Government customer service continues to be plagued by shrinking budgets and staff, and increasing media coverage when things go wrong. While many agencies have been improving when it comes to customer service and satisfaction, overall public perception according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), continues to decline. Federal customer service scored an ACSI rating of 75 out of 100 – which is average on most grading scales – but this score is down five points from the rating of 80 where federal customer service has stood consecutively since 2012.
Recently, Internal Revenue Service commissioner John Koskinen warned attendees of a Washington, DC conference that taxpayers should expect the IRS’s customer service to get worse during the upcoming filing season if budget and staff continue to be cut for the agency, which could drive overall public perception even lower. So what’s an agency to do when faced with less money and staff as customer expectations continue to grow, along with the innovations in technology that empower them?
Microsoft general manager of service engagement Bill Patterson recently participated in an interview for a new GovLoop Customer Service Playbook for Government featuring Forrester Research Senior Analyst Rick Parrish, General Services Administration Chief Customer Officer Phaedra Chrousos, and more.
In the interview, Patterson offered these three key ways for agencies to improve service even as budgets and resources become more scarce:
Step 1: Listen. Consumer feedback should drive customer technology strategies. Therefore, the first and most cost-effective measure that government agencies can take is to simply listen to constituents’ most common requests, complaints or praise. Social media and other forms of engagement are great ways to hear what your customers are saying. In a new Government Business Council Report titled The Path to Customer Centric Service, just 14% of the federal managers surveyed say they currently analyze social media to understand public attitudes.
“Change happens first by listening, and then acting,” Patterson says. “Most organizations still struggle to listen to their customers on social media, where posts and feedback can quickly become epidemic.”
Step 2: Invest in knowledge based platforms. Government agencies should focus on harnessing knowledge and unifying it in one place/on one platform to deliver consistent, easily accessible information.
“A foundation of any customer service solution should be an enterprise knowledge management application,” Patterson says. “The goal of that knowledge application is to fundamentally change the way in which questions and answers are both standardized and shared across an organization at large.”
This consistent knowledge foundation can really help (especially if staffing has been reduced), not only to deliver satisfying self-service for customers and deflect frequently-asked-questions from high-cost, high-touch channels, but to also increase first contact resolution rates for agents providing assisted service.
According to IDC’s Unlocking the Hidden Value of Information Survey, 44% of the time, most employees can’t find the answer they’re looking for, and 61% have currently have to access four or more systems when looking for information, resulting in reduced productivity and frustration for both the employee and customer.
Step 3: Turn knowledge into innovative multichannel engagement. Once you’ve listened to your customers and unified knowledge, it’s time to turn tactics into solutions. This is where it’s important to choose how you define your organization’s future business process while making it more customer-centric.
“Many agencies think of staffing customer service and look at how many phones are needed,” Patterson says. “But today, only about 45 – 55% of customers prefer using the phone as a way of attaining service. If half of your customers don’t want to be on the phone with you, why would you invest in and design your whole business process that way?”
Just like private companies, the ultimate goal for government agencies is to address issues and questions in the swiftest and most efficient manner, reducing effort while increasing satisfaction. And many organizations have proven this can be done by leveraging knowledge and self-service, even with a small or reduced assisted service staff. Organizations such as nTelos Wireless and Ask.com have even realized cost-savings leveraging knowledge and self-service and then projecting these capabilities across channels and mobile platforms.
To get started on a path to more effective government customer service even with limited staff and budget: (1) listen first to focus on what’s most important to customers; (2) unify knowledge to quickly and consistently empower agents and customers with the answers they need, and then (3) work to project that knowledge across all major channels for more efficient, consistent and satisfying service.