In Part 1 of Moving the Needle on Government Customer Service I talked about the state of customer service in government and compared customer service in industry and in government. In Part 2 I talked about the impact of government’s haphazard approach to customer service on employees, organizations and the public. In this third and last post on the subject I cover why government customer service as a whole lags behind industry and what to do to move the needle.
Government has been slow setting up call centers. Do not confuse a receptionist who answers the phone and routes calls with a contact center. Businesses know intuitively that product and service go hand in hand. A good product but poor customer service will have the same affect over time as selling a lousy product. To businesses customer service is part of the product life cycle. To government customer service is an add-on, a necessary evil.
Government employees are not trained in customer service. This doesn’t mean that government employees receive no training in customer service. Rather since customer service is not a job in and of itself, the training is general in nature. Contrast the customer service training the HR specialist who also answers customer calls in government gets with the customer service training that a customer service representative who also handles HR calls in industry gets.
The Department of Justice’s complaint against Oracle alleges that the government was overcharged for software licenses despite the company’s agreement to discount prices to the government at a level equal to or greater than the discount given commercial customers. DOJ alleges that the practice continued for almost a decade and cost taxpayers hundreds of millions.
Software licensing is a good fit for shared services. Purchasing and managing software licenses is high volume depending on the software, contracting processes for software and even contract language can be standardized from one vendor to the next, it is not high touch – from the customer’s perspective, there is no ambiguity about the scope of the activity and the cost of negotiating enterprise software licenses can be determined with precision. Most importantly, enterprise licenses means leveraged buying. Negotiating a government wide contract vehicle for software agencies commonly use is better than leaving each agency to negotiate (possibly better but more likely worse) terms of sale. GSA acted in much the same way a shared services center would act if enterprise licensing was one of its services. We got this part right.
The Federal Government is the elephant in the room when it comes to office, business and information software. If the US Government was a company it would be one of the largest if not the largest in the world. GSA in including “most favored” terms in the agreement with the software company, was spot on in insisting that the federal government as one of the largest users of the company’s software should get the best rate. Why? Because size matters when it translates into sales volume. Wal-mart knows this. So do their suppliers. But the vendor will likely not offer a volume discount, since, after all, the discount cuts into profit. So it falls to the high volume buyer to insist on it. We got this part right.
So far, so good. But where did we get off track?