The customer is always right

David Rees

By David Rees

Why public services need to get personal

With shrinking budgets, the public sector needs to think afresh about how to keep the lights on. Centring provision on the specific needs of customers can help focus cash-constrained resources on the areas that will deliver the biggest impact.

We explain five ways the public sector can start thinking differently about customers and customer service:

Get up close and personal

Who are your customers? What do they think of you and the service you’re providing? Customer surveys or feedback won’t give you the full picture. A more effective approach is to engage staff and customers in co-creating value and designing out the things that don’t have a positive impact on the customer experience. Co-creation means you might have to let customers into places they wouldn’t typically go and see things that you don’t necessarily want them to see. But if you’re going to align what you do with what they want, and do less of what they don’t want, then you have to get them involved.

No service can be great service

Do your customers really want to contact you? This might sound like a perverse question – but understanding why customers are interacting with you, and whether the interaction is of value or could have been avoided if you did something differently, is vital. It can help you avoid unnecessary demand and reduce costs at the same time as improving customers’ experience.

Get it right first time

Few customers enjoy having to speak to several people to get their query resolved. Yet often organisations fail to give staff the tools and knowledge they need to deliver the right response, first time, every time. Understanding the types of queries received – looking for information, paying for something or requesting a service – can help you to prioritise the areas where small changes can have a big impact. Focus on the high-volume contacts. Is what you’re doing hitting the mark? If it’s not, ask your customers and staff what you need to do to get it right, make the change and check that it has made a difference.

Change should be little and often

Too often, public service is in the process of ‘optimising’ and ‘transforming’ but this needn’t be the case. Why should change only happen as a part of a programme? The people who know what’s working and what isn’t are your customers and your teams delivering day in and day out. If things aren’t working, let the people delivering services make changes to how things are done. It will help them own what they do, improve ways of working and reduce the need for dramatic step changes.

Get customers talking

Think about the last time you bought something online. Did you look to see what other people had said about the product you were buying? Customers want reassurance and a great way for them to get it is to see what other people have said. How could this work for the public sector? Connecting customers can help them resolve queries without the need to contact you directly, leaving you to focus on more complex interactions. Getting customers talking is also a great way to find out what they think about the service provided, helping you to focus on what they value and to stop investing time in activities that aren’t delivering a useful return.

Getting customer service right can play an important role in increasing efficiency and cutting costs. For public organisations, there could be a further bonus. Just as private companies focus on keeping customers satisfied to retain their loyalty and custom, so public organisations might find that providing great service reflects favourably on them at the ballot box.

About the authors

David Rees
David Rees PA government and public sector expert David has invaluable experience of significant challenges for local government

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