Mar 07 2013

Government Needs to Put the ‘Customer’ Back in Customer Service

Regular conversations with staff are the key to strategic, proactive IT planning.

In some organizations, customer service has become a science. It’s the foundation of businesses such as Apple, Hilton Hotels and Southwest Airlines, and we all could stand to incorporate some of their philosophies into our IT organizations.

Here in Johnson County, Kan., we were losing touch with our customers. Budget cuts and layoffs left us in a bad position for the present and a worse position for the future. But instead of pulling in and harboring our resources, we actively reached out to our internal and external customers.

Launching our client liaison program gave the Department of Technology and Innovation a way to begin a proactive conversation with the people who count on us for day-to-day technology support and service. We didn’t want to wait for the help desk phone to ring — we wanted to anticipate what our clients needed and make it happen.

This aggressive approach provides a preview of what our clients seek to do, helps us manage resources, allocate our project management services and operate ahead of the budgeting curve. It works because we found a process that resonates within the organization.

Free-Flowing Communication


Approximate number of Johnson County, Kan., employees

IT staffers meet with our customers on a regular, scheduled basis. All discussions are noted and recorded for future strategic planning and follow-up. This record offers some insights into where our customers seek to go so we can prepare to assist them on their journey.

For example, our Oracle support group regularly meets with our finance, HR and budget offices and is continuously in the loop on ideas for bringing new efficiencies and understanding what our customers need. For example, the HR department asked for a self-service portal to enable workers to access their benefits, payroll and personal information updates. Because the Oracle group had participated in those discussions from the beginning, they were able to build the entire portal in 90 days. The results are tremendous — staff can now take care of most of their day-to-day personnel needs online, offloading that work from HR staff.

Some departments that we interact with on a daily basis may not need a monthly client liaison meeting because we’re already working together, so we meet with them quarterly. Other departments with high-tech activity or needs, we meet with more frequently. Not only do these meetings strengthen our service relationships, but they also afford us a tremendous opportunity to improve our outreach.

Any IT initiatives, enterprise changes or policy issues that we may need to be involved with are now communicated in our client liaison meetings, normally attended by directors or their deputies and their IT support staff. In addition to expediting the exchange of information, the program has brought our customers into the IT inner circle and made them part of our decision process.

Proof Positive

The program has generated remarkable results for our customers and helped change the perception of technology services within Johnson County. The days of IT edicts being laid down have come to an end, and the collaborative, innovative, high-performance organization philosophy is taking over.

As our customers become more tech savvy and mobile technology use skyrockets, we’re living in a new normal of reduced budget and increased public expectation of accountability. That’s why it’s incumbent on those of us in the public sector to take a hard look at how we are addressing our customers’ needs.


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