Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Citizen service reform --> from the simple to the radical


A friend of mine had to get something done because the government told her to.

The problem is, she didn't know how to follow the instructions because she is elderly and the type on the government form was too small.

She got some help and did what she was supposed to, but then had trouble following up.

This is because there are a lot of phone numbers listed on the website, but none of them are apparently right for her.

There is a message somewhere online about her particular situation, but since she is elderly and the type is small and hard to find, she wouldn't have known it was there unless it was pointed out to her.

How can we help this person and others like her to get what they need from the government? 

I call this "citizen service" rather than "customer service" to distinguish that the government is not a business (though I do think it should be run like one).

From my perspective three three things have to happen - from the short to the medium to the long term, respectively - but I would like to know what others think.

1) Short term: Establish a call center staffed by people who can answer any question pertaining to the federal government. "One call does it all." Optimally there would be a website where you could also chat with customer service representatives, search a knowledge base, or correspond by email. The questions that flow into this customer service center would be analyzed and reported on so that government leaders could know what is puzzling to people. (My agency has something like this on a smaller scale; I do not represent them here.)

2) Medium term: Ensure that people who work for the government are broadly literate across all agencies in terms of their functions, organizational structure, key issues, etc. Just like you can't graduate from university without studying a core curriculum, within 5 years of working for the government you should have a base of knowledge sufficient to equip you to answer questions from the public should you be the recipient of them. Doing this would also ensure that we think like one government because to the public - the USG is the brand.

3) Long term: Reorganize the agencies themselves along the lines of what citizens want, rather than setting them up as a patchwork driven by a multitude of priorities. More than that, make the institutional structures flexible enough to evolve with citizen needs, so that radical change isn't needed as society continues to evolve.

Some companies that do customer service well and along these lines are Amazon.com and Symantec.

What do you think? How can government increase the level of service it provides to the public in terms of responding to their questions?


Image source here