Public Service and Process

From the desk of James Dodkins

In many countries, the phrase public service is considered something of an anachronism. At all levels of government and government led services, customers perceive that overall they get a raw deal when compared to the levels of service they now regularly expect from privately held organizations. In this article we will explore how Customer Age thinking and he concepts of Successful Customer Outcomes and Next Practice are helping to change that perception and lead to increased efficiency in public services around the globe.

With regard to the issues of local, regional, or national government we firstly need to remember that in a democracy government is of the people, by the people, with the will of the people. As governments increasingly raise taxes and start to play a more active role in the everyday lives of people there is a real risk that if they do not focus on their ³customer² and what the customer wants, that they might lose that will. So for government departments at all levels there needs to be very clear on who the customer is and what they want. In this they are no different from a private enterprise, customers do not care about your internal bureaucracy or your policies and procedures, they do care about being able to access your services in an efficient manner and know that they are being cared for.

Nobody is suggesting for one moment that you can please everybody. But if those that you are not pleasing are displeased through poor service or overly complicated procedures and policies then they have in most cases good cause to complain. Indeed, employees in the public sector would do well to
remember that it is their tax money that is being potentially wasted too! Many people might feel that government and public sector is ³different² and that the same rules cannot apply. To a small extent this may be right, but in the majority of cases fresh thinking can still lead to increased service
and efficiency.

Take the case of a police force. While recently working with a regional police department the point was raised, that they are a very different business, and unlike anything in the private sector. This is typical of the inside out thinking that tends to occur in public service. It we look at it from the outside in, the police force could be considered rather like an insurance company. The parallel is quite a simple one. With insurance we pay a monthly or annual premium to a company on the promise that if something goes wrong we can contact them and they will sort it out ­ cars, home, or life. So in the case of the police we pay taxes each month (our premium) so that if something goes wrong we can contact them and they will send someone to help us ­ surely this is just the same, from the customer point of view, as the insurance scenario? The same also of course can be said of the fire and ambulance services. Why then can such services not look at what insurance companies are doing in order to improve service and responsiveness?

As a side issue in another discussion with a different police service the issue of customer became apparent in a different way. In this force they felt that the way they had been organized was to ensure that they provided the best service to their customer, it was just that in their case they saw the criminal as the customer, not the victim! So when identifying your customer you do need to be clear on your purpose in order that you are serving the right customers.

The example of the emergency services given here is a good example of how ³Outside-In² can be applied in the public service and how in looking for new and innovative ways to improve service and increase efficiency the public sector can benefit from looking at how the very best people are handling that situation, regardless of geography or industry sector.

The parallels do not end there though. Those familiar with the Beatles may recall a song from Sergeant Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band (an older but a goody) and a track mentioning 4,000 pot-holes in Blackburn, Lancashire. The song related John Lennon¹s curiosity at how many pot-holes would it take to fill the Albert Hall (a particular large musical venue in central London) and indeed why were there so many holes? Well clearly at that time he had never visited Chicago as they have enough holes to fill the Grand Canyon!

The story of how the Chicago Works Department transformed a moribund public service (fixing said potholes) which typically took 6-8 weeks, involved up to 30 people, and on average cost an incredible $42,000 USD is now becoming legend in BPM parlance.

The full story of the fix will wait for another day however the quantum leap here with Outside-In and Successful Customer Outcomes drew its inspiration from Expedia. Daniel Pink (A Whole New Mind) would be proud of the right brain thinking which imported Expedia¹ scheduling Œidea¹ to let citizens
define the problem, chose a suitable repair and select a convenient date for the repair team fix from a two screen web based system. Problem fixed. Now on average 4 days, 5 people and $2,000 USD. That still seems a lot (especially for tax payers) for filling a hole but boy is it giant step in the right direction!

Of course we can extend this thinking even further into many walks of public service.
Where would you start your Outside-In endeavors?