Taxpayers: Are You Willing To Pay For Better Customer Service From Government?
There is little doubt that government customer service HAS improved over the last decade or two. Much of that improvement has come from increased capabilities of computers to process data, and their use, as opposed to fundamental changes in how government works.
Citizens Still Disappointed In Service From Government
That said, whenever survey research is undertaken, citizens express their negativity and "poor experiences" interacting with government. There are a lot of reasons for this, one being that the survey research shows similar disappointments with PRIVATE sector service too, and the fact that many of our interactions with government involve issues around compliance with laws and policies.
The nature of the latter type of interactions is such that most people are never going to be happy, because government's "job" often involves telling people what they can and can't do.
The Push For Better Government Service
If you read the reports and articles on government customer service, or look at initiatives like Obama's 2011 executive order regarding improving service, you'd get the impression, from the outside, that we are close to a breakthrough and that government service will take a quantum leap forward.
In fact, a 2015 report from Forrester available for the princely tax dollars price of $495.00) says this:
Major changes are coming to federal customer experience (CX). The seeds that the administration planted in 2014 — like the US Digital Services Playbook — will start to bear fruit in 2015, as agencies finally break out of their find-and-fix cycle and start making substantive improvements.
The problem with these broad initiatives and predictions is that they fail to take into account some simple realities when it comes to serving the public:
- While it's possible to improve customer service coming from government, for the most part, government has already taken advantage of the benefits of technology, so there will be limited improvement by "following the private sector" practices. Sadly the BIG strides have already been made, largely unnoticed by the public.
- To make an appreciable difference in how the public views service from government requires higher costs, and that means higher taxes, or user fees, themselves problematic. Customer service in any sector is largely STILL human to human, and things like wait time, speed of processing, difficulty getting decisions and so forth ARE labor intensive.
- Technology, including social technologies involves only tweaking around the edges of customer service issues. In other words, customer service problems in government are not caused by problems that technology can solve.
The Bottom Line IS The Bottom Line
To put it simply, if citizens want visible improvements in service, beyond those that have already occurred, those improvements need to be paid for. More people need to be hired. Fancier technologies may be required. Better training is needed for staff, and most important, the entire culture of government may need to be overhauled, an almost impossible process.
Government can increase what citizens pay for things like driver's licences, or business licences to fund these improvements, but many government functions do not involve such fees, leaving only ONE way to do it -- increase taxes.
That's problematic in our democracy for two reasons. First, the allocation of tax dollars to make citizens happier with government is "behind the scenes", or relatively invisible. Second, and more obvious, while everyone wants better service, people don't want to pay for it.
- Would you be willing to pay an extra hundred dollars in taxes each year so you wouldn't have to wait in line to renew a business licence?
- Would you be willing to pay a user fee to enlist the help of a government staffer to complete an application for a zoning change? How much would you pay?
- How much are you willing to pay in extra taxes each year so that the government can deliver services you don't use in a more customer service oriented way?
You get the drift.
Conclusions: You Want Better Service, You'll Need To Pay For It
There is always room for improvement, and in some cases improvement can come from government streamlining processes, and using different newer technologies, but these do not result in huge leaps in service quality, and reduced wait times and frustration.
The bottom line is that for government to improve their service to the public enough so you and I would take notice, the government must spend more and specifically, hire enough additional people to reduce the wait times for service.
That has to be paid for. And it's the taxpayer that must pay for it.
One has to consider WHY it's important to improve service from government, a point that is almost always ignored in the fancy reports and advice from consultants hoping to squeeze more money from government.
When there is a cost, albeit hidden, for better service, government needs to look more closely at the "payoff" if any to providing better service, particularly in areas that don't generate revenue.
The bottom line? In many areas, the costs to improve government customer service, particularly in the regulatory arenas, and therefore the tax load do not justify increased taxes or user fees.
Almost all citizens WANT better service from government, and almost all taxpayers do not want to spend a penny more for that improvement. And many citizens will hate government on principle, ignoring or being oblivious to the many things government does well that contribute to their well being.