Document Name: Intro.(2 of 23)
Owner: National Performance Review

Putting Customers First:
Standards for Serving the American People


Introduction 1

Customer-Driven Government 5

Standards for Our Customers

Customer Group: Beneficiaries 13

Customer Group: Business 17

Customer Group: The General Public 23

Customer Group: Law Enforcement 31

Customer Group: Natural Resource Management 35

Customer Group: The Research and Academic Community 39

Customer Group: States, Localities, and Other Partners 43

Customer Group: Travelers, Tourists, and Outdoor Enthusiasts 49

Customer Group: The U.S. Government and Federal Employees 53

Customer Group: Veterans 57


Appendix A: Executive Order 12862 63

Appendix B: Text of Customer Service Standards 65

Beneficiaries 67

Business 73

The General Public 93

Law Enforcement 113

Natural Resource Management 117

The Research and Academic Community 123

States, Localities, and Other Partners 133

Travelers, Tourists, and Outdoor Enthusiasts 143

The U.S. Government and Federal Employees 149

Veterans 157


The Federal Government must be customer-driven.

--President Clinton

When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight, Americans
think of Federal Express. FedEx's customer service standard is well-
known to its customers: priority delivery by 10:30 a.m. the next
business day; regular delivery by 3 p.m.

That famous customer service standard from the private sector is
different in two important ways from most government service
standards of the past. One, the company wrote it down in plain
language and publicized it so that customers will know exactly what
to expect and employees will know their mission and the measure of
success. Two, it responds to customer needs. FedEx is not just trying
to do a little better than its competition; it found out what aspects
of service were most important to its customers and set standards in
those terms.

For contrast, consider the customer service standard of the now
defunct Military Traffic Management Terminal Service, an organization
that was roughly in the same business as FedEx. Unlike FedEx, MTMTS
never publicized its customer service standard. But the standard was
nonetheless well-known to its customers, who captured its essence by
referring to MTMTS as "Maybe Today, Maybe Tomorrow, Someday." Unlike
FedEx, MTMTS did not respond to customer needs.

Executive Order

Last September's report of the National Performance Review
recommended that all agencies develop customer service standards and
that the standards be published. Within days, President Clinton
issued an Executive Order calling for a customer service "revolution
within the Federal Government to change the way it does business."
(The complete text of the Executive Order is in Appendix A.) Agencies
assembled teams of people from headquarters and the front lines,
people who believed that government can and must provide top-notch
service. The teams began surveying customers and preparing to publish
their service standards.

This document, Putting Customers First: Standards for Serving the
American People, is the result: the U.S. Government's first
comprehensive set of published customer service standards. We will
keep track of our performance against these standards and publish the
results. We are prepared for our customers to judge us on our

1,500 Standards

This report presents more than 1,500 customer service standards,
representing commitments from more than 100 federal agencies. This is
the first time most of these agencies have set standards. It is a
major step toward the kind of results-driven government that Congress
described when it passed the Government Performance and Results Act
to promote "a new focus on results, service quality, and customer
satisfaction" in government.

More standards will be set out in coming months to cover still more
services that the government provides. Highlights of the standards
being published now appear in the main body of this report, which is
organized according to groups of customers. For example, a section on
business customers describes federal agency interaction with
businesses and gives highlights of the standards that businesses can
now count on.

Appendix B lists all of the detailed service standards according to
customer group. If standards apply to more than one group of
customers, we repeated them under each group to make them easy to
find. In addition to this document, federal agencies are publishing
their complete customer service plans, which will include their
standards. Many agencies will hand out brochures or put up posters in
their public offices advertising their service standards.

The Best in Business

Our ultimate goal for customer service is to be "equal to the best in
business." We chose that goal for two reasons. First, it is the level
of quality Americans enjoy every day in the private marketplace; they
deserve and have every right to expect the same from the government
they are paying for. Second, equating the goal for government
services with the best in business lets federal workers draw on their
own experience in deciding how to treat customers. As in the golden
rule, they should treat their government customers just as they
themselves like to be treated when they are customers of private

Of course, good customer service standards must be far more specific
than the golden rule. Such specific standards appear in this report.
For example, the Social Security Administration promises to mail a
new social security card within five days of receiving an
application; if you need to know the number even sooner, they will
tell it to you in just one working day. Similarly, the Economics and
Statistics Administration, which sells international trade
information on compact disks, promises to get your order into the
mail within 24 hours, or you get a free CD.

There is a lot more to delivering top-notch service than just wanting
to and promising to. You have to organize for responsiveness and
flexibility; most of the government was organized for top-down
control and risk avoidance. We are changing that. You have to train
and empower employees so they can deliver the results customers want;
most federal employees have been trained to follow rigid rules. We
are changing that. You have to design systems to please customers;
most government systems were designed to please the boss, or
headquarters, or some management committee. We are changing that,

But these changes go to the very core of government. They take time.
And one of the cardinal rules of customer service is never to make a
promise you can't keep; if anything, promise less, then give your
customer a pleasant surprise. That is why some of the standards in
this report are pretty modest compared with the best in business. For
example, the Department of Veterans Affairs promises that veterans
will have to wait no more than 30 minutes to see a benefits
counselor. We know that is still too long, and changes are in the
works that will virtually eliminate waiting when you stop by a VA
office. But until VA has finished the extensive reorganization and
training needed to shorten the wait, it is telling its customers what
to expect. That's the way Disney does it; signs posted along the
waiting lines tell you how long it will take to reach Space Mountain
or Pirates of the Caribbean.

Some of the standards in this report are being phased in office-by-
office across the country as the new organization, training, and
systems are completed. For example, the U.S. Postal Service has
already started guaranteeing lobby service within five minutes in
many regions (the director of one successful region recently became
the Chief Operating Officer of the entire USPS). Other post offices
will be ready to make that service commitment soon. The goal is
eventually to have all of them delivering service up to this

Starting Out

We are just getting started, and we have a long way to go. But we are
building on a strong foundation: the desire of federal workers to
serve America. What we need are redesigned systems that will let
federal workers give America their best.

Ultimately, we are determined to equal or exceed the best in
business. Until then, we promise you that we will continue to sharpen
our focus on customer service. We will continue to ask our customers
what to improve. We will publish increasingly high standards. And we
will measure success in terms of customer satisfaction.

Customer-Driven Government

Restoring Faith One Customer at a Time

The concept of "government customers" is a bit new and controversial.
The National Performance Review has received letters and phone calls
from a few taxpayers who objected to being referred to as the
government's customers. These people correctly pointed out that they
are the government's owners or, at the very least, stockholders. But
it is possible to be an owner and a customer too. For example, if you
own stock in Ford Motors, your relationship to the company is
something like a taxpayer's to the government; you own a piece of it.
A Ford stockholder can enter another relationship with the company by
buying a Taurus and becoming a valued customer. When taxpayers call
the Social Security Administration or stop by the post office, they
are customers too.

One big reason government must begin treating people the way top
businesses treat their customers is to restore America's faith in our
system of self-government. The terrible truth is that most Americans
don't trust government to do the right thing.

They used to. In surveys 30 years ago, 76 percent of Americans
believed that they could solve problems together through self-
government. They believed that government would do the right thing.

Not anymore. In recent surveys, only 20 percent of Americans believed
in the ability of their government to do the right thing. From a
solid majority to a small minority in a single generation.

That is the crisis we are responding to. That lack of faith in the
American people's ability to solve national problems through the
American system of self-government threatens the fabric of our nation
and the future of our next generation. It threatens to leave a legacy
of helplessness and chaos for our grandchildren. That is the crisis
that calls for dramatic changes.

And the dramatic changes we are making are designed to convince our
customers -- one customer at a time -- that government can work
better, that it is working better, that Americans might once again
believe that we can solve national problems like unemployment, crime,
health care, and homelessness -- together, through self- government.

The Businesslike Approach to Government

Applying the customer service concept to government has clear
management advantages. It actually can make government work better
and cost less. It focuses attention on results the customers want. It
highlights the expenditures that yield those results and, by
contrast, eliminates the expenditures that don't contribute to good

Here are some examples. The staff of the New York Regional Benefits
Office of Veterans Affairs focused on customer service when they
reengineered the system for processing benefit applications. The
result is much happier customers and a process that costs much less.
They eliminated all but eight of the 25 steps in the old process and
are now able to do the work quicker with fewer overhead jobs. In
another example -- this one focused on internal customers -- a small
team at the Defense Department has developed a simplified and
speeded-up administrative process for employees who travel on
business. By eliminating unnecessary red tape and the associated
jobs, the new procedure has the potential to save $1 billion over the
next five years. All across government, eliminating excessive
overhead and red tape will save tens of billions of dollars each year
and free up people to serve customers.

The customer service approach to government can even cause an agency
to rethink the way it does its basic mission and get much better
results. Enforcement and regulatory agencies like the Customs Service
are good examples. The Customs Service has adopted a customer service
approach toward the shippers that it regulates and is getting
excellent results at major ports.

Miami is one of the nation's highest volume ports for both cargo and
passengers. It used to take hours, sometimes days, to get cargo
through customs. That was a serious problem for shippers, especially
if the cargo was flowers or fresh fruit or some other perishable.
Passenger delays were also big headaches for airlines and, of course,
for the passengers. But the Customs Office had to enforce the laws
governing what comes into the country; delays and angry customers
seemed to come with the territory.

The customer service approach changed everything. Instead of viewing
the trade community as the adversary -- people who might be caught
breaking the rules -- the Miami Customs team began viewing shippers
as customers of government's services and partners who would
voluntarily help enforce the rules. Customs built partnerships with
other federal agencies, like Immigration, Food and Drug, Fish and
Wildlife, and Agriculture, and with the shippers and the airlines --
with everyone in the community. People representing all these
interests began meeting -- and they met often. They listened to one
another's ideas about quicker clearance. Together, they figured out
how the best in business would do it. Together, they built new
facilities and money-saving electronic data systems. Together, they
set customer service standards, like getting airline passengers
through customs in five minutes and through the entire airport within
45 minutes. Customs taught shippers how to help with enforcement so
that most of the cargo is cleared before it even reaches port.

Now, the shippers and passengers are pleased. The flowers and fruit
stay fresh. And compliance rates have actually improved. All that
came from a new customer service approach applied to an enforcement

Satisfying Customers -- First, You Have to Find Them

The customer service approach is so new to some agencies that the
very first step was to figure out who the customer is. Since the
customer is the one you try to satisfy, it was natural for many
government workers to think that the customer must be the boss, or
headquarters, or Congress; in the past, our systems have certainly
been designed to satisfy these people. But, while they are all
important -- even crucial -- to our success, they are not the
customers. The customers are the people who use the national parks,
forests, and waterways; people who are eligible for social security
and veterans benefits; people whose lives are diminished by
unemployment, illiteracy, crime, pollution, and the problems of our
major cities. The customer service approach refocuses government on
the people. It puts people first.

Some federal agencies, like Social Security and Veterans Affairs,
deal directly with the people. Others work through partners. For
example, Head Start, the successful preschool program, is
administered nationally by the Department of Health and Human
Services. But as the diagram above shows, HHS does not deal directly
with all of its customers -- for example, the Head Start families. It
deals with its partners, state and local government agencies. The
situation is similar to auto manufacturers and retail dealers:
Ultimately, the quality of service to the car buyer depends on the
dealer's practices as well as the service provided by the
manufacturer to the dealer. There are, in effect, two customer
service opportunities. In cases like these, we set standards that
apply to the relationship between the federal agency and its
partners, most often state and local governments. Then, working with
our partners, we can set standards for serving the ultimate

Customer Service is Surprising Business

Good customer service standards come from the customers. One of the
basic rules in developing standards is to start by asking your
customers what they want. When you ask them, you'll almost always get
a surprise.

The Oregon State Division of Motor Vehicles got a big surprise when
it talked to its customers. The DMV had set out to improve service in
issuing driver's licenses. It assumed that what people wanted most
was shorter waiting lines. So it planned to add clerks and automate
the process.

Then, before putting all this in place, the DMV asked its customers
what was most important to them.The No. 1 complaint -- by a wide
margin -- was not the long lines, but the unflattering pictures on
the licenses. Even though the DMV saw people waiting in line every
day, each individual customer only had to wait in line once every
five years. But the customers were aggravated every time they had to
show someone the bad picture on their license. Now Oregon uses a
video system that takes a little more time but allows the driver to
select the best of a variety of pictures. That's good service from
the customer's point of view.

In developing the customer service standards listed in this report,
federal agencies have been asking their customers what they want --
and they've gotten some surprises. For example, imagine you are
driving through Death Valley and your car breaks down. You are about
to panic when you spot a National Park Service sign with emergency
instructions -- but in a language you don't understand. Not much
help, eh? Well, that is just what the Park Service had been doing to
its customers until it surveyed them and found out that 75 percent of
the visitors to Death Valley are tourists from Europe. Now emergency
instructions are translated into German, French, and Italian. Surveys
by the IRS produce surprises as well. Most taxpayers don't put a
priority on getting tax booklets right after January 1. Your real
priority is to minimize contact with the IRS. To help, the IRS has
set a goal of answering your questions with one call.

Customer surveys are clearly crucial to improving service, and the
Office of Management and Budget has made it easier for agencies to
conduct surveys. OMB, which by law must approve any public
questionnaire, has cut its clearance time for customer surveys from
12 weeks to two. This permits agencies to find out what customers
want and to keep up with their changing needs.

Front-line Work -- A Daily Dose of Reality

Front-line workers who deal with customers daily often know a lot
about how to improve service. Day in and day out, they hear the
complaints and the reasonable requests, and they see first-hand the
satisfaction when customers' expectations are met. Certainly, once we
have learned from the customers what they want, the front-line
employees are most likely to know how to deliver it.

Successful businesses pay close attention to what front-line workers
have to say, and they give them a great deal of authority and
responsibility in taking care of customers. Federal agencies are
doing the same. For example, the Social Security Administration
surveyed all 65,000 of its employees to get their ideas on how to
improve service. Some of the good ideas they came up with include
offering drive-through service like banks, and relocating offices to
shopping malls so that customers can take advantage of free parking,
public transportation, and mall security. The front-line workers also
know how to simplify paperwork in the back office so they can spend
more of their time actually helping customers.

You Be the Judge

If, in the past year, the government had been totally reinvented into
a customer- driven, world-class service organization, you'd know it.
The U.S. Postal Service would be neck-and-neck with FedEx for
dependable, on-time delivery; ordering a map from the U.S. Geological
Survey would be as simple as ordering a wool shirt from L.L. Bean;
and checking on your social security benefits would be like checking
on your Visa account. You know we are not there yet.

But we've made progress to be proud of. Veterans in New York and
Waltham, Massachusetts, know it. Shippers in Miami and Seattle know
it. Business owners and exporters in Baltimore, Miami, Chicago, and
Long Beach know it. Some of them have become ardent fans of the
government people who serve customers in those cities. Groups here
and there around the nation are beginning to see the change that a
customer-focused government can achieve. They are beginning to
believe again that government can work for them, that we can solve
our problems together through government.

This is the first time most agencies have published standards.
Agencies are changing the way they do things in order to meet the
standards. They are also prepared to change the standards in order to
focus on the things that customers say are most important.

So you can make the government change faster. Look for the posted
service standards and hold us to them; this is how to measure us.
When you get poor service from a government agency, or if you think
the standards miss the mark, tell the agency about it; let the front-
line workers and the head of the agency know what you think should be
done better. When you get good service from a government agency, let
them know that too. Use the phone numbers and addresses that agencies
are publishing in their plans. We will learn from the mistakes and
use the successes as models for others to emulate.

Together, we can and will bring the government back to its customers
-- back to you, the American people, who deserve nothing short of the

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