Leadership and Customer Service in the Public Sector

Hand Held Magnifying Glass over the word Service Isolated

Does customer service really matter in the public sector? Isn’t the act of working in the public sector the fulfillment of service? Not in the eyes of the taxpayer, according to the latest report from the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI).

In its 2014 report, the ACSI identifies that “Americans are less satisfied with services of the U.S. federal government for a second consecutive year, as citizen satisfaction recedes 2.6% to an ACSI score of 64.4 (scale of 0 to 100).  Overall, the services of the federal government continue to deliver a level of customer satisfaction below the private sector, and the downturn this year exacerbates the difference. Among more than 40 industries covered by the ACSI, only Internet service providers have a lower score.”

There is, and should be, an expectation that customer service be delivered in the public sector in a way that at least meets, or more preferably, exceeds, the expectations of the American public.

With the American public expecting service comparable to what they receive in the private sector, how do our public sector agencies ensure that they meet expectations?  Leadership and employee engagement are the critical elements that develop a culture and spirit of service.

Research conducted by The Ken Blanchard Companies found a strong relationship between leadership practices, employee work passion, and customer service scores.  Better leadership practices—at a strategic and operational level—lead to higher levels of employee work passion and customer satisfaction.

Strategic Leadership and Operational Leadership

From a leadership perspective, resources in the form of information and resources to do one’s job must be allocated. That is, the workforce is only as good as the tools they have to perform their roles.

Strategic leadership defines the imperatives for everyone in the organization. It is the what that provides the key relationships and metrics needed to ensure that all units follow the same strategy. Examples of strategic leadership include vision, culture, and the declaration of strategic imperatives.

Operational leadership practices provide the how in the organization. This enables departments and employees to understand how they specifically contribute to organization success. They are the procedures and policies that clarify how each unit will achieve the overall strategy.

For instance, extraordinary client service cannot be delivered unless appropriate response times are established and communicated to those responsible for delivering service. Response time can be defined in minutes or days, but an operational definition must be developed and communicated so that the appropriate workforce understands the expectation, trends can be measured, and corrective actions can be implemented as necessary.

But that is only half the job. Defining service goals is a somewhat useless exercise unless a passion exists to deliver on the goal. This passion must be fostered and nurtured by agency leadership. Rather than a culture where the workforce sees the act of responding to public inquiries as drudgery, leadership must create an environment where there is a passion for service.

This requires specialized knowledge—but many leaders have never learned how to create this vision and passion for service.  They are not naturally focused on or committed to building a customer service ethic. It’s not because they lack desire—it’s because they lack know-how.

A great place to start exploring how leadership can impact service is through the white papers: The Leadership Profit Chain, Leadership Purpose Chain in Government Agencies, and Employee Work Passion: Connecting the Dots.

For more information on how The Ken Blanchard Companies helps organizations and agencies define, promote, and deliver on a culture of outstanding service, visit www.kenblanchard.com/government

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