Managing For Results:

Opportunities to Strengthen Agencies' Customer Service Efforts

GAO-11-44: Published: Oct 27, 2010. Publicly Released: Oct 27, 2010.

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The federal government has set a goal of providing service to the public that matches or exceeds that of the private sector. Executive Order 12862 (September 11, 1993) and a related 1995 memorandum require agencies to post customer service standards and report results to customers. As requested, this report (1) assesses the extent to which federal agencies are setting customer service standards and measuring related results, (2) assesses the extent to which agencies are reporting standards and results to customers and using the results to improve service, and (3) identifies some customer service management tools and practices used by various governments. The report also examines the steps the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is taking to facilitate agency use of tools and practices. GAO surveyed 13 federal services among those with the most contact with the public, reviewed literature and interviewed agency officials as well as knowledgeable individuals in the area of customer service.

All 13 government services GAO surveyed had established customer service standards, which varied in their form from quantitative standards based on hourly, daily, monthly or annual averages to general commitments to qualitative standards. All 13 services reported having measures of customer service, such as measures of wait times or accuracy of service and 11 services had measures of customer satisfaction. For example, the National Park Service surveys visitors at over 320 points of service through a survey card program. All services had methods to receive customer complaints, and all had methods of gathering ideas from front line employees to improve customer service. Although standards exist, GAO found that the surveyed services' standards were often made available in a way that would not be easy for customers to find and access or, in the case of two services, were not made available to the public at all. For example, five services made standards available in long, detailed documents mostly focused on other topics, such as annual performance plans, performance and accountability reports, and budget justifications. About half of the services reported customer service results in similar types of documents. All services reported comparing customer service results to the standards and using the results to improve internal processes. For example, Customs and Border Protection officials told GAO that after they studied wait times at land borders and airports, they made facility enhancements and staff assignment changes. At one port of entry, these changes reduced wait times by more than half. However, some services have not compared performance to the private sector, as required by the Executive Order. Most services reported considering customer service measures in employee performance appraisals. For example, according to IRS officials, the performance appraisals for all employees who provide taxpayer assistance are based in part on critical job elements related to customer satisfaction. GAO identified several customer service tools and practices government agencies have used to improve customer service, such as engaging customers through social media, providing self service options and offering redress for unmet standards. Additionally, OMB has begun an initiative to identify and share private sector best practices among federal agencies and to develop a dashboard where agencies can make customer service standards available. Building on the progress made under this initiative, OMB could evaluate the benefits and costs of applying these tools and practices on a more widespread basis and share those that are found to be beneficial. GAO recommends that OMB (1) direct agencies to consider options to make customer service standards and results more readily available and (2) collaborate with the President's Management Advisory Board and agencies to evaluate the benefits and costs of applying the tools and practices identified in this report, and include those found beneficial in its related initiative. OMB had no comments on the recommendations.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On June 13, 2011 OMB issued guidance to federal agencies instructing them, among other things, to create Customer Service Plans within 180 days (by October 24th, 2011). According to the guidance, the plan should outline the agency's approach to developing customer service standards that are understandable to the public, easily accessible at the point of service and on the Internet, and measurable (where appropriate).

    Recommendation: Building on the progress OMB has already made as part of its customer service initiative, the Director of OMB should direct agencies to consider options to make their customer service standards and results more readily available to customers using documents or Web pages specifically intended for customers, or the dashboard once it is more fully developed.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of Management and Budget

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On June 13, 2011, OMB issued a memo stating that it would establish and coordinate a Customer Service Task Force to facilitate the exchange of best practices and the development of agency customer service plans and signature initiatives. Agencies that provide significant services were instructed to identify a senior official who would be responsible to represent the agency on the Task Force. According to the memo, the Task Force would meet regularly until agencies publish their plans. The plans were due on October 24th, 2011.

    Recommendation: Building on the progress OMB has already made as part of its customer service initiative, the Director of OMB should collaborate with the President's Management Advisory Board and agencies to evaluate the benefits and costs of applying the tools and practices related to understanding customers' needs, facilitating improved customer decision making, and providing citizens with the information necessary to hold government accountable for customer service, and include those that are found beneficial to the federal government in the initiative on gathering and sharing customer service ideas.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of Management and Budget

 

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