Last month, the House of Representative’s Committee on Oversight and Government Reform passed the Government Customer Service Improvement Act. It’s a step in the right direction but still has a long way to becoming the law of the land as it needs to be passed by both the full House of Representatives and by the US Senate.
Why is it necessary to pass legislation to mandate that the federal government adopt customer service performance measures and standards, collect customer feedback, report on the results to Congress, and designate an agency official to implement the standards and measures? There is extensive research that demonstrates a strong link between the quality of service citizens experience when interacting with their government and their trust in government. However, too few agencies devote the necessary resources to identify their customers, communicate with them about their expectations, train their staff in how to provide better customer service, establish feedback mechanisms for complaints, measure their satisfaction, and focus on improvements to their service delivery processes. Simply finding the name of an individual at an agency to field a customer service question or complaint can be a real challenge for citizens. You can see how more than 100 federal government agency sites compare in citizen satisfaction with the 2012 ForeSee eGov Q1 Satisfaction Index. You will see while some sites score extremely well, there are many that need improvement.
Apparently Congressman Henry Cuellar (D-TX), the bill’s sponsor, feels very strongly that something needs to be done. He believes that existing legislation mandating that agencies measure and report on their performance, as well as two Executive Orders passed in the Clinton and Obama administrations that focus on improving customer service, have proved insufficient in improving the federal government’s ability to deliver services in a manner that meets citizens’ expectations. If passed, Cueller’s bill would make agencies more responsible to the citizens, and make their operations more transparent by requiring them to publish their standards and performance metrics on customer satisfaction. It would also have agencies identify a customer service representative to implement the agencies standards.
As a former career civil servant, I know that agencies can do a better job of serving their customers. Like anything else, agency senior executives need to take the lead and demonstrate the importance of providing better quality service and constantly improving on that performance. That’s why I was pleased to see that the Export-Import Bank, where I worked from 1975 – 1999, has created a Vice President of Customer Engagement position within the Office of the Chairman of the agency. What’s significant is that the responsibilities and authorities of the position go way beyond what the Cuellar legislation contemplated. I especially like the language in the job description that talks about changing the agency’s culture to one that is “customer-centric,” incorporating the customer perspective into the decision-making process, improving the customer experience, and developing easy to understand standards that are easily accessible.
Here is an example of an agency that did not wait for a Congress mandate to adopt a sensible approach to serve its customers better. They even have a template for what the job should entail. The challenge now is for other agencies to step to the plate and demonstrate their commitment to become more citizen-centric.