Customer service process performance
In additional to managerial policy, some researchers believe that simply collecting data or improving technology will serve to intervene in public agencies to improve service. In the area of the development of e-government as a solution to service issues, evaluation of user data is critical in order to determine whether or not quality service is being offered. According to one rubric, e-government service cannot be limited to simply elements of e-service but must aspire to become “life-event portals” where the site responds to real user needs in a full and accessible manner (Kunstelj & Vintar, 2004).
One model of e-service lists four levels of potential development: web presence, where basic information is published; interaction, where users can use search engines to obtain information and email or link to other websites; transaction, which involves using forms to order to fulfill applications; and, finally, transformation, which allows “integrated services to be offered on the ‘one-stop-shop’ principle, many processes occurring without customers having to be involved, making administrative operations more transparent and improving customer satisfaction” (Kunstelj & Vintar, p. 133).
In a study of e-government development internationally, it was determined that most countries are able to supply information, offer application forms and email addresses online, but that few are able to link online contact with back-office systems that would be able to find information and help a customer conduct a complete action. Too many governments have launched e-services on the “quick fix, quick wins” principles that offer only shallow service to customers (Kunstelj & Vintar, p. 133).
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Worldwide, users report that even finding information and “the services they require” is difficult on most sites (Kunstelj & Vintar, p. 133). At present, in fact, “no country has yet achieved the fourth or transformation level of development, denoted by full realization of customer orientation objective and introduction of integrated services” (Kunstelj & Vintar, p. 234). This will entail a complete reorganizing of back-office information stores, and studies have shown a strong link between back-office reorganization and improved e-service to users (Kunstelj & Vintar, 2004).
The SSA was not evaluated in this study, but the results suggest that additional development is required to make the SSA e-presence truly transformational in nature (see below). One of the primary challenges of e-government is personalization, which enables a site to be tailored to a particular user’s needs (Tam & Ho, 2003). Theory suggests that customers will be more satisfied when a site is oriented toward the self. Studies have proven that “self-referencing is reported to enhance people’s product evaluations” (Tam & Ho, p. 171).
Brain studies have noted “the cocktail party effect” whereby a person is able to “detect his/her name being called above the background noise of a cocktail party” (Tam & Ho, p. 870). If an online service can “understand the spontaneous preferences of individual users” then that site will likely have a competitive advantage over others. At present, however, while there is much hype over this issue, the degree to which personalization actually helps an e-site satisfy customers more, is uncertain. In sum, more finely-tuned design of individualizing websites promises as yet unachieved advances in making e-government a real possibility.
Whether or not IT can help improve customer service has, in fact, has not been adequately studied (Ray & Muhanna, 2005). Studies that are emerging are finding that developing IT capabilities will remain difficult for both companies and public agencies. One study found that only if the e-presence of a company involves a “valuable, rare and costly” IT will a site help customer service (Ray & Muhanna, p. 626). Moreover, only if there is shared knowledge between the customer service manager and IT can a good website actually “affect relative customer service process performance” (Ray & Muhanna, p. 626).
Generic online presence is necessary, but the degree to which a customer will respond to that improved service remains an issue. However, if an e-presence involves some element that is as yet, in the marketplace, rare or novel, then the results indicate that customer service improves. While this finding may place an onerous burden of originality on most agencies seeking e-government service, it acknowledges that there are no easy answers in technological interventions for service improvement. This point is further driven home by the arrival of VR capabilities online.
Many websites have begun to include virtual reality-type presentations of products because studies have shown that “participants exhibit significantly higher levels of actual and perceived product knowledge… with a VR interface” (Suh & Lee, 2005, p. 691). This builds on previous market research which finds that “consumer learning is enhanced” by 3D interfaces, compared to products presented in 3D mode (Suh & Lee, p. 674). Moreover, studies have shown that VR generates a feeling of telepresence, or “a sense of ‘being there’ in an environment by means of a communication medium” (Suh & Lee, p. 679).
It has been proven that “based upon sensory stimuli conveyed by a VR interface, human beings can create a perceptual illusion of being present and highly engaged in a mediated environment, while they are in reality physically present in another place” (Suh & Lee, p. 679). If all of these traits are found to improve customer service, then these findings would suggest that in order for e-government to improve customer service some sort of accommodation to VR and telepresence may be needed (Suh & Lee, 2005).