Current practice versus best practice in customer service
In addition to these human resources-derived reforms for customer service, the literature on best practice in customer service also derives from service design and development, including quality function deployment (QFD). This methodology has been used to design a company’s structure so that it is always in tune with the customer’s needs, and outlining how this can be done throughout an organization. In one study, QFD was used to reform a police department so that its priorities were aligned to that of their customers, or the public in a particular town (Selen & Schepers, 2001).
It was found that a police department was offering high quality services to a public that nonetheless “were not a directed response to customer needs” (Selen & Schepers, p. 676). On the other hand, fairly simple community service projects that were not rated highly in terms of quality, were appreciated by the public. As a result, quality function deployment was introduced into the police department in order to ensure that customer needs information was “translated into appropriate actions” in the department.
While a number of basic premises of “best practice” in terms of governmental customer service are being explored by the SSA, it is also true that most specific reforms are designed to shore up weaknesses and reform current practice into something closer to best practice (Bovbjerg, 2001; Callahan & Gilbert, 2004; Groth & Gilliland, 2006; Heenan, 2004; International Labor Office (ILO, 2006). Some examples of these efforts to close the gap between theory and practice are covered here.
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One kind of study that measure the gap between current and best practice, tests a model of customer service in a public sector context with regard to whether or not it leads to customer satisfaction (Callahan and Gilbert, 2004). This kind of study is motivated by the belief that the debate over whether or not public sector organizations should orient themselves to customer satisfaction is by no means decided. Callahan & Gilbert (2004) note that “public management research connecting the affects of organizational structure with public agency performance has rarely examined public satisfaction” (p. 57).
As a result of this, the relationship between government agencies and the public remains foggy, and indeed, many government agencies are created through “poorly grounded recipes for institutional design” without taking the public and its service into consideration (Callahan and Gilbert, p. 57). Thus, the authors felt it important to “test the normative assumptions that market features in public agency contexts contribute to increased customer satisfaction with service delivery” (Callahan and Gilbert, p. 57).
This follows from the mandate of The New Public Management which argues that public institutions have to begin to design themselves based on evidence, and replace descriptive mapping with “more rigorous empirical analysis of the effects of administrative reform” (Callahan & Gilbert, p. 58). The primary means by which NPM reformers believe government agencies can be made more efficient is by modeling them after private sector management principles oriented to customer satisfaction.
This is done by aligning the internal production processes of the organization with the external environment. In such a context, studies have explored whether or not customers were satisfied with individual bureaucratic encounters, but have not gone much further. The use of the American Customer Satisfaction Index has further codified the idea of customer satisfaction as the goal of service. Overall, the study found a link between agency design and end-user satisfaction, though it did not determine if pay-for-service or other means of delivery results in more satisfaction.
Also of note is the finding that “best practices in public agencies had found (that) successful managers serve a wide range of stakeholders beyond end users” and that, thus, a focus solely on end-users might be too narrow. This is important as it was found that when the public manager has the discretion to change design features of the agency, then end-user data could be effectively used, because he or she has the power to act on the results, to alter the agency.
It is suggested, “measure of individual satisfaction with a public agency’s service delivery can be a possible mechanism for administrative and political accountability” (Callahan and Gilbert, p. 69). The importance of this finding lies in the fact that critics of the customer model believe that it dilutes participation in public life. But “empirically linking public agency performance to end-user satisfaction has the potential to provide for the meaningful participation and authentic accountability that critics of market-based reform decry as lost” (Callahan and Gilbert, p.69).
While such studies remain fairly abstract, a number of other studies offer more concrete ways to reduce the gap between best practice and current practice in customer service. The issue of waiting for service delivery “is a common experience for virtually all consumers, and is generally considered part of the service experience” (Groth and Gilliand, 2006, p. 108). People generally hate to wait for services, and “an increase in customer’s waiting time has been shown to have a negative relationship with overall service evaluations” (Groth and Gilliland, p. 108).
It thus goes without saying that if an agency can reduce the amount of time a customer waits, customer satisfaction will increase. This simple answer is repeatedly complicated by the fact that especially in service businesses “services cannot be produced and inventories in advance, (meaning that) waiting often becomes inevitable” (Groth and Gilliland, p. 108). Since long waits are almost a proverbial area of complaint of customers dealing with any number of public or government agencies, this issue bears upon the current review.