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As a Government Executive, have you ever wondered what government around the globe does the best at providing customer service? While the question of “who’s best?’ is often asked in the private sector, only recently does it resonate as a valid question in the public domain. In the not too distant past, government customer service was considered an oxymoron, but today things have dramatically changed, due both to a change in leadership philosophies as well as the adoption of technologies once considered exclusive to business. Here in the U.S., Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems have evolved into Constituent Relationship Management programs, and with that has come major increases in government customer service and citizen satisfaction.  So then, who’s best? 

As it turns out, the most recent answer to that question, according to a world-wide research report by consulting firm Accenture is … (drum roll please) … (no, not the U.S.) … (no, not a European country) … its Singapore! Surprised? Perhaps not if you already knew that the winner is a tiny Asian city-nation of 683 square km and 4 million people. However, you would likely be surprised to hear how far that nation has gone in providing electronic government services in achieving that number one spot. And coming in at the number two spot is … Canada (previously number one). So where did the United States rank? Third!  Surprised?

Accenture’s report, entitled Leadership in Customer Service: Delivering on the Promise, ranks 22 governments on their customer-service programs, as a continuation of a long-term project begun in 2000. However, the latest report added a new dimension by incorporating direct citizen feedback for greater accuracy in evaluating the quality of government service delivery, reflecting aspects such as user-friendliness of customer-service channels, the scope of online services used by citizens, and overall constituent satisfaction ratings. Once these factors were incorporated, the United States fell from its former position of second in 2005 to third in 2007, in part due to a citizen perception that customer service did not recently improve. Tellingly, 79 percent of those surveyed in Singapore thought their customer service had gotten better, while only 41 percent of U.S. respondents felt government customer service had improved.

The report further found that a combination of a robust technology infrastructure, an excellent front-end customer service approach, and a highly trained workforce is what facilitated the top ranked governments to better deliver on its citizen services. Using this combination, Singapore developed 1,600 e-services that are all accessible through a web portal called MyeCitizen. Integrated software technologies include CRM systems that support email management, customer tracking, Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs), and other innovations like the Online Business Licensing Service that integrates access to 69 licenses from 20 different agencies at hundreds of kiosks and terminals.

In another of their insightful reports entitled Leadership in Customer Service: Building the Trust, Accenture found in 2006 that governments that lead the public sector in customer service focus on the development of sophisticated, interactive and transactional capabilities on par with the best of the private sector. One example of this would be through CRM software technologies and management approaches such as adopting client self-servicing. Not surprisingly, in 20 of 21 countries studied, citizens said the business was doing a better job than government in developing online services, with the only exception being … you guessed it … Singapore. Perhaps surprisingly, the U.S. had the largest gap in positive perception (27 percent), where two-thirds of respondents (65 percent) said private-sector business was doing a good or excellent job in developing online services, while only 38 percent said the same about the public sector. Notably, countries such as Singapore and Canada have proven themselves particularly adept with online applications, as shown by our Northern neighbor which has completed its first census where respondents could file their forms online.

Reflecting a recognition that they need to adopt the development of sophisticated, interactive and transactional capabilities as cited in the report, Accenture also found that governments are instituting more local citizen “touch points,” such as citizen service call centers. By establishing easily-accessible, local outlets for the citizens they support, governments are better able to incorporate reliable customer feedback into the design of services. This, in turn, improves service delivery and satisfaction.

The report also notes that governments that lead in customer service put in place new operational modes that dramatically diverge from past practices, including a strong focus on simplification, business reengineering, and implementation of shared services across agencies. These changes are becoming more necessary as governments have hit a critical juncture for customer service success because current approaches have "reached the limit." Those governments that now lead have recognized early that customer service strategies must be re-assessed and re-crafted to create lasting value.  Furthermore, the report recognizes that today's customer service leaders won't necessarily be tomorrow’s due to the fluid nature of top notch service practices. Remaining on top in the future will require governments to adapt to change and address new challenges.

So what would it take for the US government to claim the lead in customer service and overtake tiny Singapore and our Northern neighbor? According to Accenture, the next wave of leading governments will deliver customer service that builds an implicit trust between citizens and their government that goes beyond citizen satisfaction. What does this mean for US agencies in their pursuits of better service? In this day and age, it means not only providing confidence through citizen awareness of services and seamless delivery, but implementing security in data storage and delivery that precludes data theft or corruption.  Whereas CRM systems and other advances noted by Accenture clearly provide governments with the tools for better service delivery, reliance on CRM technologies with a security infrastructure that ensures data remains uncompromised will be integral to allowing Government Executives to achieve that -- as yet illusive -- possible dream.

 

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