Developing an Effective Customer Service Strategy for Government Agencies Have a plan to serve your customers -- How does your agency manage customer service? Do you have a plan, and follow it -- or do you just "wing it"? If you want to get a better handle on your agency's customer service efforts, here's a 10-step plan to develop and implement an effective customer service strategy. HowTo.gov H2G _ad20c598-2e03-11e2-a927-87b95b280d48 HowTo.gov is a website to help government workers deliver a better customer experience to citizens. It's about sharing new ideas, common challenges, lessons learned, and successes across government. HowTo.gov can help you work smarter, whether you're on the "front lines" of government customer service; you manage a customer service channel; or you support customers through new media, open government, cloud computing, communications, innovation, or in some other way. Alycia Piazza Content Lead _ad20cd04-2e03-11e2-a927-87b95b280d48 [To outline] a 10-step plan to develop and implement an effective customer service strategy. _ad20cf02-2e03-11e2-a927-87b95b280d48 Customer Service Cusotmer Identification Identify your target customers _ad20cf98-2e03-11e2-a927-87b95b280d48 Step 1 Begin by identifying your target customers. Who are they? What do they need from your agency? How, and at what times or places do they interact with your agency -- what are the "points of service delivery"? Segmentation Cluster or segment target customers based on their common behaviors. _ad20d024-2e03-11e2-a927-87b95b280d48 1.1 89ad7e50-f7b2-4874-a86e-0e73e0432633 Prioritization Determine the priorities of your customer "clusters". _ad20d0b0-2e03-11e2-a927-87b95b280d48 1.2 b720bb11-2e61-400f-89dd-deebb2e5d650 Focus Focus on customers with high current or future value. _ad20d146-2e03-11e2-a927-87b95b280d48 1.3 High-Value Customers When possible, focus on customers with high current or future value -- for example, someone who frequently accesses your services. A comparable example is a frequent flier program -- airlines offer a higher level of service (such as early boarding privileges) to their frequent flyers, while still meeting the needs of their other passengers. f97da133-b705-4009-8885-a7bec0b391dd Non-Target Customers Identify the best ways to serve non-target customers. _ad20d1d2-2e03-11e2-a927-87b95b280d48 1.4 Non-Target Customers ... those to whom it is expensive to provide services, or those who might be better served by other means. To target the highest level of service to your "frequent flyers", you also need to identify the best ways to serve non-target customers, those to whom it is expensive to provide services, or those who might be better served by other means. This is a necessary part of a customer focus. One example: a fire department could discourage residents from contacting the department to remove cats from trees by charging a $20 fee for performing the service, and by advertising their busy emergency call load. ce43dd6d-7ed1-4d15-9bab-6dc11ac50731 Customer Desires Determine what your customers want _ad20d268-2e03-11e2-a927-87b95b280d48 Step 2 Determine what target customers want (not just what they need right now) by considering these techniques: * online customer satisfaction surveys * phone or email survey * in-person meetings or focus groups * user testing * channel analytics (web, phone, etc.) Customer Priorities Determine how target customers prioritize their "wants". _ad20d2fe-2e03-11e2-a927-87b95b280d48 2.1 Generally, customers want timeliness, convenience, quality products and services, variety or selection, and protection or security. However, each agency must identify what is most important to its customers. f45a57f9-219d-440f-83cc-3ce52aac1d9f Importance Weigh how important the customer-identified "wants" are to your agency. _ad20d3a8-2e03-11e2-a927-87b95b280d48 2.2 Are the services something that the organization does, is capable of doing, or wants to pursue? 03166b70-d0ad-4047-b9f6-32304d076624 Capabilities & Competitors Determine how well your agency can meet your customers' "wants" in comparison with competitors. _ad20d448-2e03-11e2-a927-87b95b280d48 2.3 You may think you don't have competitors, but more than likely you do, especially if you're producing consumer-related information for the public. Be mindful of who's doing similar work -- if competing organizations meet or exceed customer expectations, it changes the customer's frame of reference and increases their expectations. e505f935-0d40-47ee-a272-7257b9ce673a Impact Determine which "wants" would most positively impact your agency's bottom line. _ad20d4de-2e03-11e2-a927-87b95b280d48 2.4 (for example, increased compliance with a regulation, more loyalty and trust, or a desired customer behavioral change), and whether those "wants" should be targeted for improvement. 7f6cf55e-1023-4b21-8511-ab69058c6bbf Culture Create a culture of customer service _ad20d574-2e03-11e2-a927-87b95b280d48 Step 3 Understanding & Tools Ensure that employees at all levels understand their customers and are given the tools to serve them well. _ad20d614-2e03-11e2-a927-87b95b280d48 3.1 In the best performing private companies, CEOs ensure that employees at all levels understand their customers and are given the tools to serve them well. 049df2d5-c711-4572-84b2-f62a6046831e Communication Communicate the impor­tance of customer service and ensure that all employees understand how their work serves customers. _ad20d6b4-2e03-11e2-a927-87b95b280d48 3.2 Agency Leaders Agency Employees Agency leadership must communicate the impor­tance of customer service and ensure that all employees, even those without direct customer-facing jobs, understand how their work serves customers. 5c9579cd-1ef8-4620-9db7-fa1838595295 Interaction Regularly interact with customers to understand their evolving needs. _ad20d74a-2e03-11e2-a927-87b95b280d48 3.3 Management Management must regularly interact with customers so they understand evolving customer needs. db2760bd-cfb1-463d-86f2-17c4dc7c1968 Problem Solving Empower front-line customer service workers to solve problems. _ad20d7f4-2e03-11e2-a927-87b95b280d48 3.4 Customer Service Workers Most importantly, front-line customer service workers must be empowered to actually solve problems on the spot. 74e5c4b4-4cf4-4a4d-9ea2-f97890c50e1b Service Standards & Expectations Clearly communicate service standards and expectations _ad20d894-2e03-11e2-a927-87b95b280d48 Step 4 Service Standards Set service standards, such as call wait times, claims processing times, and satisfaction ratings. _ad20d934-2e03-11e2-a927-87b95b280d48 4.1 837cb458-d85c-4452-b538-653d9136217e Definition & Availability Clearly define the standards and make them publicly available. _ad20d9e8-2e03-11e2-a927-87b95b280d48 4.2 af4e7fd2-f7be-417a-8e68-a6a2336485ef Goals Clearly define goals. _ad20da88-2e03-11e2-a927-87b95b280d48 4.3 Clearly defined goals helps motivate employees and helps manage customer expectations. ff2e2acf-d312-45ee-8eff-d14d03da6ebb Expectations Management Inform customers when service standards cannot be met. _ad20db32-2e03-11e2-a927-87b95b280d48 4.4 When service standards cannot be met, customers must be informed -- a non-negotiable best practice in the private sector. 584205f2-30de-4790-ad22-1ac595e04b93 Consistency Provide consistent service across channels _ad20dbe6-2e03-11e2-a927-87b95b280d48 Step 5 Customer Feedback Collect customer feedback across the whole customer experience. _ad20dc9a-2e03-11e2-a927-87b95b280d48 5.1 Customers Agencies should continuously collect comprehensive customer feedback across the whole customer experience -- not just via each channel. 8f26bb6d-37b9-4d5d-817a-cd92aa6afb07 Service Adaptation Adapt services to interact with customers, when and how they prefer. _ad20dd44-2e03-11e2-a927-87b95b280d48 5.2 As communication preferences change, we need to adapt our services to interact with our customers, when and how they prefer. 95e5b43e-59e6-4542-8406-53bb697002d1 Cross-Channel Consistency Provide consistency of service across channels. _ad20de02-2e03-11e2-a927-87b95b280d48 5.3 Consistency of service across channels is critical -- a customer who gets an answer on the phone should receive the same answer in-person at a local office, via the website, over email, or via mobile device. cec06f5f-a7fd-4ff2-87b3-bfa69ebb5b09 Vision Establish a vision for customer service excellence _ad20deac-2e03-11e2-a927-87b95b280d48 Step 6 Customer Focus Establish a customer-focused vision. _ad20df60-2e03-11e2-a927-87b95b280d48 6.1 Establish your agency's customer-focused vision using all the information in these steps. The vision statement should be simple and may also identify what the company does not want to be. Sample vision statements include: * "Absolutely, Positively Overnight" by Federal Express * L.L. Bean's promise of "Guaranteed. Period."; and * Google's "Do no evil" cde8ecec-ad8f-4711-af2d-065bc3aef6ba Reflection Reflect on the vision and goals and the way services are delivered. _ad20e032-2e03-11e2-a927-87b95b280d48 6.2 Continually reflect on the vision and goals and the way services you're delivering service. Be creative about the ways you create and deliver new services. Be willing to change existing practices to integrate improvements. 3cf08313-37a1-4e60-9c2d-8b7b2df00266 Strategies Implement both internally and externally oriented strategies consistent with the vision. _ad20e0f0-2e03-11e2-a927-87b95b280d48 6.3 Live up to what you promise by applying both an external and internal strategy that reflect the vision. If your agency doesn't implement both internally and externally oriented strategies consistent with the vision, you'll have good intentions but poor customer service. 52fe05ad-9e27-4bd5-a690-12a930c34b47 External Strategy Implement an external strategy _ad20e1b8-2e03-11e2-a927-87b95b280d48 Step 7 The external strategy should focus on how your agency's service is designed, marketed, and delivered to target customers. Cost & Quality Take into account the costs of providing services and ways to minimize those costs while implementing quality control. _ad20e294-2e03-11e2-a927-87b95b280d48 7.1 Develop the service concept with the frontline worker at its center. Determine the necessary financial, human, and technological resources, as well as how your agency structure and flow can enable frontline workers to deliver excellent customer service. f05ad1e3-b661-42cc-b44d-e806d0276b04 Advertising / Educational Strategies Use advertising/educational strategies to set appropriate customer expectations. _ad20e3c0-2e03-11e2-a927-87b95b280d48 7.2 e6f7d6ca-665e-4b47-a9d6-aa228430196d Feedback Provide a feedback loop to incorporate customer comments and complaints into the planning process. _ad20e492-2e03-11e2-a927-87b95b280d48 7.3 Customer complaints are an invaluable resource. Without them, organizations can't be successful. Complaints that people bring to your agency are one of the most efficient and least expensive ways to get information about people's expectations of your agency and its products and services. Studies have shown that customer comments and complaints are a more direct means of getting information than conducting research studies of customer expectations, conducting transaction studies, or reviewing customer expectations in similar industries. d428b286-0953-48cc-964b-411b44c79fb1 Complaint Resolution Ensure that the complaint resolution strategy supports the customer-focused vision. _ad20e5aa-2e03-11e2-a927-87b95b280d48 7.4 Most research shows if customers believe their complaints are welcomed and responded to, they will more likely come back to your organization for a future interaction. 7cda8440-2e92-43fe-9bae-b7c4ec8726d0 Recruitment & Retention Focus on recruiting and retaining good employees _ad20e6b8-2e03-11e2-a927-87b95b280d48 Step 8 While Step 7 outlined an external strategy, the next three steps cover, in detail, the internal strategy—how your agency's internal processes will support the customer-focused vision. Training & Compensation [Ensure that workers are] well trained and fairly compensated. _ad20e794-2e03-11e2-a927-87b95b280d48 8.1 Workers The premise is that "capable workers who are well trained and fairly compensated provide better service, need less supervision, and are much more likely to stay on the job. As a result, their customers are likely to be more satisfied…" (Harvard Business Review, 1994). c7287be2-909b-4268-8a92-d4e8291b4b68 Employee Turnover Maintain a low employee turnover rate. _ad20e8c0-2e03-11e2-a927-87b95b280d48 8.2 Research also shows that employee turnover and customer satisfaction are directly correlated -- typically, the higher the turnover rate, the lower the agency scores in delivering good service. 8a8b9545-f2d8-4255-a56f-8429e8f1746f New Hire & Training Costs Minimize new hire and training costs. _ad20e992-2e03-11e2-a927-87b95b280d48 8.3 In addition, it's commonly noted that employee turnover is an expensive problem, with significant costs needed to hire and train new people. 80fd5562-8582-40e4-afdc-6f61b6529251 New Ideas Foster the creation and testing of new ideas. _ad20ea6e-2e03-11e2-a927-87b95b280d48 8.4 Leaders Leaders must foster the creation and testing of new ideas and be openly willing to change existing practices to integrate improvements. c72ae0e1-4c47-43d6-a490-3b5b0b605338 Employee Perceptions Learn how targeted employees perceive the proposed customer services. _ad20eb72-2e03-11e2-a927-87b95b280d48 8.5 Employees An organization cannot change without the participation of its employees. 14677f7e-6c86-4521-bef6-391f1a38404d Recruitment Recruit employees who support the customer service vision. _ad20ec4e-2e03-11e2-a927-87b95b280d48 8.6 Focus on recruiting employees who support the customer service vision. The costs of employing people who do not support the customer service vision are considerable. In addition, develop career paths that allow successful customer-oriented employees to remain on the frontline. 49a6d8e3-4f91-46bc-b926-6951cb05300c Employee Empowerment Empower employees to resolve customer service problems _ad20ed34-2e03-11e2-a927-87b95b280d48 Step 9 Customer Satisfaction Empower frontline employees to do what it takes to satisfy the customer. _ad20ee4c-2e03-11e2-a927-87b95b280d48 9.1 Frontline Employees Management must support employee empowerment by clearly defining the boundaries of the empowerment, while remaining flexible within those boundaries. This will encourage creativity. In general, rules should be simple and few—Continental Airlines actually had an employee handbook burning party to signify the change from a procedural environment to one of empowered customer service (Spector, 2001). 50f68730-0ea7-4a6a-8af8-81301ce18a29 Technology, Information & Resources Equip frontline personnel with the technology, information, and internal resources to do what it takes to satisfy customers. _ad20ef28-2e03-11e2-a927-87b95b280d48 9.2 Frontline Personnel Customers In addition to skills and empowerment, equip frontline personnel with the technology, information, and internal resources to do what it takes to satisfy your customers. 4cb9253d-0262-4e1c-b93a-b56d949d81b0 Communications & Rewards Develop good communications and rewards system _ad20f00e-2e03-11e2-a927-87b95b280d48 Step 10 Intra-Agency Communication Ensure that divisions and individuals communicate _ad20f11c-2e03-11e2-a927-87b95b280d48 10.1 Ensure that divisions and individuals within your agency communicate. Frontline employees who take customer questions, and other employees who have answers to those question, need a support network. A customer should never have to tell one employee what another employee already knows. ac7279b8-afd3-4b4c-90ae-e476086aad6a Cross-Functional Teams Develop cross-functional teams for operations and improving service. _ad20f20c-2e03-11e2-a927-87b95b280d48 10.2 Ask the people who are doing the work for suggestions to improve productivity. 0d37d698-a68a-43d9-a608-09d33216c043 Compensation Link employee compensation to customer service performance. _ad20f2f2-2e03-11e2-a927-87b95b280d48 10.3 Link employees' compensation to (and offer rewards for) good customer service performance. Rewards can be money, status, praise, acknowledgement, or perks such as trips, time off, or special events. 56c3e20b-411f-49df-8833-66edda03c05e Employee Satisfaction Measure employee satisfaction regularly. _ad20f40a-2e03-11e2-a927-87b95b280d48 10.4 Finally, measure employee satisfaction regularly. 9a861c96-8c6b-4492-97e3-56641f30bdcb 2012-11-13 http://www.howto.gov/customer-service/strategic-planning Owen Ambur Owen.Ambur@verizon.net Submit error.