A few weeks ago, I went to my local branch of a large shipping company. You’ve heard of the place. It rhymes with RedFlecks. The woman behind the counter asked what I needed (without the tiniest smile), so I asked her what form I should fill out to send a package overseas. “No idea,” she said. “International shipping and me don’t get along.”
Hmm. This left us at a standstill, because I was the only other person in the place, and I was pretty sure I knew less about the RedFlecks international shipping process than she did. Thankfully, her coworker emerged from the back room.
When she saw him, the woman said, “Did I tell you about the nasty customer I had yesterday?” The coworker wisely responded, “Later, okay?” He then helped me (with a smile) and made the whole international shipping thing easy. I hope the woman was paying attention (although I doubt it).
Flipside: I once called an office in the Department of Education for help with a research project. The woman who took my call was patient, friendly, and extremely helpful. In fact, a few days later—ready for this?—she called me back, just to make sure I didn’t have any additional questions since our call.
Was this part of the woman’s training at the Education Department? Is this sort of outstanding customer service standard employee training across the federal government? Did this woman simply take pride in her job and want to deliver terrific service? I don’t know. But I remember that call years later and still tell people about it all the time.
RedFlecks. The Department of Education. Two multibillion-dollar organizations. Everyone knows them by name. And any employee at either place who takes a phone call, responds to an email, or greets a walk-in is acting as the organization’s sole representative for that person.
Has your agency trained you to think of your role in those terms?
I suspect customer service levels across the government are all over the map—from so wonderful that they’re worth telling people about… to so awful they’re worth telling people about.
You know how your agency handles people who call, write or come to visit. You know whether or not your supervisors and senior leaders have made training an important part of agency culture. And I’m guessing that you care how the public perceives your organization.
Unless you run your department, you can’t singlehandedly ensure your team takes seriously its responsibility to make a positive impression with the public. But you know that just one negative or unprofessional person—“international shipping and me don’t get along”—can damage your agency’s reputation, especially in today’s era of blogging, tweeting and Facebook.
So if you’ve got someone like that anywhere in your office—and even if you don’t—my suggestion is to remind your managers about the importance of training their team to consistently deliver excellent, story-worthy service to the public.
If you’ve got a customer service story from within your agency—good or bad—please share it. Learning what works and what doesn’t can help us all improve.