Serving the American Public

Best Practices in One-Stop Customer Service

Federal Benchmarking Consortium
Study Report
November 1997


Study Participants

Executive Summary


Section 1: Leadership
Section 2: Information Management and Analysis
Section 3: Strategic Planning
Section 4: Human Resource Development and Mangement
Section 5: Process Management
Section 6: Business Results
Section 7: Customer Focus and Satisfaction
A. One-Stop Customer Service in Joint Government Initiatives
B. Agency Contacts

Benchmarking Study Participants

Study Partners

AMP Incorporated
Central Oregon Initiative of the U.S.Forest
Service and the Bureau of Land Management
Ford Motor Company
Norfolk-Southern Corporation
Standard Aero
Texas Instruments
Trade Information Center
U.S. General Store, Atlanta
U.S. General Store, Houston
W.L. Gore and Associates


The Benchmarking Study Team thanks the corporate and government partners that willingly shared their experiences and best practices with us. Special thanks to Dan Cleary and John Hamburg, APEX Consulting Services, Inc.; Lori Bocklund, Vanguard Communications Corporation; Rich Clow and William C. Rossello, Coopers and Lybrand Consulting; Stephen Fred McDonald, Government Technology Program; Jim Flyzik, Department of the Treasury; Carolyn Larsen, Library of Congress; Sharon Darnell and Steve Klink, Federal Quality Consulting Group; and Nita Congress.

Study Sponsor

National Performance Review

Study Organizers

Wilett Bunton, NPR Benchmarking Team Leader
Linda Nivens, NPR Benchmarking Team

Study Team Leaders

Cynthia Hopkins, Immigration and Naturalization Service
Jan Kawamoto Jamil, Department of the Treasury

Study Team Members
Wilett Bunton, National Performance Review
Sheila L. Brand, National Security Agency
Desiree Cross-Gibson, Social Security Administration
Linda Delano, Financial Management Services
Judith Diaz-Myers, Bureau of Engraving and Printing
Jack Frost, Department of Veterans Affairs
Pete Gagnon, Department of Education
Saul Goldberg, Defense Logistics Agency
Kimberly Howze, Bureau of Engraving and Printing
Michael Hydorn, Patent and Trademark Office
Gilbert Leigh, Department of Justice
Linda Nivens, Department of Labor
Cindy Petitt, Office of the Comptroller of the Currency
Kim Ross, Department of Education
Ann Rush, Bureau of Engraving and Printing
Mary Sandy, Department of Education
Pauline Scott, Department of Education
Les Taylor, National Security Agency
Velma Taylor-Brock, Financial Management Services
Xuan M. Thai, Patent and Trademark Office
Joan Treva Tollerud, Bureau of Engraving and Printing
Jean Venable, Social Security Administration
Patricia Warden, Bureau of Engraving and Printing
Diana Weaver, Social Security Administration
Jim Yu, Department of Transportation

Executive Summary

Public service means exactly that. If not for the customers, we wouldn't need most government agencies.

An American taxpayer

A large part of being a good service provider is ensuring customer convenience. All too often, we in the federal government forget just how difficult it may have become for our customers to locate, access, and use our services.

One-stop service offers a powerful antidote. Under the one-stop paradigm, all of a customer's business can be completed in a single contact be it face to face or via phone, fax, Internet, or other means. One-stop customers do not have to hunt around, call back, or repeatedly explain their situation. One-stop customer service is convenient, accessible, and personalized.

One-stop customer service doesn't necessarily mean that the employee who answers the phone has to provide all the required services single-handedly although many organizations do ensure this level of service. Instead, one-stop customer service can mean that the employee who answers the phone knows exactly who can provide the needed service and is able to transfer the call there, without the customer havng to hang up and dial a new number. Where a long-term business relationship exists, one-stop customer service may mean that customers always deal with a specifically assigned representative or team. And, in the context of services provided by multiple federal, state, and local agencies for shared customer groups, one-stop service can mean having all of these services conveniently located under one roof like the Trade Information Center that coordinates the services of 19 separate agencies or the U.S. General Stores located in Houston and Atlanta.

This report documents the findings of a benchmarking study commissioned by the National Performance Review on one-stop customer service. The best practices described here represent the actions and philosophies of world-class customer service organizations in the public and private sectors.

Study Findings

Strong leadership systems focus on customers, motivate employees, and implement their customer service vision. We saw in our benchmarking partner organizations leaders that create the one-stop vision and then make it happen. These are leaders who listen to their customers, have a clear picture of where they are going, and are not afraid to take risks and make painful decisions. They engage their workers because they know they cannot achieve their vision without employee support and commitment.

Effective information systems get data to customer service representatives quickly, easily, efficiently, and completely. The most critical need for an effective one-stop process is immediate access by front-line employees to current information both historical information about the customer and information about the organization's service or product. Our partner organizations also focus great attention on gathering the information needed to track customer satisfaction, overall performance, and return on investment.

A tradition of strategic planning ensures that customer service is provided within a coherent and cohesive system of vision, mission, and goals. Each of our partners has planning processes in place that are customer-driven and that recognize one-stop service as an important strategic goal.

A strong focus on employees and their satisfaction leads to pride in work and enhanced customer service. Our partners believe that employees are a key enabler to one-stop service. As a result, they invest time and money hiring the right people for the jobs, training them fully, and keeping them highly skilled. In addition, these organizations focus much attention and resources on satisfying their employees. They understand that employees' satisfaction with their jobs and working conditions directly affects the ability to satisfy customers.

Customer service should be designed and delivered seamlessly from the customer's point of view. Service from the customer's perspective requires cross-functional teamwork and processes. Our partner organizations have removed the traditional structural barriers by working in unison toward common goals and objectives. They use information technologies to provide seamless service.

Customer-driven operations lead to success. All of the organizations we benchmarked exemplify a strong customer focus. They listen to their customers, they make changes based on what their customers tell them, and they use feedback to help steer their course.

Not an End, But a Beginning . . .

More and more, customers are expecting one-stop service when they conduct their business. This report documents what we saw in organizations with successful one-stop processes and is intended as a first step in helping you realize one-stop opportunities in your own organization. As a general rule, if your employee orientation training includes providing directions on how to locate functions and offices, this benchmarking report should be mandatory reading for all of your executives, managers, and self-directed work teams. If you think your operation already provides great customer accessibility and one-stop service, we invite you to compare your processes, methods, and systems with the compendium of best practices contained in this study. No matter where your organization is in the one-stop service spectrum, we challenge you to use the information in this report as a spring board to ideas that can fit your organizational realities. As one government executive stated, "Stealing shamelessly from the best helps achieve higher performance more quickly and efficiently. It makes no sense to throw resources into reinventing the wheel."


As each silo finished its piece of the process, it would throw it over the wall to the next silo, and so forth. No one looked at the whole process or tried to bridge the gulf between each of the silos.

Benchmarking Partner

Decentralized, uncoordinated service provision makes for a most frustrating experience for customers. Tiring rounds of telephone tag, endless explanations to countless service representatives, circular referrals to faceless and unknowledgeable line staff these are all sure ways for a customer to lose patience, and for an organization to lose a potentially loyal customer.

One-stop customer service provides answers to both sets of issues. It provides the customer with knowledgeable, streamlined access to the organization; it provides the organization with a logical model of service provision. One-stop service allows a customer to complete his or her business with the organization in a single contact. It lets the organization reap substantial benefits in terms of efficient resource allocation, operational efficiencies, and the improvement of customer satisfaction.

Although the specific implementation of one-stop customer service differs by organization, it generally consists of the following basic approaches, all centered around the concept of "single":

  • Companies with a centralized calling center strive to complete a customer's business during a single phone call.

  • Government agencies try to establish consistent requirements and provide related agency services, information, and products to customers at a single location.

  • Customers are assigned to a single representative or team of representatives who work in partnership with them to satisfy their business needs. In one such company, it is not unusual for specific customer representatives to have maintained a 20-year business relationship with their customers. In these organizations, "one stop" means that customers have continuity and an ongoing relationship with a specific entity in the management of their accounts.

One-stop service represents a powerful tool for enhancing customer satisfaction. This is an important goal both for private sector organizations struggling to establish themselves in today's highly competitive global market, as well as for public sector organizations, struggling to provide the highest level services customers have come to expect and which they have every reason to receive in today's technology-rich, service-oriented marketplace.

Study Design

Since 1994, in response to the President's mandate for federal agencies to take action to improve the level of service delivered to the American people, the Vice President's National Performance Review has sponsored interagency consortium benchmarking study teams. These interagency teams research, study and report on best practices used by organizations to deliver world-class service.

For this study, the team members represented 14 federal agencies (see page iii for a list of team members). The team partnered with 13 private and public sector organizations (page iii also contains a list of the partner organizations). While these organizations provide a variety of different services and products, they all have one thing in common a world-class reputation for providing their customers with one-stop service.

The team followed established benchmarking procedures in conducting this study, which included on-site visits to each of the partner organizations. The best practices the team observed have been organized in this report around the criteria established for the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award:

  • leadership,
  • information management and analysis,
  • strategic planning,
  • human resource development and management,
  • process management,
  • business results, and
  • customer focus and satisfaction.

Senior executive leadership is the catalyst for creating a service vision and instigating action. This vision and these actions are then implemented through a system oriented to one-stop operations. The system begins with information. Specifically, integrated, accessible business and customer information are collected, analyzed, and used to support front-line employees. The system has an active strategic planning program one that is customer-driven and recognizes one-stop service as a strategic goal. The one-stop service system reflects a strong commitment to human resources hiring the right people and developing them to provide the best service. Finally, the system uses process management efficient business processes designed with the customer in mind. The one-stop service system yields both good business results and customer satisfaction. Each of these themes is further explored in the seven main sections of this report. Finally, we present examples of federal, state, and local partnerships that are working to provide convenient, accessible service to the American people.

Section 1:


Leaders in world-class organizations recognize that if they and their businesses do not aim to please their customers, they will not continue to have customers. These leaders have thus developed effective mechanisms for listening to their customers. And when they have heard their customers complain about being given the runaround or about having to contact numerous people in order to get their affairs handled, these leaders have recognized that they would have to make changes in the way they do business.

Setting Direction, Values, and Expectations

In all the successful organizations the One-Stop Customer Service Benchmarking Study Team visited, top leaders have had a clear picture of where they are going. Furthermore, in setting directions for their organizations, these leaders are not afraid to take risks and are able to make "painful" decisions involving redesigning processes, consolidating operations, acquiring new technology, or downsizing. In the implementation of all of these initiatives, the leaders are the instigators. By virtue of their overriding focus on the customer, the leaders we visited were personally involved in making one-stop customer service a reality in their organizations.

Eliciting Commitment From the Workforce

Leaders recognize that their vision alone cannot bring about the dramatic changes that are often needed to create one-stop operations within their organization. Rather, success depends upon having a workforce that is equally committed.

Building commitment through empowerment. One of the most important ways leaders get buy-in and commitment from their workforce is to involve front-line employees in the decision-making process. Employees are treated as partners, not subordinates. And, as partners, employees have a say in decisions affecting their work and their customers. Since front-line employees deal directly with customers, they often have the best feel for what customers want.

To provide outstanding service, world-class leaders thus trust and empower their employees to make the right decisions. For example:

  • The marching orders to front-line employees of one company with a corporate commitment to 100 percent customer satisfaction are "Take whatever actions are necessary to satisfy the customer."

  • The mission statement of another company is "Employees working as partners with our customers to deliver superior products and services right the first time, on time, every time.

Building commitment through open communication. Commitment grows as employees understand the need for one-stop service; this understanding is achieved through communication. World-class leaders make sure that their values and their expectations of their workforce are clearly conveyed to and understood in all corners of the organization. We noted a variety of communication vehicles that provide ongoing reinforcement of company values and expectations among these, newsletters, visual displays in the workplace, and motivational talks from the leaders.

Key to the success of these organizations is a network of open communication a combination of sharing and listening flowing both horizontally and vertically throughout the organization. Management shares details with employees; there is no hiding of information in these organizations. A workforce that is involved is much more likely to buy in to management's vision and work together for results.

Building commitment through shared challenges. Customer feedback and performance results are systematically shared with employees. The leaders set the tone for how organizations work with performance data whether they treat performance setbacks as defeats or as opportunities for improvement. We found that in the organizations we visited, leaders promote a team spirit in which all employees share in the successes and join forces in tackling the challenges of performance setbacks.

Building commitment through accessibility. Another common thread emerged among the benchmarking study partners, leaders make themselves available and approachable. They create opportunities for employees to listen and speak.

  • The management of one company holds monthly town meetings with its front-line employees to discuss all types of issues, including feedback on survey data and upcoming strategic initiatives.

  • One company leader held weekly breakfast meetings with groups of employees during a difficult transition period of consolidating sites and operations. The leader openly shared information on what was happening no information was withheld. Employees were similarly free to express their views openly.

Implementing the Vision

The benchmarking team found that leadership commitment and involvement are the most important attributes in enabling leaders to turn their vision into reality.

Commitment to resource provision. Leaders are committed to seeing their vision through by "walking the talk." They make the resource commitments necessary to build one-stop operation capabilities.

Good leaders commit to the tools and technologies needed to support one-stop service. They understand that in a downsized environment, technology allows fewer employees to provide higher levels of service.

Commitment to training. Good leaders also commit to a highly skilled and well-trained workforce. Recognizing that service delivery is their life-line, leaders invest heavily in training to ensure world-class customer service. This investment and prioritization is often made in the face of budget constraints.

Commitment to reengineering. Good leaders commit to changing outdated processes in pursuit of better and more efficient ways to serve their customers. Moving from stovepipe to horizontal operations often required these leaders to undertake a complete reengineering of processes. Leaders of these organizations recognize the value of benchmarking as a first step in any major change initiative and have incorporated a benchmarking program as part of their management toolkit.

Commitment to customers. Most important of all, good leaders commit to using feedback from customers to drive changes in their operations, in their goals, and even in their vision.

Active involvement. Not only are leaders involved in the planning stages of one-stop service development, but they stay actively involved in the follow-through. A representative of one organization described how its leadership recognized that changing to a one-stop process was not going to be easy, that hard and painful adjustments were going to be necessary for employees and managers alike. Top management had to lead the organization through the "valley of pain" before it could reap the success of one-stop service. Again, involving employees in every step of the change process and sharing detailed information with them throughout the transition were the ways leaders were able to remain effective.

Section 2:

Information Management and Analysis

Employees of one of the benchmarked organizations made the remark that they were very proud of being known for their "technology, attitude, and ability to meet customer needs and expectations." Upon close examination, a single factor is critical to all the elements of this reputation; information. The company uses the best technology possible to effectively provide front-line employees with real-time information that enables the one-stop processes that meet customer needs. This leads to a "can-do" attitude among front-line employees because they are confident they have the tools and information they need to do their jobs well.

The organizations that are best prepared to satisfy their customers after asking "May I help you?" are those that:

  • support their front-line employees with integrated, accessible customer and business information;

  • identify and collect information needed to support operations and decision making within the organization; and

  • analyze and use data for continuous improvement.

This section looks at best practices associated with the information that needs to be provided to customers, the information that needs to be collected to measure an organization's performance, and the analysis that moves an organization toward improvement.

Getting Information to Front- Line Employees

Leaders who use one-stop processes agree that the most critical need for their front-line employees is immediate access to current information information about the customer and information relative to the organization's service or product. We observed many ways in which organizations arm their employees with the necessary information to handle a customer's service request completely.

Centralized information management. All of the benchmarked organizations manage data centrally so that the customer and product information needed by customer service representatives is easily and immediately retrievably via some form of automated knowledge-based system.

Instant access, instant updates. One company has integrated computers, telecommunications, image processing, and other information technology to provide one-stop service. Its highly advanced customer information system includes an extensive automated database of all customers including name, address, background, products and services used, and other information. These are "living documents," generally containing additions and notes from every customer contact and transaction.

This company's document imaging system, the largest in the world, contains electronic files of all customer paperwork, including incoming and outgoing correspondence. These files can be instantly accessed by customer service representatives at their computer terminals. The system enhances efficiency and productivity by placing complete information about a customer immediately at the representative's fingertips. This access helps the representative respond to customer inquiries quickly and efficiently.

The company also developed a single automated database that integrates information about services traditionally handled by separate departments. This means that a customer's business can be handled immediately and completely by service representatives.

Complete information at the service representative's fingertips. Another company advertises "one voice, around the clock." Its national customer service center provides customers with one-stop access to all service information 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The company also notes that customers are connected to an employee who can address their service questions and give the reasons behind the answers. This organization relies on an automated number identification service that matches the phone number of the incoming customer phone call with the customer file within two rings. This information is then delivered on-line to the representative's workstation.

The company also uses a high-tech shipment tracing system that provides service representatives with up-to-date tracking information. The result is a workforce of front-line employees who can resolve more than 80 percent of customer inquiries on the first call.

Tools, Techniques, and Technologies

Many of the organizations we visited are committed to using technology aggressively to maintain their competitive edge and have invested large amounts of resources to acquire that technology. (See Section 5 for more information on best practices related to technology.) However, expensive state-of-the-art technology is not a prerequisite for successful one-stop operations. Many companies use off-the-shelf systems to provide their employees with the information needed to do their jobs. Others start small and move incrementally toward more and better technology. The first chapter in many a success story was establishing a vision of the ideal environment and then slowly implementing technology enhancements. Organizations found that even small enhancements led to results that often exceeded the most optimistic predictions and expectations of improved service.

Here are examples of some less sophisticated information systems being used in successful one-stop operations:

  • Laptops One company places service representatives all over the world so that they are in close proximity to customers. Customers deal with a single service representative who is responsible for handling an issue to completion. Therefore, it is especially critical that representatives who are stationed overseas have immediate access to all kinds of information to enable them to resolve issues without delay and without handoffs. The representatives are supported by rapid communication to headquarters via laptop computers loaded with off-the-shelf software. Faced with declining budgets, the company has also located video-conferencing equipment at all sites to foster increased communication with headquarters and with customers. Some customers are also provided with on-site terminals to enable them to have direct access to the company.

  • 800-numbers One organization provides access to information via an 800-number operation. Management recognized that to provide effective one-stop service would require innovative methods of managing a large volume of information. So the organization purchased a popular groupware application and a computer to use as a server. This relatively inexpensive technology has gone a long way to reorganize and improve the company's information collection and distribution. It has developed numerous databases to use with the software; these provide the 13 phone specialists with a vast array of reference information as well as access to what the company calls its "information center knowledge base" the collective knowledge of the staff on recurring issues and questions. The interactive databases expand the amount of information that phone specialists can provide to customers and are updated continuously to include customer suggestions and other developments. Having rapid access to up-to-date information increases the speed with which the phone specialists can deliver information to customers.

    Pull-down menus For just $200, one company purchased a software package that enabled it to develop and deploy a help tool for all representatives to use. This product contains everything a representative needs to do his or her job and, if needed, someone else's job. It contains pull-down menus on training, numerous tables, definitions, how-to's, quick look-ups, and unusual data pertinent to the job that would not normally be provided in a training class.

The Information Support Infrastructure

The above are just a few specific examples of the technologies that are being used to enable one-stop customer service. Based on our observations, organizations seem to have reached the same basic conclusions about what kinds of information are needed to support one-stop service they just use varying applications to provide employees with that information. The common components of a basic information support infrastructure are:
  • organizationwide automated databases allowing immediate access to historical information about individual customers;

  • links to fully integrated knowledge databases and tracking systems that enable real-time access to product/service information crossing departmental lines immediate access to a full range of organizational business information is the most critical need for one-stop operations, and key to eliminating stovepipe operations wherein organizations had to transfer customers to different departments because no one had all the information;

  • image technology eliminating cumbersome paper processes; and

  • help screens, expert systems (knowledge- based and problem-solving software), and on-line procedure manuals.

Note that these world-class organizations, whether they use high-tech or off-the-shelf systems in moving toward one-stop service, involve employees in the development and testing of those systems to ensure that they are efficient, easy to use, and meet employee needs.

Identifying and Collecting Information

Organizations need information for their strategic planning, management, and evaluation of business performance. With so much information to be had, and with technologies that enable easy access to all kinds of data, it is important to determine what information is important and what is not. Thus, best-in-business organizations collect the data and information they need to support key business operations and decisionmaking. The benchmarked organizations we studied collect and track a variety of information pertinent to their respective businesses, but in general, they all measure overall performance, return on investment, and customer satisfaction.

Data for performance measurement. "You can't improve what you don't measure," says a representative of one company whose measurement systems are aimed at tracking progress and sustaining continuous improvement. At this company, measurement is known as "management by fact." This practice encourages managers to use performance data as a guide for their leadership. Another company measures performance in order to drive improvement in fact, this is the only reason the company measures its performance. This same company allows employees to help develop measures and set their own targets. This requires everyone understanding and measuring key aspects of the job.

Common measurement areas in one-stop call center operations are:

  • accessibility (such as average speed of answer, busy rate, hold times, and abandoned calls);

  • responsiveness;

  • accuracy;

  • quality; and

  • productivity.
Companies involved in products and services tend to measure on-time delivery, reliability, quality, and cycle time. One company measures employee training to ensure compliance with a requirement of 40 hours per employee per year. And all companies, no matter what business they are in, measure customer satisfaction and financial growth.

Analyzing and Using Information

Our benchmarking partners are successful in business partly because of the way they analyze and use information to gain an understanding of their customers and their operational performance. These organizations use information to drive continuous improvement. In fact, they believe that measurements over time (trends) are the only certain way to ensure that continuous improvements are taking place.

Analysis into action. Although the specific methods of information analysis vary with some organizations using analysis teams, others analysis units, quality and performance committees, etc. our partner organizations use their analytic results at a management level to understand where they are as opposed to where they want to be. They then translate their information into action.

Information to the team. Performance improvement is a team effort. The management in the organizations we studied openly shares performance data both good and bad with all employees. During many of our site visits, we saw performance data posted in employee work areas. One company demonstrated its "visual management" philosophy. Heavy emphasis is placed on creating and maintaining visual displays (graphs, charts, bulletin boards, etc.) in the employee work areas. Meetings are held daily around the production board to discuss priorities for the day and the "performance indicators" status. Weekly meetings are also held to discuss how well the operating units performed.

From metrics into improvements. One company representative summed it up best by saying, "Having performance metrics at all organizational levels, with aggressive goals based on worldwide benchmarks, ensures continuous improvements and attainment of objectives."

Section 3:

Strategic Planning

Each of our benchmarking partners has planning processes that are customer-driven and that recognize that one-stop customer service is an important strategic goal. In virtually all of the organizations we visited, there is a high level of congruence among business objectives, performance measures, and resource decisions.

Establishing Customer-Driven Planning Processes

World-class organizations recognize that customer satisfaction is key to business success, and never lose sight of that fact in their planning activities. One-stop customer service is viewed as a critical business strategy for improving competitiveness and responding to customer demands. When one partner conducted focus groups to identify its customer needs, it found that customers wanted:
  • a direct line of communication;

  • continuity that is, continuous communication with a single person over time;

  • timely responsiveness;

  • knowledgeable personnel; and

  • consistency in problem solving.

Although our benchmarking partners span different industry sectors, the needs of their customers are not very different.

The organizations studied often began planning for one-stop customer service by benchmarking other world-class organizations to evaluate their own processes, service delivery, and technological infrastructure. The companies set even higher standards for themselves than the current best-in-business. Further, these organizations are characterized by a desire not just to satisfy customers, but to maintain customer loyalty and to use customer service as a competitive advantage. These companies also recognize that establishing themselves as best-in-class customer service operations is a long-term commitment. They consequently institutionalize a philosophy of continuous improvement in their strategic planning processes.

Aligning Business Objectives, Performance Measures, and Resource Decisions

We found that once ambitious goals are set, organizational commitment is demonstrated in day-to-day actions and decisions. For this to happen, top management must first clearly and frequently communicate its strategic goals and the importance of one-stop customer service. All employees then know exactly where the organization is going and why, and how their day-to-day activities fit into the organization's strategic goals.

The benchmarked organizations identified four key elements in developing plans for best-in-class one-stop customer service:

1. Employees- It is well-recognized that being a leader in customer service requires a serious, strategic focus on employees.

  • These organizations clearly identify the skills that front-line employees need in order to serve as a single point of contact for customers.

  • Hiring processes are designed to bring the right type and number of people into customer service operations.

  • Employees are continually afforded the tools that will enable them to provide best service.

2. Training- A well-trained workforce is a critical strategic objective. Many organizations place the same weight on staff development as they do on production. Training is the foundation of an empowered workforce.

3. Technology -All the benchmarked organizations incorporate a strong focus on enabling technology in their strategic planning. They are committed to ensuring that their employees have access to the technology needed to provide best-in-class customer service and to respond to customers through a single contact. The combination of training and technology particularly provides a basis for consistency, responsiveness, and accountability.

4. Accountability- Building an accountability culture does not mean intimidating employees with performance measures. One benchmarked organization indicated that it views customer complaints as opportunities to improve, not to lay blame. This attitude is common among best-in-class organizations and is interwoven into the vision for the future.

Acknowledging Interdependence

One-stop customer service requires cross-functional collaboration and partnerships, and this is an integral piece of business strategizing and future planning. A critical element of cross-functional collaboration and partnerships is mutual acceptance of common goals and objectives. Partners and different functional areas must work together and have mutual responsibility for providing seamless service to customers. This conceptual thread weaves its way through strategic objectives and is the basis of one-stop processes.

Section 4:

Human Resource Development and Management

People, not technology, answer customer problems.

Customer Service Representative

Despite the different products and services delivered by our various benchmarking partners, all of these organizations subscribe to the belief expressed above. To this end, they invest time and money to hire the right people for the job, train them fully, and empower them to solve customer problems. They also understand that employees' satisfaction with their jobs and working conditions is essential to satisfying customers.

Finding Customer-Oriented Employees

Finding the right employee for the customer service job takes a careful selection process. In companies that successfully deliver one-stop customer service, employees are usually highly trained generalists who are able to resolve, or facilitate the resolution of, customer issues at the first point of contact. All the partner organizations look for people with "soft" (interpersonal) skills, who communicate effectively. The best prospects are coachable team players who understand customer service. These are the skills needed for participation in cross-functional processes. People who are highly educated and computer literate are often the best choices.

Depending on the size of the company, assessment centers may be used to prescreen applicants for customer service positions. Prescreening is conducted before applicants are interviewed, and is sometimes performed by front-line workers.

One organization offers applicants the opportunity to sit with an employee for an hour so that they may observe what the job entails, ask questions, and determine if they would be happy doing this kind of work.

Training Is an Investment, Not an Expense

Training is not a philosophy; it is a deliverable.

Benchmarking Partner

In world-class organizations, training is a continuous process that's considered critical to achieving customer satisfaction. Approximately 10 percent of one partner company's annual salary budget is spent on training. Employee development and education are core competencies of the company.

Initial training. The initial training of customer representatives can be extensive, lasting from 4 to 18 weeks, depending on the complexity of the individual organization's products and services. Formal training can consist of orientation, customer satisfaction delivery techniques and interpersonal skills, use of technological tools, and program-specific information. The orientation should be comprehensive and include training on the corporate "culture" to ensure that new employees understand the company mission, vision, and guiding principles. New customer service employees in one-stop operations are also trained in problem solving and decision-making, since they are empowered to take actions necessary to resolve customer needs. Because front-line employees will participate on cross-functional teams to analyze service delivery problems and determine appropriate solutions, training is also given in root cause analysis.

Centers and mentors. A centralized training center ensures that all new employees receive identical training opportunities. Following the initial classroom instruction, trainees are usually assigned a veteran employee to act as mentor and assist the trainee with on-the-job learning until he or she is able to function independently.

Continuous learning. Front-line employees receive continuous training in interpersonal and technology skills. One company provides customer service employees with eight weeks of training; this time is almost equally split between developing technical skills and knowledge and developing interaction and communication skills. Ongoing training reinforces the customer service culture and keeps the workforce highly skilled and up to date. Most organizations have set minimum training requirements, some as much as 40 to 80 hours per employee per year. Most also develop customized training/education plans (sometimes called individual development plans) for each employee. These plans focus on the job skills individuals need to accomplish the organization's objectives and enhance their own personal abilities. Each employee's skills matrix and training plan is recorded and the employee's progress is tracked, either manually or via computer.

Innovative settings. Continuous training is not necessarily formal classroom training, nor is it necessarily offered by the organization itself. This training could take the form of guest speakers, conferences, and seminars or could be delivered through college courses related to the individual's job or career development. World-class companies are concerned with employees' professional and personal development, and many offer a tuition reimbursement program to enable their employees to obtain college degrees.

One of our partner organizations arranged with a local community college to provide the personal computer and software training courses its staff needed instead of relying on in-house personnel to conduct the training. This arrangement allows the company to provide needed continuous training at a reduced cost, freeing up its own limited information technology staff resources to concentrate on system administration.

Cross-training. Some organizations cross- train all employees. Cross-training provides the customer, the employee, and the company with several advantages. Employees who deal directly with customers receive a broader picture of the organization, which in turn better enables them to solve problems. Cross-training also increases productivity by ensuring that there are backups available for all positions. Employees benefit by learning additional skills that may help them qualify for new positions. Also, learning a new job reduces job stagnation and burnout.

Establishing Career Paths

Avoiding burnout. In many organizations, customer service jobs were once considered dead-end positions: Burnout tended to occur after about three years. To avoid losing the expertise of these front-line workers, management in many of the organizations we studied has developed career paths to move representatives into other parts of the organization.

Developing future leaders. Some of our partners require a tour of duty in the customer service operation as part of the development of future leaders within the organization. These organizations believe that front-line customer service operation is a perfect training ground for future managers and executives. In fact, a corporate vice president for customer service told us that his vision was to do himself out of a job by cultivating customer-focused leaders throughout the company. This approach not only permits the company to use high-quality individuals to serve customers, but provides a greater residual benefit as well.

Employees who successfully complete their front-line assignments tend to stress customer service as they assume leadership roles within the organization, ensuring that the corporate culture remains customer-focused.

Empowering the Front Line to Solve Customer Problems

Delivering one-stop customer service is heavily dependent on the ability of front-line employees to meet customer needs at the initial contact. We saw instances where the customer service job description contains an empowerment statement (generally broad in scope) which is supported by top management. Authority may be limited by the job level and knowledge of the newest employees, but experienced front-line workers are fully empowered to do what is right for the customer without having to ask permission. Employees are expected to take ownership (of the telephone call, personal contact, fax, or other customer contact) and to be innovative in doing what is needed to satisfy the customer. Of course, these organizations maintain a check-and-balance process after the fact to ensure accountability.

One organization reported that it had experimented first before deciding to empower its telephone customer service representatives to take ownership of the calls they received. Surveys of customers and employees alike were very positive regarding this empowerment experiment.

Teams Effective Organizing for Effective Service Delivery

Virtually all of the successful organizations we studied have discarded a traditional hierarchical setup in favor of teams. One-stop customer service is frequently delivered by employees working in self-directed teams. These teams are composed of employees with different levels of expertise so as to promote learning within the team itself.

One of our partner organizations is completely run by teams and has no supervisory staff at all. Communication is up, down, across, and through teams. Front-line employees also participate on cross-functional, quality action teams, providing input on problem identification, systems design, operational procedures, and policies to improve employee and customer satisfaction.

Satisfying Workers Means Satisfying Customers

"Everyone here has really good posture!" This is how a new employee described the pride and satisfaction he saw displayed by the workers in one of our partner organizations. And all the partner organizations agree that satisfied workers translate into satisfied customers, so they actively work to satisfy their employees.

Communication. Management at world- class organizations shares its vision, business plan, and corporate strategy with all employees and actively seeks employee input to these. The door to upper management is always open to employees. Top management communicates regularly with employees through voice mail messages, in-person meetings, and newsletters. Employees involved in participative management committees coordinate morale-boosting activities and facilitate responding to various employee issues.

Standards. In world-class organizations, the supervisor/team facilitator meets one-on-one with each employee to discuss job tasks, agree upon the skills and competencies needed, and determine a training plan. Employee performance evaluations are based on teamwork, judgment, initiative, and customer/user relations. One company is experimenting with team performance reviews. Several others are looking for ways to broaden performance reviews by involving subordinates, peers, and customers as well as managers.

One company has developed not only employee-to-customer standards, but complementary company-to-employee standards as well. The company-to-employee standards include commitments to orientation, training, and ongoing professional and personal development; sharing information in a timely manner with all employees; providing an efficient and professional work environment; promoting equity and respect for team members; and empowering workers to become customer advocates.

Recognition. All of our partner organizations recognize quality work and use a variety of employee recognition vehicles. In many of these organizations, employees are nominated and judged by their peers for awards such as employee of the month. In addition to cash bonuses, on-the-spot cash awards, and letters of commendation, organizations also provide recognition in the form of preferred parking spots, plaques, compensatory time off, or merchandise. Employees recognized for their quality work might receive a cruise or be flown to company headquarters for an award banquet in their honor.

Some companies provide variable monetary compensation plans. Although the factors used to qualify for compensation vary, customer satisfaction survey ratings are usually an important measure. Compensation is frequently made on a team basis.

Feedback. Front-line workers are regularly surveyed (some quarterly, some annually) and asked to rate job duties, stress factors, training, on-the-job support, and the overall work environment. This feedback is used to improve training products and work processes. In many instances, these surveys are conducted by outside contractors to ensure confidentiality and objectivity.

Work environment. World-class organizations recognize that pleasant facilities and highly efficient and productive work environments go a long way in providing the internal support workers need to do their job well. Workstations are ergonomically designed. Technology supports the work function, reference resources are accessible, and supplies are readily available.

  • One of our partner organization's facilities was designed to provide a pleasant and highly productive work environment for the employees. The building was designed with large, open work areas punctuated by a series of courtyards to create a sense of space and tranquility. Careful placement of private offices ensures that virtually all employee workstations have a view of the surrounding countryside. Even the parking was designed to add to employees' convenience. Instead of sprawling parking lots where employees would have to walk long distances to get to their building, the company built a four-level underground garage.

  • Several of our partner organizations also provide their employees with opportunities for physical fitness through on-site fitness centers, athletic and recreation areas, walking or jogging trails, and employee sports leagues.

In call center environments, seating is frequently arranged to facilitate communications between front-line workers and mentors/supervisors. One company achieved this by arranging workstation complexes, each of which was shaped like a large block "C." In each complex, 8 to 10 customer representatives sit around the perimeter, facing out, with their equipment readily at hand. The unit supervisor sits at a workstation in the middle, highly visible and immediately available to provide support to any person in the complex. This arrangement lends itself both to a sharing of experiences and to group problem-solving.

World-class organizations believe that if you take care of your employees, the rest takes care of itself. They know that their employees are the key enabler for achieving one-stop goals and objectives.

Section 5:

Process Management

Before switching over to one-stop customer service, most of our benchmarking partners had decentralized operations organized along functional lines. The move to one-stop service represented a radical departure.

Our benchmarking partners recognized that they had to examine how key processes were designed and managed in order to make improvements that would in turn achieve higher performance. Despite considerable differences in motivation or in products/services involved, all of these organizations share the following:

  • similar basic approaches to one-stop service,

  • a reliance on technology as a key enabler of one-stop service,

  • a focus on cross-functional teamwork as a key enabler of one-stop service, and

  • the ability to manage change effectively by attending to the human factors.

A Common Approach and Features

The design of one-stop processes starts with the customers what they need and expect. Almost all of our partners identify customer needs through such feedback devices as surveys, focus groups, and complaints. (See Section 7 for more information.) Additionally, some include customers "at the table" when redesigning processes and products. Many of our partners do not stop at what customers actually cite as their needs, but instead try to anticipate needs that the customers themselves have not yet identified. These companies try to project and anticipate what customers will need three to five years from now.

From this basis of customer-communicated needs, world-class one-stop customer service organizations share several implementing features. For example:

  • Companies typically rely on a two-tier customer service process. Generalists are expected to respond to most (about 90 percent) customer needs, and a group of experts (e.g., engineers) provide support to these generalists on complex, highly technical issues.

  • Many of the organizations assign customer service representatives to specific customer groupings. Examples of groupings include subject matter area/product line, geographic regions, and high-volume versus low-volume customer groups. Systems are designed to ensure that customers are directed to the right person the first time.

  • Many organizations build follow-up and early warning systems into their processes. These safeguards automatically alert customer service representatives when due dates are not being met and notify them when schedules are delayed so customers can be contacted. Some systems ask for verification that promised products or services were delivered.
Additionally, organizations continuously improve their processes based on changing needs, availability of new technology, and current measures of customer satisfaction.

Using Technology

Our partner organizations report broad and varied use of technology to manage contacts and manage information.
  • Companies manage contacts by providing easy access through 800-numbers, often with an automated number identification process. That means, for example, that when teams are organized around geographic regions, incoming calls can be automatically directed to the appropriate team based on the originating call's area code. Also, many organizations use telephone systems with interactive voice recorders capable of highly sophisticated call routing based on the caller's selection from a menu of service options.

  • Three-way conferencing expands phone service capability. For example, sometimes a customer representative will need to bring another employee into the conversation to answer a question or resolve an issue. Conferencing capability also permits seamless call transitions from one representative to another: When a representative simply cannot complete a customer's business, he or she can coordinate a three-way conference call to introduce the customer to an expert, bring the expert up to date on the issue, and hand off that customer once the parties are assured that the expert can resolve the issue all without the customer hanging up.

  • Fax-on-demand systems enable customers to retrieve documents they need immediately. Such systems enable customers to use the phone to order documents, which are then faxed out immediately. This eliminates the need for human intervention, provides accurate information around the clock, and saves resources for the organization. One company uses four fax servers with a total of 16 lines that process about 40,000 automated requests for information each month. Customers can request up to 20 pages of documents at a time.

  • Most companies have Web sites and interact with customers through Internet e-mail.

  • Companies bridge geographic distances through videoconferencing, satellite hook-ups, and interlinked computer systems. With these technologies, customer service teams can conduct weekly meetings with customers, and customers can directly access and update company databases. Additionally, these media let customers and company representatives maintain the face-to-face contact vital to building and sustaining relationships.
Even decentralized organizations centralize the management of their information systems. These information systems reduce cycle time in researching questions and facilitate rapid updating. In the past, customer service representatives had to search through hard copies of company policies, make numerous phone calls, and send formal requests for policy interpretations to other departments. Furthermore, the results of these time-consuming efforts were rarely entered into centralized information systems. In contrast, the information systems used today by our partners let many employees simultaneously search and retrieve information, as well as update systems easily.

Employing Cross-Functional Teamwork

The benchmarked organizations reengineered their processes because customers wanted fast, seamless, convenient, and consistent service. Quite simply, changes were made so the customer didn't have to seek information or resolve issues with multiple departments. These innovations and changes meant tearing down traditional structural barriers and working in unison toward common goals and objectives. Long-held practices engendering territorialism and functional specialization ("that's not my job") were eliminated. Service from the customer's perspective demands cross-functional teamwork thinking together, planning together, doing together.
  • The similar information dissemination activities of 19 different government agencies were consolidated into a single center. This center is a model of interagency cooperation in a historically territorial environment. (See Appendix A.)

  • In one city, all information about starting and running small businesses is housed under one roof a true one-stop shop. Information and counseling services involving more than 20 federal, state, and local organizations are provided to customers by on-site cross-trained representatives. (See Appendix A.)

  • Federal, state, and local government agencies in one state adopted a common set of objectives, requirements, and procedures; they now share resources to deliver common products and services. (See Appendix A.)

  • Operating 32 decentralized offices inhibited the ability of one company to serve its national clients and implement changes quickly and consistently. Customer service was subsequently centralized into one office.

These one-stop customer service operations work because they are supported by all functional areas. Building understanding among the functions lays a foundation for teamwork. Organizations build this understanding by having customer service representatives serve in rotational assignments in different functional areas and by cross-hiring that is, appointing staff from one functional area to serve in another. Cross-functional teamwork is also accomplished by involving different functions or agencies in strategic planning sessions, adopting organization-wide goals to provide one-stop service, and inculcating a customer focus throughout all operations.

Managing Change

The decision to move to one-stop operations makes good business sense. But, for most organizations, implementing the changeover was not easy. Such sweeping change can be quite unsettling to an organization. Once companies adopted the goal of providing one-stop service, employee reactions ranged from impatience with the pace of change, to fear of job loss and distrust, to concern that the shift would undermine the effectiveness of company programs. Some staff members were concerned about the capital investments involved investments that approached as much as $40 million to launch a high-tech, centralized one-stop service center.

The organizations found that this resistance could only be overcome with demonstrated results. Senior staff had to see evidence, from reduced operating costs and improved profits, of a return on their investment. Employees had to see that they could make customers happier by providing better service, and that their jobs would be challenging. Functional areas had to see that customer service improved when units were complementing, not competing, and that the integrity of organizational programs could be maintained.

Managing change before these improvements were demonstrated was a serious challenge. To meet it, our partner organizations:

  • ought to understand the basis of resistance by listening,

  • respected the opinions that were shared, and

  • constantly sought to work closely and communicate frequently with employees during the transition.

Section 6:

Business Results

Without fail, benchmarked companies report improvements in their operations and gains in their performance by moving to one-stop customer service. One-stop service practitioners are achieving impressive results in terms of:
  • higher customer satisfaction,

  • higher employee satisfaction,

  • improved efficiency and operation, and

  • increased profits.

Achieving Higher Customer Satisfaction

Customers said they wanted improved access and responsiveness. Many of our partners dealt with this request by improving their phone systems. Consequently, more customers were able to resolve their problems or have their questions answered during their first contact with the company.
  • One company reported being able to increase its first contact resolutions from 39 percent to 89 percent.

  • Two other companies reported that they could resolve customer needs on first contact 80 percent and 92 percent of the time, respectively.
With phone systems offering better access to the organization, fewer customers abandon their calls.
  • One company reported abandon rates of 0.02 percent with over 1 million calls per year.

  • Another company was able to reduce its abandon call rate from 6 to 3 percent.
Our benchmarking partners are in the business of satisfying customers, and they do. It is not unusual for these companies to report customer satisfaction levels at 90 percent and higher several are at 97 percent. In one case, a company increased its customer satisfaction ratings from 85 to 97 percent in less than four years after a one-stop service process had been instituted.

Customer satisfaction is about building long-term loyalty. One company reported that one-stop service helped it increase repeat business for a particular product from 60 to 80 percent in a very competitive market. Section 7 of this report details best practices related to achieving customer satisfaction and loyalty.

Achieving Higher Employee Satisfaction

One-stop operations aim to satisfy employees, too. Good training, improved automation, and desktop technology provide employees with the tools they need to complete more contacts. They know they are serving and satisfying more customers, and they feel good about it. During our on-site visits, we observed employees in their workplace and talked with them about their jobs. The pride and enthusiasm exhibited by these employees about their work, about their organizations, and about the customers they serve was highly apparent. Section 4 delineates best practices related to employees providing one-stop customer service.

Improving Business Efficiency And Performance

Many of our partner organizations underwent extensive consolidations of their customer service operations in moving to one-stop service. For example, more than half the companies we visited formerly had numerous points of contact for customers many ranging from 20 to more than 50 and subsequently consolidated their customer service functions into a single central location. Such consolidations reduced satellite office overhead, resources, duplicative staffing and processes, and overall processing time. Overall, our benchmarking partners report that these improvements were implemented at relatively low cost compared to overall savings.

In their consolidations to one-stop service, several companies focused on reducing cycle time by improving cross-functional coordination.

  • One company reduced its processing time from 13 to 3 days and reaped savings of $5 million annually as a result of implementing a horizontal operation.

  • Another company was able to reduce its cycle times by almost 67 percent.

Benchmarked companies cited many examples of how they were able to improve processes, become more efficient and basically do more with less. Companies that consolidated their operations experienced high startup costs but reported savings in overhead expenses. Here are some examples of improvements and payoffs.

  • One business spent $40 million to build a consolidated customer service center, equip the site with furniture and state-of-the-art workstations, acquire the systems infrastructure, and move employees to the new site. By so doing, it was able to reduce its staffing by 400 employees and close several satellite customer service centers. The improvements realized in customer service and streamlined processes justified the costs. Upon investing $100 million in information technology, this company expects equal savings over the next five years, and is in fact already beginning to experience them.

  • Two other companies reported similar efficiencies through their one-stop services. One company was able to reduce its staff by 57 percent while business volume increased approximately 3 percent a year. The second company was able to double its volume of customer service contacts without any increase in staff.

  • One partner has been able to reduce its process costs by 12 to 26 percent. It further boasts a potential $15 to $20 million in savings in 1996 with a 98 percent performance rating of on-time deliveries.

Increasing Profits

One-stop customer service processes make good business sense not only in terms of improved customer service, but also in terms of business growth and profitability. Our benchmarking partners variously report:

The numbers speak for themselves. Moving to one-stop processes has generally resulted in more efficient operations and more satisfied customers than ever before. There is every reason to believe that this trend will continue in the future.

Section 7:

Customer Focus and Satisfaction

Having a customer focus means that business is handled so that the customer doesn't have to make multiple calls, visit numerous places, or explain his or her problem to more than one person. All of the organizations we benchmarked thus use one-stop processes so they can be as responsive as possible to their customers. These organizations have internalized a culture in which everything starts with the customer and ends with the customer. As one organization's newsletter aptly noted in its customer service quote of the month section, "Customer satisfaction comes from treating the customer the way we'd expect to be treated if the roles were reversed."

Best-in-business organizations do not settle for customer satisfaction, but instead seek to gain customer loyalty as well. Private organizations are focusing on lifetime customer value rather than on the quick sale or one-time deal. In the public sector, customer loyalty can mean committed customers who spread the word about the quality of service they receive from their government; this directly translates to increased public confidence.

One-stop customer service reflects an organization's customer focus; it is an attempt to meet customer demands and needs, to generate customer satisfaction, and to instill customer loyalty. But one-stop service and the organization providing it can only be successful if this approach is truly responsive to the customer. To this end, the benchmarked organizations each employ their own version of a basic, but highly effective, formula:

  • they listen to their customers; they make changes to their processes based on what their customers tell them;

  • they use a variety of listening and learning strategies to continually obtain customer feedback about performance, expectations, and preferences; and

  • they improve their operations based on the feedback received a continuous and ongoing process.
This process underlies best practices in customer service in general, as well as in one-stop customer service in particular.

Measuring Customer Satisfaction/Loyalty

In general, customers expect the companies they do business with to be accessible, accurate, timely, and responsive. Our partners are very much aware of these key "drivers" of satisfaction, and they continually measure their progress with respect to these drivers using a variety of mechanisms.

Survey, survey, and survey again.Best-in- business organizations use surveys extensively to gauge customer expectations, preferences, and satisfaction. Moreover, many organizations have institutionalized a system of survey techniques to capture "whole picture" information.

Our partners conduct such surveys both by phone and by mail. The survey instruments are perfected over time based on customer feedback. Some of the different survey techniques we observed in use by our partner organizations are:

  • quarterly or semiannual national surveys to cover broad topics, including customer satisfaction, at a high level;

  • daily call-back surveys to provide specific, immediate customer feedback;

  • fixed-interval mail surveys for example, surveys of every 20th customer to assess such factors as timeliness, accuracy, and quality; and

  • a fixed number of surveys sent out on a monthly basis (for example, one company mails out 2,000 surveys each month).

One of our partners conducts periodic surveys every 18 months of its top 300 customers in terms of dollar and volume. Among other questions, the survey asks what is not being done that customers want to be done, what is not being done well enough, and what useful practices of the organization's competitors could be adopted. Another partner conducts specialized phone surveys every few months for a period of one to two weeks. Survey data are captured both via on-line surveying tied to the customer's on-screen data file during a call, and through a call-back conducted within 24 hours of service.

Focus groups for focusing organizations. Focus groups are another vehicle used to listen to customers and to get their input in creating or modifying services. One company holds focus sessions with high-level representatives of key customer organizations its' focus group "partners" every three years for one full week. These sessions provide a good forum for ensuring that the company is attuned to customer needs and for generating new ideas for future improvements.

Customer feedback systems. A representative of one benchmarking partner likes to say, "Fix first; count and analyze later." This sentiment conveys the urgent need in today's fast-paced business environment to address problems swiftly. Customer loyalty can easily be built on an organization's rapid and efficient response to customer feedback.

Because our partner organizations espouse feedback as critical to good service, they tend to have highly developed feedback systems dedicated to collecting, facilitating, integrating, and helping the organization learn from feedback. The benchmarking partners are using a variety of innovative systems that channel feedback to help solve problems, improve service, and remove business barriers.

  • The key component of one organization's call center feedback system is an electronic "nerve center" called ECHO Every Contact Has Opportunity. All customer contact representatives are tied to ECHO via their computer terminals. They can input, on a voluntary basis, any comments, problems, and/or issues emerging from a specific customer contact that is beyond their power to fix. Essentially, this feedback is then put into a large data file which everyone from the customer contact representatives to top management can access. From there, feedback is directed electronically to action agents in departments throughout the company. These groups act on the feedback and then report on what they have done. Later, the groups analyze the longer range implications of the feedback. The process is supervised to ensure that all feedback loops are linked and that all fixes and actions are shared.

  • Another organization, whose customers are companies contracting for specific products/services, uses a customer satisfaction program matrix. This document is developed by the program and customer managers at the outset of a contract to capture the specific performance expectations that are important to the customer. Each matrix is customized for the individual contract. The customer provides periodic ratings in each of the performance objective areas. This not only provides feedback to the program managers on how they are doing, but also provides an opportunity for mid-course corrections.

  • One company provides early customer feedback across all functional divisions via an automated tracking system. Feedback is used for root cause analysis. Action items are addressed within two days. The tracking system can be accessed by all employees.

Other listening and learning strategies. While much can be learned about customers by direct questioning, best-in-business organizations do not rely solely on this input. They also turn to market and trend analyses that reflect and monitor among other things the technological, societal, economic, and competitive factors that may affect customer requirements, expectations, and preferences.

As one CEO explained to us, "We listen to our customers. But at the same time, when it comes to new and better products for the future, the customer doesn't know enough to tell us what to do. The minivan is a good example. The American public didn't know it wanted minivans until they were out on the market, and then it seemed that nearly every family had to have one. Our job is to anticipate what customers will want three or four years from now, before they articulate it." Best-in-business organizations also look to their employees as a source of information about customer service. To provide best service, an organization must have a good sense of its employees and of their attitudes toward the organization and its customers. This approach reflects the concept that "you can't have satisfied customers without satisfied employees." For this reason, partner organizations have incorporated employee survey programs that measure employee satisfaction with the work environment, communication, and empowerment, as well as target areas for improvement.

Using Feedback for Results

Successful organizations recognize that soliciting and receiving feedback is only useful if it is subsequently used to instigate action. Our benchmarking partners use what customers tell them to drive their operations. In fact, their one-stop processes themselves evolved from feedback.

For example, when people in one state said they were tired of having to obtain multiple maps to plan recreational activities in park-lands since the involved agencies only produced maps of the territories they individually controlled, the affected agencies worked together to create a single user-friendly recreational map covering all the area's parks. Furthermore, these agencies, each of which had separate responsibilities for the use and protection of park land, found that customers did not like to deal with separate agencies for similar services. So they reinvented themselves and their operations to enable seamless service that crosses functional lines. The customers don't care that services such as firefighting and the issuance of tree-cutting permits cross agency lines; now, because the agencies heeded the feedback received, customers don't need to know that, either.

Following are some of the ways our benchmarking partners use feedback in their organizations:

  • to implement changes that improve processes by making them more customer-friendly and efficient this may involve working with other organizations to streamline processes that cross functional boundaries;

  • to provide daily feedback to managers for them to share with employees, thereby getting everyone involved in solution building;

  • to recognize and reward exemplary service behavior and initiate celebrations;

  • to help managers evaluate employee and unit performance, and justify salary increases and promotions;

  • to assess training needs;

  • to formulate action plan goals for the coming year; and

  • to help identify success stories showcasing real, tangible benefits of services or products.

Lessons Learned: How to Make Customers Satisfied and Loyal

In successful organizations, the voice of the customer drives operations. For example, several years ago, one company came to realize that its decisions were based on perception rather than fact, that it was not in touch with its customers. Upon undertaking a series of customer questionnaires and interviews, it discovered that it was not providing what its cus tomers wanted. The company acted quickly, implementing a massive change program that began by finding out exactly what customers wanted and expected in terms of service, and continued with a reinvention of the organization and its processes to enable it to provide the services customers wanted. The fact that this company, which not too many years ago was in serious trouble, is now a best-in-business organization is a testament to the power of the "customer-as-driver" concept.

Appendices Appendix A: One-Stop Customer Service in Joint Government Initiatives

In this era of reinventing government, more and more federal agencies are looking to establish partnerships with state and local governments and private sector organizations to offer services that customers can access in a single stop. To help agencies move forward with these efforts, we here present specific information about four sites we visited where interagency one-stop services are provided where this is occurring, how it's being done, and where to go for more information. Note that these sites are some but by no means all of the one-stop partnerships now in existence.

Central Oregon Initiative

The Central Oregon Initiative changes the way the Department of the Interior's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Department of Agriculture's Forest Service work together in Central Oregon. The initiative involves three natural resource management units, or agencies the Prineville BLM District, the Ochoco National Forest, and the Deschutes National Forest. Although these three agencies are responsible for the use and protection of their respective public lands, they also serve many of the same customers. They recognized that by partnering they could provide their mutual customers with better, more convenient seamless service.

To this end, the agencies are leveraging their respective resources. For example, one agency may have available funds, but tightly controlled full-time-equivalent (FTE) positions . Another may have available FTEs without available funds. Sharing resources allows them to serve their customers efficiently and cost effectively.

Some of the efforts being undertaken as part of this Central Oregon Initiative follow.

  • Fire management-The job of dispatching firefighters and emergency equipment to locations across 4.5 million acres of public land in Central Oregon has been consolidated into a single dispatch center rather than maintain separate facilities for each agency. The center is funded and staffed by the participating agencies. Dispatchers now no longer have to decide whose turf is on fire before taking action; instead, fires are fought in accordance with a "nearest available forces" concept, thus reducing response time and fire size.

  • Firewood program- Before the one-stop concept was implemented, customers had to go to the Forest Service to get permits to cut trees on Forest Service land, and to BLM to get permits to cut trees on BLM land. Understandably, the public was frustrated by the different fees, different cutting seasons, different rules for cutting firewood not to mention by having to travel to different communities to purchase firewood permits. People were also confused about what to do on intermingled land. Now, as part of the Central Oregon Initiative, the three agencies' programs are under one set of rules with designated firewood areas, common maps, and consistent fees. The units produce a joint firewood brochure and issue each other's permits. Today, customers can even purchase permits from convenience stores, drugstores, and GI Joe stores. These commercial vendors sign a contract to issue permits and are allowed to retain about 15 percent of the permit purchase price.

For further information about the many innovative activities under way as part of the Central Oregon Initiative, call Rod Collins at 541-416-6501. You can also access the Central Oregon Public Lands home page on the Internet (; names and phone numbers of other knowledgeable contacts are also available on the home page.

Trade Information Center

For years, the 19 federal agencies responsible for export promotion operated with little interagency cooperation, customer focus, or oversight. U.S. companies faced the frustrating, time-consuming, and often impossible task of navigating the federal bureaucracy to locate the right program or piece of information to help them compete in an increasingly global market. The opening of the Trade Information Center (TIC) in 1991 addressed this problem.

The TIC provides a central contact point within the U.S. government for information on all federal export assistance programs. It is operated by the U.S. Department of Commerce for the 19 federal agencies that comprise the Trade Promotion Coordinating Committee. These agencies are responsible for managing the government's export promotion programs and activities.

Businesses calling the TIC's toll-free number receive personalized counseling by a team of international trade specialists able to answer questions on topics ranging from how to get started in exporting to esoteric and technical issues. The TIC also teams with state and local governments and private institutions to gather, organize, and distribute information on their trade-related programs and activities.

The TIC is staffed almost exclusively by Presidential Management Interns (PMIs), which makes for a unique staffing situation. Each year, the TIC recruits a new staff of eight international trade specialists drawn from the PMI program. Each participant must have a master's degree and a clear interest in and commitment to a career in public service. The PMIs undergo an intensive four-week training program to prepare them to counsel the hundreds of U.S. exporters who call each week. In this training program, PMIs learn about the many export programs available to U.S. businesses. This knowledge coupled with the quality and "freshness" of the employees, and with the training's emphasis on customer satisfaction ensures that businesses calling the TIC speak to employees who are informed, customer oriented, and dedicated to public service.

The TIC uses numerous technologies to manage the large volumes of available export-related information. It uses interactive databases and groupware to organize, and provide specialists with rapid access to, this information. The TIC also manages a fax-on-demand system, which provides accurate information to customers around the clock.

For more information about the Trade Information Center, call 1-800-USA-TRADE, or see the TIC home page on the World Wide Web (

U.S. General Store, Atlanta

The U.S. General Store in Atlanta opened in June 1996 to provide government information pertaining to federal, state, county, city, and local organizations within the community all under a single roof. The Federal Executive Board sponsors the store, and the General Services Administration provides its manager.

Currently, 23 agencies, including the Federal Aviation Administration, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Department of Labor, and Social Security Administration, are housed in the store; more are planned. The store's layout resembles that of a bank, with counters for general services and desks for more specialized assistance. Kiosks providing electronic information and transaction services are also available.

Cross-trained customer service representatives provide a wide range of services in answer to the general public's government information needs. They are skilled in answering questions, completing transactions, and resolving problems. They provide these services via the Internet or e-mail, in person, or by phone.

The store's success is a testament to the dedication, commitment, and ingenuity of the agencies involved, considering that the store opened with only $1,000 in seed money from each participating agency along with donated equipment and furniture. The city of Atlanta donates the office space.

For further information about the U.S. General Store in Atlanta, call Dan Lawless at 404-347-6388, or see the store's home page on the World Wide Web (

U.S. General Store, Houston

The U. S. General Store in Houston is the nation's first multi-agency federal site targeted to small business owners and employers. This one-stop service center was opened in July 1995 to better meet the needs of Houston's small business employers and those interested in starting small businesses. The store combines the efforts of such federal agencies as the Internal Revenue Service, General Services Administration, Social Security Administration, Small Business Administration and various state, county, city, and local organizations to provide a wide range of services and information pertaining to small business.

Cross-trained customer service representatives provide customers with among other things information on business startups, loans, taxes, contracting and procurement opportunities, and permits and licenses. The store also provides counseling and on-site seminars conducted by members of the Service Corps of Retired Executives.

The General Store is staffed by several full-time employees from the Small Business Administration; other agencies provide part-time support. The participating agencies share in the funding for the store.

Operating with very limited resources, the staff have had to come up with some innovative no or low-cost ways to publicize and promote the store within the community. In addition to media coverage, flyers have been enclosed in county mass mailings and billboards posted at several locations.

For more information on the U.S. General Store in Houston, call 713-643-8000, or see the store home page on the World Wide Web (

Appendix B: Agency Contacts

Immigration and Naturalization Service
Cynthia Hopkins
425 I Street, NW
Room 3034
Washington, DC 20536
Phone: 202-616-7871
Fax: 202-514-1984

National Performance Review
Wilett Bunton
750 17th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20006
Phone: 202-632-0150
Fax: 202-632-0390

National Security Agency
Sheila L. Brand
Attn: C4/6704
Fort Meade, MD 20755-6000
Phone: 410-859-6957
Fax: 410-859-6137

Office of the Comptroller of the Currency
Cindy Petitt
250 E Street, SW
Washington, DC 20219
Phone: 202-874-4515
Fax: 202-874-5608

Patent and Trademark Office
Xuan M. Thai
Group 2300
Washington, DC 20231
Phone: 703-308-2064
Fax: 703-308-7763

Social Security Administration
Jean Venable
6401 Security Boulevard
960 Altmeyer Building
Baltimore, MD 21235
Phone: 410-965-1334
Fax: 410-966-6250

Social Security Administration
Diana Weaver
6401 Security Boulevard
1412 West High Rise
Baltimore, MD 21235
Phone: 410-965-4328
Fax: 410-965-9949

Navigation Bar For NPR site Back To The NPR Main Page Search the NPR Site NPR Initiatives Links to Other Reinvention Web Sites Reinvention Tools Frequently Asked Questions NPR Speeches NPR News Releases