There are no arguments among business researchers and practitioners about the importance of providing excellent customer service to customers. Because of high level of competition in almost every industry, the customer bargaining power has increased significantly, and customers can easily turn to the competitors of the business if they are not satisfied with the level of customer service, as well as, any other aspect of the business.
Today business are totally aware of the importance of the customer service, therefore try to create competitive edge for the company by providing excellent customer service and make considerable investments for these purpose by employing competent people to deal with their customers and training them on a regular basis.
People who are customers of businesses also deal with various public organisations and agencies for a varied range of purposes being members of society. Because people are used to the high level of customer service as a result of dealing with many businesses regularly, they also expect the same level of customer service from public sector organisations as well (Agness, 2010)
The principles operations of public sector organisations are based upon are different from the principles of business entities on the fundamental level. And primarily, this difference comes from the objectives of these two kinds organisations. While the main objective of any business entity is profit maximisation and they know that this objective can only be achieved when customers are satisfied with the level of the service they are receiving, the objectives of public sector organisations are to perform some functions within society mechanism, which is often not related to profit maximisation.
Public Sector Customer Expectations
The issue of increasing customer expectations became only urgent with after the level of competition intensified in many industries due to technological advancement, globalisation, internet and other reasons. Prior to this the ‘power’ was on the side of businesses and the issues of marketing and customer services were not on of list for businesses. A famous remark by Henry Ford ‘you can choose any colour as long as it is black’ (Merrill et al, 2008, online) clearly illustrates the fact that some businesses were not putting too much effort on marketing, customer services and other similar aspects of the business that is associated with selling if the products and services.
Technological advancement that accelerated starting from the second half of the last century allowed products to be manufactured and services offered cheaper and in a more efficient manner that resulted in more and more companies offering same products and services. Then, companies recognised the need to stand out from the competition and offering better quality of service became one of the efficient methods to gain a competitive edge on the marketplace.
The level of competition intensified even more due to the forces of globalisation, and the advent of internet at the end of the last century took the competition between businesses to the global stage. Starting from that point of time offering superior level of customer service was no longer choice for businesses, but it has become a necessity for them and businesses refusing to adopt such a perspective went out of business vey quickly.
Customers benefited from the high level of customer service and became used to it, and this statement is especially true for consumers in highly developed countries due to the exceptionally high level of competition in those countries. As a result customers started to expect the same high level of service form the public sector organisations as well, and started to become frustrated with the quality of service they were receiving from public sector organisations that was considerably less compared to the private sector.
Some initiatives have taken by UK government aimed at improving the quality of service of public sector organisations including the ideas forwarded by then Prime Minister Tony Blair to put “needs of citizens, not the convenience of service providers” (Blair, 1999, p.16).
There are mixed opinions regarding the effectiveness of such government initiatives and programs, but Flynn (2007) mentions the survey of sample UK population undertaken by NCC at the end of 2002 during which 50% of sample group stated that the quality of public services, including customer services has increased during the last five years, whereas 22% thought that it has deteriorated.
However, there is a consensus among many business researchers that currently, the quality of customer services offered by public agencies is far less compared to the quality of business enterprises (Bolivard et al, 2009). There are many explanations offered regarding the reasons of reduced level of service quality offered in public organisations compared to their private counterparts and one of the main reasons for that difference is indicated to be a lack of motivation in public sector enterprises to offer a service of high quality (Williams and Buswell, 2003). Other reasons are stated to include lack of qualifications and training of public sector employees dealing with customers.
Expectations of internal customers within public sector are another important issue that needs to be looked at critically. The level of communication between businesses and their internal customers and public sector organisations with their internal customers differ on the fundamental level as well, again primarily due to their different objectives.
Most businesses strive to meet the expectations of their internal customers recognising them as their important assets, whereas state of things in public sector agencies differ depending on the type of organisation and their specific function within government mechanism.
The Importance of Meeting Public Sector Customer Expectations
The current situation in UK and other countries where the level of meeting or exceeding customer expectations is considerably less in public sector organisations than businesses is causing inconvenience to the public and negatively affecting the performance of ruling governments (Windrum and Koch, 2008)
Every member of population has a right to expect excellent service from public sector organisations taking into account the fact that members of population are paying customers of public organisations and they are paying government for their services in forms of taxes and other payments.
Customer service excellence in public sector is important to anyone within country for many reasons main of which are the following:
Firstly, low level of customer service in public sector organisations may result in willingness of customers to complain about the standard of service they had received, and this in turn will result in extra expenses for both, government and customer, in the forms of lost time, all the possible applications, phone calls, travelling, and even court proceedings involved.
Secondly, low level of customer service from public sector organisations and unmet expectations of customers can cause additional stress to customers that can result in expenses for government, as well as customer, associated with treatment of illnesses caused by the stress.
Thirdly, on the global scale, the high level of customer service offered by public sector organisations will result in general population being positive towards the government and supporting the government, and this fact can reduce the chances of people going on strikes for related issues that is detrimental for the country and has a negative effect for economy and consumers as well.
Similarly, population as well as government will benefit in many ways if the expectations of internal customers of public sector organisations are met or exceeded. Apart from benefiting in above mentioned ways, public sector organisation’s internal customer satisfaction will also attract more people for people sector positions that will give the opportunity of employing best professionals in those positions.
Challenges in Providing Customer Service Excellence in Public Sector
It has been established that customer service excellence in public sector would benefit all parties involved: population, public sector organisation, government, and even businesses. However, achieving this objective is highly challenging and the situation in UK regarding the matter has become even more complicated with the government’s decision of cutting expenses on public sector by £83 billion.
The decision of government of cutting the expenses on public sector will create additional challenges in providing customer service excellence in public sector in many ways. Primarily, it will be even more difficult to attract highly qualified and professional customer service officers into public sector because the government cut of funding may result on even less pay or additional workload for public sector employees. As a result, competent professionals of the industry, as well as promising graduates would prefer to choose private industry, where they are offered a more attractive pay package including various benefits.
It is difficult to overcome this challenge, because it directly relates to financing and it is only up to government to determine the amount of spending for public sector for any given year.
Another challenge in providing customer service excellence in public sector rests on creating a new assessment method of performance of public sector employees that places great emphasize on the satisfaction of customers. It is necessary because current performance evaluation methods of public sector employees, where they exist, put great emphasize on attendance and achieving goals that do not place customer satisfaction on the top of the list. Waldt (2004) argues that indicators need to be developed that would enable the assessment of the quality of public sector organisations supporting the viewpoint formulated above.
Moreover, the lack of motivation in public sector customer service employees is a massive challenge that needs to be overcome in order to increase the level of customer service within sector. In order to achieve that objective some elements of the business practice might be incorporated within public sector that includes motivating employees through financial and intangible means if high level of customer satisfaction has been achieved by any specific employee (Johns et al, 2005).
Trainings and seminars would need to be organised on a regular basis for public sector customer service officers, both in-house and outside, in order to increase their qualifications and the level of their customer orientation. However, the fact that above measures can be difficult to implement because of recent government cuts of public sector expenses presents additional separate challenge for the issue.
One of the strategies public sector organisations can employ in order to increase their overall efficiency and the rate of their customer satisfaction includes adopting some approaches and principles from business within some of their functions. In particular, adopting customer-orientated approach like businesses do when dealing with their internal and external customers can result in greater customer satisfaction level for public sector organisations.
According to Pegler (2002) organisations can become more customer-orientated through following seven stages which are: a) defining customer satisfaction goals and strategy; b) segmenting the customer base; c) identifying key needs and performance gaps; d) developing programs to improve performance; e) monitoring changes in customer behaviour; f) improving customer satisfaction, and g) measuring progress towards improvement .
However, when going through above stages it is important for public sector organisations do remove excessive bureaucracy that is common within public sector organisational structures.
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