Document Name: Chapter 1: Making the Big U-Turn
Date: 12/04/95
Owner: National Performance Review

Chapter 1

Making the Big U-Turn

Why would a company like Ford that already has a reputation for quality go to the trouble and million-dollar expense of publicizing specific promises about what service their customers can expect? Why promise to tell you the status of your car "within one minute of your inquiry"? Why not just try to do it and keep the one-minute goal quiet? Why let the customers in on your measures of success, or failure?

Ford Promises
Dealer-to-Customer Standards
* Appointment available within one day of customer's requested service day.

* Write-up begins within four minutes of arrival.

* Service needs continuously identified, accurately recorded on Repair Order, and verified with customer.

* Vehicle serviced right on first visit.

* Service status provided within one minute of inquiry.

* Vehicle ready at agreed-upon-time.

* Thorough explanation of work done, coverage, and charges.

Ford's doing it this year for the same reason the reinvented U.S. government started doing it two years ago. To build confidence among its customers--in Ford's case, confidence that a good experience in the service department is no fluke. It's like Babe Ruth pointing out where the next homer's going. You have to promise and then deliver. That builds confidence that the whole organization is designed and managed to deliver the results the customer wants.

If Ford's customers don't have confidence in the company, Ford's in trouble. But if the government's customers lose confidence, all of America is in trouble. Because the government is--or should be--nothing more than Americans working together to solve problems that can't be solved any other way. Like educating our next generation to compete in the world market. Or protecting our borders. Or making our streets safe. If the American people don't even believe our government can answer the phone and give quick, courteous service, how can they believe it can keep America great and free?

We have to restore confidence that we can all work effectively together through self-government. And the government has to build confidence just like Ford--or any good company--does. With each and every customer.

"Government must do the small things better

as well, in ways that increase the confidence of the

American people. It must earn that confidence

in many ways, one customer at a time."

President Clinton

September 20, 1994

For a while there the government was getting away from us. It stopped being the government of the people. It was marching to different drummers--special interests, Washington professionals, well-meaning people with good intentions--on a path that seemed to be headed away from the taxpaying customers of government.

In March 1993, President Clinton asked Vice President Gore to lead the National Performance Review. The Clinton-Gore reinvention initiative mapped out a dramatic change in direction, a big U-turn, to head government back to the people. All of this basic work on customer service is the force behind the big U- turn. It all begins with listening to what people want.

Just Listen to the People

Whether you work in the Ford Service Department or the Social Security Administration, customers all want the same thing. They all want to be listened to.

They all want quality service. They all care about:

* getting things done right

* getting things done quickly, or at least knowing how long it will take

* dealing with knowledgeable, reliable people

* resolution in one contact, or one point of contact until resolution

* knowing where to turn if a problem shows up

* choices on how and where to get services

* readily available information

* clarity in forms, publications, process descriptions, advice,

and correspondence

* courteous treatment from people who are friendly, respectful,

trusting, and willing to listen

* readily accessible, clean, and safe facilities

* names and phone numbers so they can call directly to get

questions answered.

But even knowing that customers care about all these things is not enough. You have to keep asking customers what they want, and listening to what they say. You have to find out what matters most. Companies that don't ask enough questions get it wrong. Remember when Ford decided its customers wanted Edsels? Or when Coca-Cola decided it was high time for a new taste?

"Please do not skip this step. Don't assume you know

what your customers want. Almost everyone gets surprised when they first ask customers what they want."

Vice President Gore
March 11, 1994

Government agencies are not telepathic either. Take IRS. It firmly believed that good customer service meant mailing you your tax forms right after New Year's Eve. Until it asked, that is. Then the agency found out that what people really want is (a) as little contact with the IRS as possible, and (b) a quick refund.

So next spring, about 20 million taxpayers in 50 states who use the 1040-EZ form can forget the form and file on their touch-tone phone. It's quicker (about six minutes) and easier than EZ (the phone system does the math). It requires no contact with any person at IRS. And you'll get your refund within 21 days (rather than the 40 it takes if you file a paper form).

Three Chairs--No Waiting

IRS Listens Days

The problem resolution officer of the Internal Revenue Service will hold an IRS Listens Day for all Durham-area residents with unresolved tax problems September 18, 1995 at 3308 Chapel Hill Boulevard, Suite 140.

Between 10:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m., taxpayers who have tried to solve their tax problems through normal channels and still have not done so will have an opportunity to meet with the IRS problem resolution staff in a confidential setting. The service is free.

Reprinted with permission. The Herald-Sun,

September 8, 1995.

See? Government is listening to you. Government is coming back to the people.

IRS, the Social Security Administration, and the Postal Service were the first agencies to publish customer service standards two years ago--the courageous pioneers. But it's not just them. Last year, 150 agencies laid it on the line--put their promises down in black and white for all to see. (See "Putting Customers First," President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore, September 1994.)

This year's book contains the customer service standards of 214 federal agencies. New additions include the Securities and Exchange Commission, with its 24-hour hot line and one-day response, and the Peace Corps--always eager to recruit--which promises to send out information on job openings within one day. The Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board and the National Endowment for the Humanities are examples of the many smaller agencies publishing standards for the first time. And major departments--such as Transportation, Labor, Agriculture, Veterans Affairs, and Commerce--added standards on customer service areas not covered earlier.

When we released standards last year, we said we were just getting started, that we have long way to go. It's still true that much remains to be done.

We have to reorganize to be responsive where we serve customers; we've been organized for top-down control. We have to train employees to deliver results to customers; they've been trained to follow what Vice President Gore calls "mind-numbing rules." We have to have systems designed to please customers; up to now, we've had systems that were designed to please bosses, headquarters, and management committees.

"People like you are giving government a good name."

Al Wade, praising the service
at the Archives and Records Center in Waltham, Massachusetts

These things are changing. The customer service teams that put the standards together have a fire in the belly that comes from knowing that what they do can truly change government. Together, they are pounding away at the old ways of doing things. They are putting together new, customer-driven systems. And they are building on the strongest possible base--the desire of federal employees to serve America, to do what they signed up to do. This desire, coupled with the discretion to make decisions to serve customers, is a potent force for change.

Agency leaders are also engaged. Many spent big chunks of their time this past year outside Washington listening to customers and front-line employees, seeing what it is like to work where government touches Americans. They are finding out first-hand what needs fixing.

Making all the necessary changes will take time. These are things that go to the very core of government. So rather than make a promise we cannot keep--a cardinal sin in customer service--some of the customer service standards are pretty modest compared to the best in business. But this approach leads to improvement too.

Big Time Promises -- Standards That Touch Millions

Consumer Product Safety Commission--hotline available 24 hours a day for customer complaints and details of the latest product recalls.
Department of Agriculture--if we get things wrong in the Rural Business and Cooperative Development Service, we'll apologize and make it right.

Internal Revenue Service--tax refunds due on complete and accurate paper returns in 40 days; 21 days for electronic returns.

Veterans Canteen Service--food court service in three minutes; unconditionally guaranteed customer service.

National Archives and Records Administration--within 15 minutes of walking in, you'll have either the information or the help you need.

National Park Service--Great Smokey Mountains visitor center open every day but Christmas.

OSHA--inspectors will be respectful and helpful, and focus on the most serious hazards.

Bureau of Labor Statistics--data any way you want it: from a live person, by recorded message, fax, microfiche, diskette, tape, Internet, or TDD.

Department of Commerce/STAT-USA--CD-ROM orders shipped in one day or the CD is free.

Minerals Management Service--easy access to us in our office or by phone, or we'll meet you at a more convenient location you request.

EPA--in our voluntary programs, publicly, recognize the achievements of business.

U.S. Coast Guard--search and rescue on demand, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Education Department--special education customers will be seen within 10 minutes.

Forest Service--our offices and visitor centers will be open at times convenient to you.

Social Security Administration--new and replacement cards mailed within five days; we'll tell you the Social Security number in one day if it's urgent.

FedWorld--on-line transactions complete in seven seconds.

U.S. Mint--orders taken 24 hours a day, seven days per week.

In 1994, the Department of Veterans Affairs promised veterans no more than a 30-minute wait to see a benefits counselor. VA knew 30 minutes wasn't good enough, but thought that was the best it could do. This past year, the 30-minute standard focused VA's work on shorter waiting times. In this book, the new promise is that veterans will wait no more than 20 minutes. For tomorrow, VA is working on changes to virtually eliminate the wait.

Across the board, standards are getting better. Agencies are staying open longer hours to serve you. They're promising to keep listening to their customers and keep improving their standards. Some even pledge in writing to admit when they're wrong and to try to make it right.

You seldom have to stop by a government office any more. Dozens of agencies are offering their customers more modern service choices--telephone, fax, the Internet. For example, many social security, welfare, and veterans payments now go out electronically: safe, secure, and easy. Scores of agencies provide information and interactive services over the World Wide Web, the latest, most powerful, and most customer-friendly service station on the information superhighway. The Federal Emergency Management Agency's web site offers 5,000 pages, words, and pictures of the latest emergency information. The National Cancer Institute's web site has a vast but easy-to-use store of information on preventing, detecting, and treating the dreaded disease. The U.S. Business Advisor gives one-stop electronic access to rules from every agency of the federal government that regulates businesses, large or small. Electronic government is on the way.

A Revolution

It's not just more and better standards. It is an all-encompassing customer service program. It's an entirely new way of governing. It's President Clinton and Vice President Gore putting customers first.

It started in 1993 with a recommendation from Vice President Gore's National Performance Review team and the President's Executive Order that set all federal agencies on a customer service campaign. The President ordered agencies to survey their customers to see what kind of service people want and whether they are getting it. To get ideas from front-line workers who deal with customers day to day. To give customers choices and easy access, and a way to complain and get problems fixed. He set the goal for the government to deliver service equal to the best in business.

This year, the President reinforced his order to put customers first. He reminded agency heads to keep pushing for improved service and told them to measure their performance and report the results to customers. The agencies will soon pass out report cards that show how they are doing. The IRS, for example, will post its results in this year's tax booklet.

President Clinton's new directive leaves no doubt that the goal is a revolution in how government does business, top to bottom, so that customers are the focus. Customer service standards and measures are to be part of strategic plans, training programs, personnel systems, and anything else that ought to be changed to advance the cause.

It Works

Publishing standards is risky business. Everybody knows the minute you blow it. But you do it anyway if you care more about improving service than saving face.

Look at the Postal Service. It was one of the first brave hearts, publishing crystal-clear standards back in 1993--like local delivery overnight, absolutely, positively. The first year's results? A public relations nightmare. Performance in Washington and New York fell in the 50 percent range--the system even lost Al Gore's Christmas cards. Chicago came in at 66 percent, with some mail found burning under a bridge.

Was that any worse than before the Post Office set standards and measured performance? Nobody knows.

Has it gotten better since the agency set standards and measured performance? You bet! Washington, New York, Chicago: now, all performing above 80 percent. Nationally, on-time delivery is up from 74 percent to 87 percent.

When you measure performance, you get performance. And making the whole process public helps a lot.

The Social Security Administration made big public promises in 1993 about delivering quick, courteous, and competent 1-800 telephone service. This year, Business Week reported that an independent survey of the country's best customer service over the telephone ranked the new, improved Social Security Administration tops in the nation. SSA beat companies like L.L. Bean, Federal Express, and Disney. SSA was slow answering the phone, but so good at getting problems solved quickly and courteously that the agency still got the highest score overall. SSA is the best in the business. And to stay the best, it is training 3,300 more operators this year so it can get to all the calls quicker.

Dispatching Bad Manners

The other day, I went to my post office, a place of storied surliness, where customers have the despairing look of people in a refugee center as they stand on designated spots on the floor and hope that no second person from Pakistan with 35 large envelopes involving innumerable forms and stampings is between them and the counter. It's strictly us against them.
Last Tuesday morning, as I was standing, I hoped, between the right yellow floor dots, a woman in a postal uniform came toward me. Instinc-tively, I stepped back, sure that I was violating some territorial rule.
The woman was smiling, which instantly aroused my suspicion. What was she doing in our post office? She beamed at me and said, "Good morning."
I was stunned: Good morning is a phrase not lightly used in that block of Connecticut Avenue. What ailed her?
I said good morning back, but I'm afraid it sounded more like a question. "We appreciate your patronage," she said.
"You do?" I replied in stupefaction.
She was handing me a stamp. So great was my shock, I did not say thank you. I'm afraid I inquired about the denomination. I figured there might have been another rate raise during a brief absence from the city. It was for 32 cents. If she had handed me the Hope Diamond, I couldn't have been more surprised.
"We have cookies and juice for you," she said. Sure enough, there was a card table with orange juice and chocolate chip cookiesÉ

Grand successes like that are made up of millions of individual successes like this one described in a letter from Maurice Dopp of San Francisco (September 23, 1994):

A month or so ago, I called the SSA with a query. A voice said that the telephone shop was now open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and that if I wished to hang on, someone would be with me in an estimated six minutes. In six minutes someone helped me: "Oh, you need to fill out form XX. Would you like to come in, or would you like to do it over the phone? What day can someone call you? What time?" On the appointed day, at the appointed hour, my phone rang and a friendly voice asked me questions. The next day the mail arrived with the form filled out, ready for my signature, and with a postage-paid return envelope. No private business that I can recall has ever given me service this good! Cheers to all concerned!

That's the kind of government America can be proud of.

For the Convenience of Customers

More than any other time in the history of America, the government is listening to what the people want, and delivering. It's all here in this book.

Just like last year, the service standards in this year's book are organized for the convenience of the customers. Not alphabetically by agency, so that government employees can find their goals; they did the work, and they know who their customers are. But organized by customer group, so that, for instance, beneficiaries can look in one section to find out what kind of service they can expect from a government agency, whether it is Agriculture, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Labor, Treasury, or whomever. The same for business owners, local law enforcement agencies, travelers and tourists, and so on. If standards apply to more than one group, we repeated them so that customers don't have to hunt around. If you really want to look things up by agencies, there is an index in the back. The organization of the book is symbolic of the reinvented government. It puts customers first.

Congratulations, America. You're getting your government back.

"As a small business who does a lot of work with the government, I had spent years being pushed around or being sent on wild-goose-chasesÉNo more!ÉCustomer service seems to be the name of the game, and I like it!"

Shirley Sirota Rosenburg, printer
February 24, 1995

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