A national survey of public sector workers and UK consumers has lifted the lid on the realities of customer service in public organisations.
The research, conducted by YPO, the UK’s largest public sector buying organisation and one of only a handful of public bodies to be a member of the Institute for Customer Service, reveals that budgets, reduced staff numbers and barriers to innovation are the biggest challenges to improving customer service in public sector organisations.
The survey found half (49%) of those working in the public sector say budgetary constraints and reduced staff numbers are the most significant obstacles to delivering good customer service now and in the future (39%).
Against a backdrop of rising financial pressure, the advent of social media is putting further pressure on customer service as it changes the way consumers and service users communicate. The social shaming power of Twitter and Facebook has seen public organisations formalise their digital approach.
Indeed, the majority of public sector workers surveyed (83%) said the rise of social media has made their organisations take customer service more seriously, a development welcomed by 87% of workers as a ‘good thing’. A third (34.3%) said their customers and service users should be able to share great experiences through social media and almost a quarter of customers and service users said they would use social media to express their satisfaction (23%) or complain (18%).
Social media can create fear in the customer service world. However, it’s an important listening tool to understand the customer more. If organisations look online they’ll find out what customers are saying and whether their organisation is doing business the way customers expect. One of the pitfalls when looking to improve customer service is a failure to accept customer feedback. Many organisations simply don’t want to act on it. Although there may be uncomfortable truths, listening and then being prepared to act to make improvements is vital.
Opportunities to improve
One area highlighted from the YPO survey is the potential for sharing experiences and key learnings between the public and private sector to create improvements and innovation. The research found that 72% of public sector workers were not able to compare levels of innovation across the sectors suggesting that increased collaboration would be beneficial.
More effective collaboration across the public and private sector and with suppliers will create a more productive environment in which to innovate. Both public and private sector organisations share the challenge of increasing financial pressures, and in this climate organisations are often forced to find new and innovative ways to improve customer service that otherwise may have been overlooked.”
49% say budgetary constraints and reduced staff numbers are the biggest challenge to delivering good customer service.
While many organisations are moving services online, this trend received a mixed response among those surveyed and the debate continues as to the impact on customer service. The majority of public sector workers say they are in favour (69%) while consumers and service users are less enthusiastic. Nearly half (44%) believe there would be no improvement in customer service as a result.
Perhaps the most important change any organisation can make to improve customer service is to recognise that the responsibility for customer service lies with every employee within the organisation. It’s about the whole business and making changes to the culture of the organisation. Too often the Voice of the Customer is lost in strategic planning and decision-making.
The way to combat this is to have a champion at the top of the organisation who can ensure a focus on the customer becomes part of the culture. This doesn’t necessarily have to be someone recruited to the role, but can be an existing senior leader who takes on responsibility for a relentless focus on the customer.
The YPO customer service research raises some interesting issues and topics for debate and reveals key themes for public organisations facing difficult choices when planning to meet customer expectations today and in the future. While developing online and digital responses is necessary, improving competencies through training and upskilling, implementing effective listening and creating a culture of continuous improvement are revealed to be central to improved customer service.
The findings and insights from the research, together with YPO’s recommendations for the future of customer service in the public sector, are set out in a new Customer Service White Paper: “Improving customer service in the public sector”. Download a copy or email [email protected]