Government strives anew for customer service

Like a post-Easter decorated egg, the White House has rolled out a new council composed of government people. This one is called the Core Federal Services Council. It sounds like a Pilates class. But it’s actually aimed at service to the citizen, something at which the government can be a bit flabby.

The Council will have 28 members from transaction-intensive agencies.

During the Bush administration — Bush 41, that is — the idea of service to the citizen first surfaced. In those days, agencies worried about rude or ineffective service when people walked into federal offices, or when they called on the telephone. The service to the citizen movement started at the state level. Much of government was invisibly electronic then, but the online transaction hadn’t really come onto the scene. That would require dial-up service and the advent of the Netscape browser in 1994. Netscape and AOL enabled e-gov, primitive though it seems today.

By 1995 or so, the government began that Version 1.0 of e-government. Both the Clinton and Bush 43 administrations advanced online government. You can trace a line of commonality in the IT and IT management initiatives of both administrations, and also in the Obama administration.

Now the challenge for the next iteration of customer, or citizen, service is the so-called cross-agency priority goal of improving what is now called the customer experience. All sorts of new-fangled techniques are coming into this effort — journey mapping, feedback data, self-assessments. Journey mapping is a jazzy way of saying agencies need to understand how citizens interact with a given agency in various situations. It’s a useful way to look at things.

The step forward now for the federal government is integrating the experiences people have whether they “visit” online or in person, or maybe on the telephone. Corporations have struggled here. You can have a great experience ordering and provisioning a notebook online — but then you try tech support, wait an hour, and get some guy named “Roger” who is clearly not in the same hemisphere.

Social Security, for example, is trying to get its in-person and online experiences equal and good, as outlined in my interview with Acting Commissioner Carolyn Colvin. (I think her grandkids are very lucky to have her as their grandmother.)

Recently, I bought two DRAM sticks online a couple weeks ago to upgrade a older Mac Mini — my main home office machine. I’d upgraded the OS to 10.11.3 Apple calls it El Capitan. The critics call it El Crapitan. It slowed the machine to a crawl, so I figured the old remedy of doubling the memory couldn’t hurt.

My first encounter with the vendor, MacSales/Other World Computing,  was via online chat, where a representative guided me to the right product, two 4 gigabyte modules. The price was great, no shipping charge. It arrived in three days. An online video at OWC showed how to install it. Voila! The machine booted up fast and ran great — for 10 minutes. Suddenly the display went haywire, then black. A coincidental graphics board failure? The death of my Matrox Dual Head Digital?

Long story short, my local Mac dealer, through the process of elimination, discovered I’d bought bad DRAM. It sold me another brand of the identical two sticks for twice the price, and the machine has been running great.

This time I telephoned the mail order place. Not only did I get a nearly unbelievably polite operator who knew my name before I told him, but within five minutes I had a return authorization. Moments later an e-mail arrived with a PDF of a return mailing label. I repackaged the memory carefully and sent it back, Two days later, the company credited my account. And sent me a survey asking about my experience.

How could you not buy again from a place like that? It had seamless integration among chat, web, phone and mail. It had nice people. And it stood behind what it sold. Computers can be finicky about memory, and sometimes a module can be defective. But as the old rule goes, it’s what happens when something doesn’t work out that really tests customer service.

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