Serving the American Public
Best Practices in One-Stop Customer Service
Federal Benchmarking Consortium
|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
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.
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.
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":
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.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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.
The organizations that are best prepared to satisfy their customers after asking "May I help you?" are those that:
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.
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.
Here are examples of some less sophisticated information systems being used in successful one-stop operations:
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.
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:
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."
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.
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.
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.
Customer Service RepresentativeDespite 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.
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.
Benchmarking PartnerIn 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
From this basis of customer-communicated needs, world-class one-stop customer service organizations share several implementing features. For example:
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.
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:
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.
In their consolidations to one-stop service, several companies focused on reducing cycle time by improving cross-functional coordination.
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.
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.
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:
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:
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.
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.
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 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.
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 (www.empnet.com/dnf/welcome.html); names and phone numbers of other knowledgeable contacts are also available on the home page.
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 (www.ita.doc.gov/tic).
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 (www.gsa.gov/genstore/).
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 (www.hcad.org/usgs/genstore.htm).
Immigration and Naturalization Service
425 I Street, NW
Washington, DC 20536
National Performance Review
750 17th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20006
National Security Agency
Sheila L. Brand
Fort Meade, MD 20755-6000
Office of the Comptroller of the Currency
250 E Street, SW
Washington, DC 20219
Patent and Trademark Office
Xuan M. Thai
Washington, DC 20231
Social Security Administration
6401 Security Boulevard
960 Altmeyer Building
Baltimore, MD 21235
Social Security Administration
6401 Security Boulevard
1412 West High Rise
Baltimore, MD 21235