21 Customer Service Ideas for Civil Servants By Josiah Go

Most government services are monopoly in nature and some of the ways to provide greater customer satisfaction are usually as follows:

A) Adopt customer satisfaction ratings from customers (not just supervisors) as basis for performance evaluation, merit increase, promotion and retention;
B) Hire amiable people with proactive service attitude;
C) Appoint a leader to champion a customer-centric mindset; and
D) Train staff to deliver excellent customer service as if they are a private company competing with many other providers.

I visited the SM Megamall Center of Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) for my passport renewal last May 5, 2016. In addition to the recommendations above, I would like to share the following observations for service improvement from the perspective of an ordinary employee on a tight budget, using public transportation and having to file a leave of absence from work to visit the DFA.

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(Application section of DFA Megamall a few minutes after opening hour)

Unlike tangible product, good service is not merely giving customers what they need (passport) but giving them good memories. After all, the marketing mix (product, price, place, promotions) for products is inadequate and three other elements (physical environment, process and people) are needed for an efficient, effective and impactful service. I am using DFA as a case study so we can offer true to life instead of just theoretical example.

1. If delay in releasing passports are expected (I was told by the processing staff that it will be over two weeks),
A) Apologize for the customer’s inconvenience and explain why there will be a delay;
B) Ask the travel date of the customers;
C) Advice new release date (hopefully before the travel date); and
D) Offer alternatives at the very least so no hassle to the customers such as stamping extension in customers’ passport immediately without the need to return to DFA again (for those leaving within two weeks) or a subsidized courier fee, such as rush courier (P1200) for the price of regular courier (P950).

Imagine an ordinary employee who needs to be absent, even salary deducted and spend for transportation again just so to return to DFA, worst, to wake up early in order to beat the long lines in MRT.

2. When a supervisor has been requested to review the customer’s request to stamp ‘extension’ in their passport based on expected delay, that will unlikely provide a new passport on travel date so:

A) Smile and show empathy to the customer;
B) Never use ‘It’s our policy’ statement for customers to return because it is offensive and insensitive to satisfying their needs. It also makes customers feel more frustrated;
C) Don’t put them on hold only to return showing the memo of the DFA policy that customers need to return. It is embarrassing supply side thinking. Instead, use the time for problem solving, to expedite customers’ needs and remove their worries;
D) Instead of pulling the memo back for the reason that it is ‘Confidential’, allow customers to make a copy with their mobile camera, it costs nothing to the DFA;
E) Avoid jargon like SPA, use ‘Special Power of Attorney’ if one is needed;
F) If customers are unavailable on return date, go one step further and provide a sample of SPA including whether a notarization is needed (SPA to non-lawyers is a threatening term, a mistake will make customers to return for the third time, no fault of them in the first place);
G) For delay on the part of the provider (DFA), dispense with SPA to remove unnecessary notarial cost and effort to look for a notary public, just require a duly signed letter of authority with prescribed ID; and
H) When a customer’s verbal or body language show dissatisfaction, offer what else can be done instead of telling them to file a formal complaint in the DFA Main office if they are not satisfied.

The Law of Recency in customer service communication encourages service providers to say something positive, and avoid the negative, before customers leave the service’s physical environment, encouraging them to file a complaint is not just indifferent and uncaring, but shows incompetency as well for service personnel.

3) When the Officer-in-Charge (OIC) in the next almost-empty room for biometrics confirmed he is indeed the OIC and asked if suggestion can be given while he is merely standing behind a staff:

A) Smile instead of giving a poker face;
B) Treat customers not as an interruption of work but work itself;
C) Embrace listening to customers, especially if they are offering creative solutions to the problem instead of offering one-size-fits all type of policy;
D) Understand complaints or pain points which are solid basis for service improvement and innovation so welcome suggestions and write it down;
E) Avoid brush-off remarks like ‘Mamaya Na’ (later) with a serious tone.

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(Near empty seats inside the Biometrics section of DFA Megamall, a scene expected for early bird applicants)

‘Mamaya Na’ is a bad attitude and sends the wrong signal reinforcing a hostage situation wherein customers have no choice but to keep on waiting. In reality, customers do have a choice come elections.

Service is experience and experience is about managing memories, which can either be positive or negative. Memories are stored and when negative memories are triggered, it becomes not just annoyances but anger. This is how government loses in an election, the disconnect in service delivery wherein problems have been anticipated but solutions remained status quo and irrelevant!

If the percentage of voters of the administration-backed candidate of the 2016 Presidential elections in the geographical area (Metro Manila) were to be considered as an indicator, the low 16% votes is a reflection of the state of customer satisfaction offered by most government agencies.

I returned May 19 to check the status of my passport. I was both pleasantly surprised and puzzled it was already available! Why was I told about delays if there was actually no delay? Did other people who applied same day as mine got their passports as I did? I remember ‘Mamaya Na’ and so I am offering these ideas publicly. In the end, shouldn’t we get a passport renewal within 3-4 days?

(Josiah Go is the chairman of marketing training and advocacy firm Mansmith and Fielders Inc.)

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