Where Are We At When It Comes To Meeting The Needs Of Government Customers? Successes and Failures
Q: As we approach the end of 2012, where do you think we are in terms of how well government serves government customers?
Robert: I would say that the Internet has helped government tremendously in meeting the needs of its customers, and that we've made huge strides in making things easier. Most governments have made amazing amounts of information available online, and that's a huge boon to make interacting with government easier. If only because the information about policies and procedures is so "out there". You can even file taxes online, pay them online, and submit all kinds of applications for things using PDF formatted documents.
Q: How do you feel about the move to using social media on the part of government?
Robert: It depends. Social media is a huge beast, and we need to be clear about what we are talking about. Are we talking Facebook? Blog? Twitter? Forums? Are we talking about communication channels hosted on government servers? Or on third party servers? I can't offer an intelligent answer without knowing what we're talking about?
Q: Well, let's talk about Facebook. It's being used by all levels of government.
Robert: Bad idea. Frought with all kinds of issues that are not faced by the private sector such as privacy, data security, the issues of censorship and freedom of speech, and above all, putting control of government communication channels in the hands of a third party who's motivation is to make money.
The move to using third party platforms is going to backfire, people will end up fired, and it's going to be a big mess sooner or later. A definite step backwards.
Q: That sounds like a topic we should schedule for a future interview. What do you think about Obama's Directive 13571 on Customer Service?
Robert: I commented extensively on Obama's customer service directive in a two part series on our associated blog, so I won't go into great detail. In summary:
- Nothing new here. There have been several similar directives over the years from different political administrations.
- The problem with directives like this in government, particularly large governments, is that they create huge amounts of work and paperwork, often without having any effect, or at least little effect on where the rubber meets the road -- customer interactions. It's a little like donating to charity and having most of the donation eaten up by administrative costs.
- I have a feeling that governments have benefited from technology over the last ten years so much that there's little more they can gain using it, and particularly when it comes to social media.
Q: So do you think the directive is a bad thing?
Robert: No, I'd say we don't know. It calls for submitting plans, and so on, and I worry that the costs of generating plans is more than what will actually be invested into customer service delivery on the human side -- hiring, training, and other areas.
Q: So, what's next for government and customer service?
Robert: I think we've reached close to the limits of technology here to improve it. There is room for larger sized governments to try to move their cultures, which tend to be rule driven, rather than citizen oriented, and that results in lots of bad handling of citizen customers, still. The larger the government, the more the human side, and the culture side are neglected.
And I think we will see that the fallout that will come from relying on third party providers like Facebook is going to be a mess. The more government depends on third parties, the more there is risk of disruption, and we'll be seeing legal challenges becoming more public over the next few years.
Q: Is there one thing you'd like to see government do in the area of customer service, in 2013?
Robert: Yes. Don't rely on third parties as a means to interface with citizens. Period.