The Federal Government and Customer Service — Oxymoron?

“No surprise!” you say. “The government doesn’t have a clue how to treat its customers — us!”

The USPS spent millions a decade ago on customer service training. Generally, the clerks I’ve encountered are pleasant and some go out of their way to be friendly to their customers.

Other agencies not so much.

Recently, I discovered a mistake on my passport. I searched the passport office website and my issue wasn’t addressed so I called the listed phone number. After a short wait, Sally answered and was intelligent, a good listener, and verified the information before telling me what I needed to do.

I proceeded to my nearest passport office, an hour’s drive away in San Francisco. I had completed and printed the needed document, and brought my birth certificate and passport as instructed.

After passing through the metal detectors, I approached the clerk’s glassed in window. She said I had to leave my passport and I needed two recent photos.

I explained that the phone rep told me it was an internal correction to their database and that I didn’t need a new passport issued. She said that the rep was wrong. I was incredulous that I had gone to all this effort and was to be denied. I asked for the supervisor, thinking the clerk didn’t know what she was talking about.

Finally, the supervisor appeared and confirmed what the clerk told me. She said, “The phone reps are contractors and give out the wrong info all the time.” I said, “Can’t you communicate to their manager that they are doing this so they will stop?” She shrugged.

So the government knows the info given at the number on their official site is wrong. And they don’t feel compelled to do anything about it. They are irritating and inconveniencing hundreds/thousands of citizens because they apparently don’t care.

If this were a private enterprise, they would definitely care because it would cost them business. But the government has a monopoly so is lackadaisical.

I realize this is common in many country’s governments, not just our own. Since there is no organizational incentive to ensure an outstanding customer experience, there is little effort to provide one. Since government workers are rarely rated on their customer service expertise, there is little motivation for them to try to do a stellar job with each customer.

If your organization is the only option for those who use your services, how do you ensure your staff focus on providing excellent service, rather than just enough to get by? How could you incent your people to step up their services levels?