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BEC: Service quality and the public sector


Olivia Chase-Smith

BEC: Service quality and the public sector

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Customers are important to the private sector – without them business in Barbados would not survive. The public sector has an even wider net of customers.

However, and unlike the private sector, the public sector will not cease to exist – whiter customers or not. This differentiation underpins the type of customer service experienced by members of the public. Good customer servcie in the private sector lends itself to high customer patronisation, customer loyalty, high-volume turnover and high sales.

However, revenue inflows to the public sector are not a function of customer loyalty or satisfaction since the services extended are public goods or for which Government, in many cases, has no competitor.

The public service is its own largest customer – approximately 70 per cent of public sector services are provided to facilitate other activities in the public sector.

There are many cases where agencies are unable to issue certificates or even to act unless they have received non-objections from other stakeholder public sector agencies.

Therefore, any discussion on external customer service in the public sector must be prefaced by discussions on the development of inter-agency cooperation and service standard agreements.

Intuitively, the public sector represents the world’s largest service provider.

Logically, therefore, increases in the quality of service delivery and in efficiency, even unto itself, stand to generate billions in economic savings and therefore economic growth.

One can rationally expect an acceptable level of service from private sector entities as markets are very customer focused and driven.

Therefore, members of the public rationally expect the same level of attention and feeling of importance from public sector entities – and with good reason.

Citizens are expected to fulfil their tax commitment and these days tax papers are amplified in their expectation of benefiting from services which they “have already paid for”.

Good service delivery in the public sector amounts to three important variables: implementation, efficiency and delivery of results. These key indicators require a management approach which maximises value to internal and external customers, removes wasteful activities or processes, and acknowledges the customer service and economic growth link.

The American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) affirms that “consumer spending accounts for 70 per cent US gross domestic product (GDP), which means that changes in customer satisfaction as measured by the ACSI also correlate positively with changes in GDP growth”.

Similarly, if the public sector is the largest consumer of goods and services in Barbados, then measurement and the achievement of a high customer satisfaction index is similarly linked to the rate of economic growth.

How would the following public sector services rank in your opinion? Postal services, public ambulatory services, environmental preservation, ports of entry, revenue collection agencies, and business facilitation.

The preceding list represents a diverse set of services provided by the public sector and based on your own encounter will evoke varied responses.

From a productivity perspective, a superior service quality experience for members of the public means that the department or ministry ought to have documented customer service standards in place as there is an economic cost associated with poor customer service.

For example: What constitutes the public sector code for a professional and polite manner when interacting with the public?

Can we deliver services in an agreed and publicised time frame? How does the department capture the customers’ experience and use that information to improve any customer system failures?

Better service means someone has to pay for it.

To its credit, many improvements in the public sector have evovled from increased capabilities of computers to process data and provide networked platforms.

The process of getting a passport is now significantly improved, so too is filing income tax, and payment of other taxes.

Some departments now make online forms available, which allow users to fill the form on their computer and return it by email.

Many departments, by nature of the volume of work turnover, still have a wide window of opportunity for making improvements.

However, I must add that many improvements which have occurred may have done so without sufficient attention to the need for fundamental changes in how Government works, department structurers and many processes.

In other words, customer service problems in Government are not always caused by problems that technology can solve.

Customer service in any sector remains largely a human to human exchange and issues like improving wait time, speed of processing, time to make a decision, and so forth, are, for the most part, labour intensive.

Lest we forget what poor customer service was.

Almost all citizens want better service from Government, and almost all taxpayers do not want to spend a penny more for that improvement. Many citizens are perhaps even oblivious to the many things which Government does well, and which contribute to their well-being. Our expectations as customers and taxpayers have increased so dramatically because of our exposure to information, training and globalisation.

But next time you complain about the poor customer service, remember that it is much better than years preceding.

Olivia Chase-Smith is a senior economist.

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