A recent report found that many federal agencies are not providing great customer service. Government for the People, issued last month by the nonpartisan and nonprofit Partnership for Public Service, states that “government has pockets of excellence where its customers are well-served.”
However, it continues, “The federal government overall falls short on delivering the customer experience citizens expect and deserve. In fact, federal agencies score far behind almost all industries and sectors, including state and local governments, in several customer satisfaction measures.”
The report identifies weaknesses in federal organizations’ customer service in the areas of data, governance, communication and engagement, and workforce management. As summarized by Ian Smith in FedSmith, problems identified in relation to each of those four areas are that
(1) “agencies are not making the best use of feedback and customer data to drive their decisions,”
(2) “many agencies lack a clear customer service experience strategy and a senior leader who is ultimately responsible for customer service,”
(3) “poor communication and lack of engagement between federal agencies and their customers can lead to service delivery that is out of touch with what the public needs,” and
(4) “agencies are not doing enough to build a workforce that is fully prepared to create a great customer experience, and they fail to focus on the fact that all agency employees are involved in a great customer service experience rather than just the employees who interface directly with the public.”
When reading about such opportunities for improvement, those who already benefit from using the Baldrige Excellence Framework (which includes the Criteria for Performance Excellence) know that this performance management and self-assessment resource can help federal organizations improve customer service—and achieve operational excellence. As conveyed in another blog about the value of the Baldrige framework to the federal sector, organizations seeking to improve their performance can find inspiration to adopt the framework and examples of effective practices from Baldrige Award recipients.
The national role models include two federal and two municipal government organizations. For example, to provide a sturdy foundation—or if more apt, a springboard—for excellent customer service, a government organization could consider adopting core values like those of Baldrige Award-winning City of Coral Springs (FL): customer focus (“demonstrate a passion for customer service”); leadership (“establish an inspiring vision that creates a government that works better and costs less); empowered employees (“empower the people closest to the customer to continuously improve [the organization’s] quality and services”); and continuous improvement (“commit every day, in every way to getting better and better”).
As described in this profile (PDF) online, the city has long had a robust approach to gathering and using input from its two key customer groups, residents and businesses, to drive decision making. From review and analysis of the wealth of customer survey feedback and other data it tracks, the city develops its priorities and makes strategic and business decisions. Federal organizations aiming for great customer service also can find a role model in the first federal organization to receive the Baldrige Award:
U.S. Army Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center (ARDEC).
As highlighted in ARDEC’s profile (PDF) on our website, over the seven years leading to its Baldrige Award, ARDEC improved its overall customer satisfaction ratings from 3.48 (on a 4-point scale) to 3.75, exceeding both government and industry benchmarks. That improvement resulted largely from ARDEC’s Voice of the Customer program, including web-based customer satisfaction surveys that made it possible for the entire workforce to track 1,500 customer data points quarterly.
ARDEC also developed several resources to help it react quickly and effectively to customer needs, for example, (1) a web-based tool for collecting and tracking customer requests to help workforce members close all requests quickly; (2) world-class modeling, simulation, and prototyping design tools to shorten product development cycles and reduce costs; and (3) a document repository to support the entire workforce’s knowledge of technical information and industry best practices. When interviewed for Blogrige last fall, ARDEC presenters at a Baldrige regional conference shared the following tips for those beginning to use the Baldrige framework to improve their organization’s performance:
1. “Step number-one in change management is always for leaders to establish a sense of urgency. [The Baldrige Excellence Framework] is a vehicle for establishing and maintaining transformational change in your organization. The responsibility of great leaders is to align the mission, vision, and values within the organization. Paint the vision of what change looks like and how the Baldrige framework gets you there.”
2. “Use the Baldrige Criteria to provide a common language to discuss improvement so that everyone is using the same vernacular.”
3. “Make sure you focus on results. In other words, the way to institutionalize the Baldrige framework is to actually use it to manage the business. That comes down to establishing a formal venue for senior leadership to review results and make changes as required. This way, when you do have changes in leadership, with the venue institutionalized, it doesn’t live and die with the leadership that started it.”
In that interview, the ARDEC representatives also explained why the Baldrige framework is relevant and valuable for any organization, including those in the public sector. Here, again, are their insights:
“We found that the Criteria are applicable to any organization, public or private, large or small. Successful organizations, wherever they may come from, tend to have great leadership teams, maintain a high-performing workforce, develop and deploy effective business strategies, know their customers as well as their competitors, have very disciplined work processes, and are typically very data- and results-driven. Now, if that sounds familiar, that [is because those elements] represent the seven categories of the Baldrige Criteria. So it really doesn’t matter whether you’re profit-driven, focused on maximizing shareholder value, or like us in the public sector … focused on executing our mission effectively and efficiently: those key seven areas are applicable no matter what your organization’s type or sector.”
—Joseph (Joe) Brescia, director for strategic management and process improvement at ARDEC
“Baldrige provides a turnkey solution to looking at an organization with a degree of objectivity as to what’s truly important for accomplishing its own mission.”
—James (Jim) Caiazzo, team leader for the Office of Strategic Management at ARDEC
Government leaders: Are you listening? Embracing the Baldrige framework can help your organization deliver great customer service and improve your performance in all other key areas, too. (Check out four ways to learn more.)