer is the public, it is a little bit different. As a customer of Wal-Mart, if you are dissatisfied with the service you have experienced, you can go shop at Target. Most of the time, with public services, you can’t shop around. In the public sector we have long-term customers and our challenge is to provide them with the best customer service that we can.
Providing citizens with great customer service often means borrowing strategies from the private sector. Using social media as customer service tool, for example, is something that many successful businesses have done. We have implemented a similar strategy at the City of Philadelphia, but one that directly connects citizens with city services. Understanding what is being referenced, and being familiar with the distinctions, between private and public sectors, ultimately helps the public sector better meet citizens’ needs.
To learn about more differences between the private and public sector, check out Jan Mares’ “25 Differences Between Private Sector and Government Managers
NOTE: Interested in reading more Innovative Customer Service Strategies? Check out my blog at: www.rosettacarringtonlue.com