Will taxpayers be willing to pay more to get better service from government?

Government customer service shouldn’t be like that in the private sector, unless you want higher taxes.

Will taxpayers be willing to pay more to get better service from government?

Q: In our previous interview on Obama’s new customer service initiative, you were rather pessimistic about success, primarily due to the timing of the initiative. I got the impression you were saying that improving service in government is not a no-cost process. Was I reading you correctly?

Robert: Correct. There’s this myth that there’s zillions of government employees sitting around doing nothing, so all you have to do is get them to serve citizens, and you solve the problem. it’s nonsense. If the citizens want better service — at least service improved enough so they will really notice the difference, then it’s going to cost money. And at this point, that’s not happening. Government is going to cut services to the bone, and it’s going to hurt people a lot more than delays in being served.

Q: A lot of surveys for the private sector have indicated that customers are willing to pay more for superior customer service. Do you think taxpayers will be willing to pay an extra percent or two more if they were to get faster, more effective service from government?

Robert: First, those surveys aren’t worth the dead trees they cut down, or the electrons they used to get the answers. People say a lot of things. In fact, in some sectors, customer will and do pay more for top quality service — high end restaurants and hotels, for example. for the most part, though, people are NOT paying for better service despite what they say. The are shopping for bargains, shopping on price, shopping on features, but they are NOT currently behaving as if they value service enough to pay more, across the board. It’s the common survey problem. People say things that are inconsistent with their behavior, and all one has to do is see the bottom lines, and sales of companies like Walmart or others that have woeful service. People keep shopping at these places.

Second, particularly in the U.S. where people are averse to taxation at the best of times, there’s no way that people will consent to pay more taxes to fund better government services. It’s kind of an insane notion, no offense to you for asking, but do you think that a country who’s citizens don’t want to pay higher taxes to bail out their own country’s economic woes, are going to pay more to spend less time at the DMV wicket?

Q:…well when you put it that way. So, it’s not going to happen. The next question is whether government can improve services without spending more money on customer service. Is it possible to do that? Improve without major expenditures?

Robert: It’s possible to make small gains in service improvement without huge investments of money. So, in that respect, it’s worth trying to do it through streamlining, and the old “do more with less” thing. But there’s limits to how MUCH you can improve that way. At some point, without making major changes and reorganizations (which are costly in government) all you end up doing is tweaking a little here and a little there, and if you improve customer service by “a few percentage points” (if we could measure that way), nobody would notice anyway.

And, it’s not like private business, where, at least there’s an assumption that if you improve service, you improve profits. That’s not the payoff for better government service.

Q; What IS the payoff for better service provided by government?

Robert: I’m not sure there is any.

Q: You’re serious?

Robert: Yes. Mostly. I don’t care how good governments get in providing customer service, they aren’t going to be loved for it, and there’s certainly no financial payoffs in terms of customer retention. But wait. I’m misrepresenting this a bit. If you can improve customer service and reduce the time it takes to serve citizens, there IS a payoff in terms of time and money savings, but it’s as much a result of cost efficiencies rather than a direct result of better service.

Q: So why worry about customer service in government?

Robert: Because it’s the right thing to do. I think it’s that simple. Governments exist to serve the needs of the entire nations that support them. What that means is that while governments need to streamline and become as efficient as possible, they probably shouldn’t be thinking of customers in the same way other sectors think of them. Because there’s no significant payoff for doing so. It won’t save taxpayers money, and to be blunt, you can’t improve government customer service enough to get thanked for it.

Author: Robert Bacal

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