When you’re setting a tight budget and money is strictly prioritised, service organisations and especially public service organisations should focus more and more on feedback from their customers to make effective and sound decisions about their services. Yet decision-making is only as accurate and reliable as the information upon which it is based. In light of Transparency Rwanda’s (TR) recent research using ‘drop-off boxes’ in Kigali City and a proposal for Community Scorecards, Rwanda’s public sector is off and running in the right direction. TR rightly says that ‘poor service delivery is an impediment to rapid economic recovery of the country’ and is pushing for service providers and local leaders to be accountable for the services they provide to citizens who should also be able to influence policy according to their necessities and preferences. This is all sound thinking but transformational change requires much more than a robust data gathering diagnostic tool. However effective it might be at engaging the service user, the methodology must be embedded in the service provider’s psyche for improvements to happen. The next time the organisation asks its customers for feedback – the silence will be deafening. It’s all about ‘measuring the service gap and closing the loop’.

 

The Service Gap

The difference between what customers expect and their perceptions of that service is the Service Gap and it can be positive or negative. Negative – when expectations exceed actual service delivery levels, leading to a less than satisfactory service experience; or Positive – when service delivery exceeds expectations. Even positive gaps may be problematic as customers may see positive gaps as a misuse of public resources. Understanding customer expectations is crucial to addressing service satisfaction. But let’s be pragmatic for a moment. Some public services may not be ready to deliver the ‘expected’ level of quality without considerable investment and in these circumstances it’s important to be honest with customers and tell them what they can realistically expect. This can be done using Customer Service Standards. Obviously, customer satisfaction surveys need to tie back into the service standards. For example, to check Equality and Fairness users need to be asked if they felt they were treated fairly, with courtesy and respected as an individual; on Delivery users should be asked if they got what they wanted. If the answer to this question is mostly ‘No’, the service is failing to deliver what its customers see as its true purpose – its reason to be – and that can come as a big shock to a manager. Combined with internal performance management data this deep customer insight will help any organisation point improvement activity in the right places targeting resources at:

·     The things they are really good at and need to keep doing

·     The things they are currently doing well but need to improve

·     The things they are doing poorly or not at all (and need to put more effort into).

What is a Customer Service Standard?

A Customer Service Standard is a way of telling people what public services are provided and a clear statement of the service’s purpose. It’s a way of managing expectations and demonstrating accountability and importantly, a means to ensure a consistent minimum standard of customer service. A typical customer service standard would describe:

·   What the service is – a brief description of the services and who they are/not provided to

·   What the user can expect – recent and reliable performance figures

·   What the service expects from the user – explains that the customer might have to provide information or follow instructions

·   Customer service values – a list of measurable statements about

o    Timeliness – such as phone answered in 5 rings, waiting time is 10 minutes

o    Accessibility – opening times

o    Quality – satisfaction is high, 80% of users are either satisfied or very satisfied

o    Equality and fairness – treating all people with respect and courtesy

o    Responsiveness – going the extra mile

o    Information – information on how to get the service required

o    Competence – people are professional, well trained and knowledgeable

o    Ownership – the first person you contact owns the request

o    Privacy – personal information treated as confidential

o    Delivery – getting what you wanted.

o    How can a customer comment on the service – complaints/compliments procedure

o    How to get in touch – contact details.

What about Closing the Loop?

Having communicated service standards to their customers, public bodies need to measure the gap between what they deliver and what customers can expect. Many services initially fail to see the business case for regularly gathering feedback from customers, seeing them as costly and time-consuming activities that add little value. However, when it is proved that service delivery is seen as poor and the actual costs of handling complaints far exceeds those of the survey, there is a change of thinking. A health warning – all this feedback only provides opportunities for improvement the secret ingredient for improving customer service and reducing costs, is leadership. Leaders must show an interest and demonstrate personal involvement identifying improvements and making them stick and if they fail to take action on these findings then time, effort and money will have been wasted and worse, customers will feel let down.

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