|Improving Customer Service
Issue # 20 of 70
By: Dr. John T. Self
Government Customer Service: Oxymoron or bad rap?
What do the following have in common: city, state and federal personnel, and the ubiquitous driver's license department?
Yep, you guessed it. Their commonality is a public perception of being the black holes of customer service. The image they conjure up is not one that makes most people warm and fuzzy. Consequently, hardly anyone thinks of them as the epitome of customer service.
Is this just an inherent problem that cannot be "fixed"? Or is it one that is just perception and not reality?
Unfortunately, from my perspective, it is reality. Case-in-point: my recent trip to City Hall. I could literally feel the life force being sucked out of me as I made the rounds. No one appeared to be enjoying their jobs. There was no excitement. It was as if a dark cloak wrapped around everyone as they entered the building.
Although everyone answered my questions, it was done as an automaton would do. Lifeless, passionless, without eye contact, seemingly trying to avoid any personal contact. It was almost painful.
As I dragged myself around from office to office, I started to ask myself questions, looking for an explanation for this mutual misery. . .
Q - WHY is it like this? Is it because most governmental agencies handle such a huge number of people?
A - No, many retail stores and restaurants are able to handle even more people with grace and hospitality.
Q - Is it the repetitiveness of the job?
A- No. See above.
Q - Is it because they know they have a captive clientele?
A - Ahhh, now I think we're getting somewhere. Yes, but not entirely. It is not just the lack of competition, it is mainly because they have not had customer service as a priority. This comes from the top. The someone to blame is the leadership for they are not only tolerating, but condoning poor customer service.
Q - Are the employees hired that way or is it a learned blandness?
A - Learned definitely. All new employees start by wanting to please their boss and peers. It is management that drives the employees to rudeness because of the climate that they either tolerated or encouraged this type of anti-service.
Q - Is it because our expectations drop to sub-level whenever we stop in a governmental agency?
A - I think this a major problem area. When was the last time you complained about poor service to "Guv-mint OH-fish-al"? Probably never because you were so glad to leave that you zoomed out of there the instant you were finished. Then the out-of-sight, out-of-mind principle kicked into effect.
Does it really have to be this way? The answer of course, is an emphatic "No!" Just as everyone deplores drive-by shootings, drive-by customer service is NOT customer service at all.
10 Ways to infuse a sense of service into governmental jobs:
Text © Dr. John T. Self, 1997,1998. Part of the original Sideroad.