Many of us are acutely aware of the quality of customer service in the private sector, whether it’s in retail or B2B. However, one area that people often don’t think of themselves as customers is in their relationship with local government. Yet that is exactly what we are.
“Customers’ experience in government should be the same or even better than what they’re getting in the private sector,” says Rosetta Carrington Lue, chief customer service officer for the city of Philadelphia. “We shouldn’t treat them any differently because they’re dealing with a government entity.”
Lue says the relationship is actually deeper than in the private sector because these customers are more invested over a longer period of time — they own homes in the community and work and send their kids to school there. This presents a challenge, however, as it’s not easy for customers who don’t like the service they’re getting to “switch” to another provider (at least, not without moving out of town). Historically, government agencies have moved slowly in addressing customer service. “There was no urgency to get the ball moving when it came to making customer experience better,” says Lue.
Digital Age Holds Governments Accountable
The digital age is helping local governments improve. For one, new tools hold bureaucrats accountable. Like any business, the government has a brand to protect — with the goal of creating a happy community viewed as an attractive place to live. But one negative tweet could harm a city’s image.
“Back in the day when you had a complaint it would just stay within that community or department or person,” says Lue. “Now that same complaint can be spread internationally. Many public sector entities are seeing that they have to change. They have to be proactive when it comes to connecting with their customers.”
Social media has been instrumental in improving government customer service, especially for important announcements during emergencies. The key now is for local governments to have a presence on multiple channels. (The city of Philadelphia is on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and has a mobile app.) This not only helps officials reach a greater number of people, but also allows for better engagement. For example, The Philly311 Show on YouTube introduces citizens to the government employees who deliver the city’s services. Videos also highlight new tools for customer service, such as city-specific apps.
Social Media, Web Forums Coordinate Collaboration
One other area that digital communication makes an impact is in helping governments coordinate customer collaboration. Through social media and Web forums, citizens can now easily find like-minded people to work on projects, such as cleaning alleyways, planting trees in parks, and starting mentorship programs. This method of organizing generates faster and longer lasting results when compared with relying solely on government to make fixes.
“We’re working with communities so they have a vested interest in sustaining those changes,” says Lue. “We’re really targeting folks to come together and help solve a problem.
“The traditional way of governing is changing because customers are demanding that change,” she adds. “The days of one communication channel and 9 to 5 service is gone. We’re seeing that from federal to local government.”
Interview from Real Business Online Magazine dated December 1, 2014 written by Sachin Shenolikar and sponsored Xerox Corporation.