White House pushing agencies toward better customer service

Friday - 3/26/2010, 5:35pm EDT

By Jason Miller
Executive Editor
Federal News Radio

The Obama administration is trying to change the perception that government and customer service don't mix well together.

As part of the take-away from the Modernizing IT forum held at the White House in January, the Office of Management and Budget plans on setting up a community of practice for agency managers who are responsible for customer service.

The forum brought together 50 chief executive officers from some of the largest companies across the United States and federal technology officials to share best practices and ideas to improve how the government manages technology.

OMB says the community of practice will provide an environment for agencies to share best practices for delivering customer service.

"This customer service community of practice will provide a forum for highlighting, and replicating, those customer service best practices already occurring in pockets of the federal government," the White House states. "It will also be a mechanism for introducing, testing and implementing private sector best practices. Importantly, the creation of the community of practice acts as at first step toward elevating and professionalizing customer service across the federal government."

The White House issued report earlier this week about the forum and the next steps it wants agencies to take based on what they learned at the meeting.

"The concepts discussed at the Forum reinforced that visionary leadership, strong day-to-day management, detailed reporting, thorough evaluation of processes and ongoing review of customer needs are the true drivers of success," the report states. "A disciplined management framework allows technology to be deployed effectively, and enables dramatic productivity improvements."

Along with the community of practice, the White House is studying customer experience survey methods used in the private sector, and requiring agencies to clearly articulate and post publicly their customer service standards.

"The CEOs detailed the fundamental, proven importance of utilizing effective customer satisfaction monitoring systems to inform customer service initiatives," the report states. "By comparison, the customer satisfaction measurement efforts of most federal agencies are rudimentary at best. For example, many of the best customer service organizations in the private sector have developed special tools to measure customer satisfaction across the entire customer experience-not just one channel or interaction."

The White House says even the most advanced agencies tend to measure customer service interactions in isolation, such as how successful was a single phone call or Web search, instead of considering the larger customer experience.

In addition to customer service, OMB wants agencies to focus on program management. The administration already has moved out in this area with the IT Dashboard and the TechStat sessions.

The administration also is researching IT project review processes and tools from the private sector.

"Leveraging review tools and processes that have proven successful in the private sector will undoubtedly accelerate our IT project review improvement efforts," the report states.

The Chief Information Officer Council will review the research and develop a set of tools for all agencies to use.

Finally, the White House wants the exchange of ideas to continue between government and the private sector. The administration is setting up a database to match CEOs with specific skills or expertise with agency deputy secretaries.

"We may engage private sector participants to assist informally these cross-agency efforts by asking them to share their insights at a council event, provide advice and counsel on a particular challenge, serve as a sounding board for proposed solutions, or simply suggest avenues for further exploration," the report states. "We are confident that this focused collaboration will yield results that demonstrate the role the private sector can play in helping the federal government address hurdles that seem insurmountable, and that these types of focused collaborations will energize broader improvement efforts."

The White House also is looking into establishing more formal advisory bodies where private sector experts can advise agencies on management performance issues.

"The large and growing gap between the best practices and productivity of the private and public sectors is unacceptable and creating a close tie between private sector leaders and their government counterparts holds promise as an immediate, effective tool for closing that gap," the report states.

(Copyright 2010 by FederalNewsRadio.com. All Rights Reserved.)