Jeremy Hegle asked a series of questions on the LinkedIn Economic Development 2.0 Group: How can governmental agencies foster a customer service approach to “serving” their businesses?
About a month ago I posted the question:
“When it comes to reducing red tape & fostering a more welcoming environment for small businesses, what are some best practices that you’ve seen at city, county, state & or federal government ?”
Charley Bowman and Ryan Shell both commented on the importance of customer service, and how it is often forgotten.
How can city, county, state and federal agencies effectively instill a customer-service approach to serving their community’s?
Here is my response:
Jeremy: since I was noted once, I figure I’ll jump in again. Back in the late 1980’s and until maybe the early 2000’s, there was a group called the Innovations Group. It was a not-for-profit sort of think tank and place for city manager’s to experiment with new leadership paradigms. I think it is now called the Innovation Alliance, but I digress. I learned a lot there about leadership and employee empowerment – much of it from Peter Block and other managers. During this time I had my first city manager position and was being mentored by a local business owner in leadership and customer service. From putting together three employee empowerment programs (and service improvement programs), I draw this outline: (1) I had to trust the employees in order to be trusted by them. I had to walk the walk. (2) In creating employee empowerment programs (allowing employees to volunteer – usually one from each department – even in a union environment), I had to learn to get out of the way and supply the resources (time, training, etc) for the project. (3) I needed to support them to the city council and (in the third case) to the city manager. (4) I reported on their success, crediting/celebrating the employees by name. (5) Monitor the program via customer service post cards and permit/task completion time lines. (6) Ask questions about those items that were not completed on time — listening, and not judging. (7) Making adjustments in the program.
A committed manager/department head can do these things if that person is truly interested in service improvement and can put his/her ego aside. Both residents and the employee will be much happier in the long run and short run. The difficulty is sustainability of the program in our environment of city council members (and elected officials in general) looking toward the next election or progressive managers being replaced by managers who are not. But it can be done. (and it is a core competency of our consulting firm).
This is a terrific group that prompts thoughtful questions and discussions and I recommend it to you all.