Archived - Guideline on Service Standards

The Guideline on Service Standards, developed by the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, is intended to be used by service employees and managers responsible for efficient and effective service delivery. It outlines common concepts and best practices for successfully developing and managing service standards for both internal and external services to citizens and business. This Guideline defines service standards and describes a set of generic steps that lead to their development, implementation, and performance monitoring at the service and organizational level.
Date modified: 2012-07-04

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Note to reader

The Guideline on Service Standards is no longer up-to-date, as the Policy on Service and Digital and the Directive on Service and Digital took effect on April 1, 2020.

1. Introduction

This Guideline is intended to be used by service employees and managers responsible for efficient and effective service delivery. It outlines common concepts and best practices for successfully developing and managing service standards for both internal and external services to citizens and business. This Guideline defines service standards and describes a set of generic steps that lead to their development, implementation, and performance monitoring at the organizational level.

Service standards are an important element of service management excellence; they help clarify expectations for clients and employees, enable performance management, and support client satisfaction. Over time, this Guideline will contribute to enhancing coherence across the Government of Canada in the area of service standards. It also supports the work of the Red Tape Reduction Commission that indicated a desire among stakeholders for clear service standards from government.

Finally, this Guideline supports multiple TBS policies and regulations that require the use of services standards. It will be particularly helpful to organisations that deliver services for fees that are subject to the provisions of the User Fees Act and the Cabinet Directive on Streamlining Regulation requiring services standards, and the Policy on Service Standards for External Fees. When developing service standards for services related to transfer payment programs regulations or user fees, it is recommended that the Guideline be used along with other guidance for these specific types of services and the following policy requirements:

2. Defining Service Standards

What Is a Service Standard

A service standard is a public commitment to a measurable level of performance that clients can expect under normal circumstances.

What are "Normal Circumstances"?

When developing service standards, the organization should consider its resources and expected level of demand for regular day-to-day service operations (normal circumstances). Special circumstances where regular service standards may not apply include holidays, the end of April for tax filing, natural disasters, or emergencies. These are circumstances that are typically not within the organization's control.

Why Are Service Standards Important?

Service standards are integral to good client service and to effectively managing performance. They help clarify expectations for clients and employees, drive service improvement, and contribute to results-based management. Service standards reinforce government accountability by making performance transparent, and increase the confidence of Canadians in government by demonstrating the government's commitment to service excellence.

Service standards serve two key purposes:

  • To provide staff with performance targets ("Phone must be answered within three rings"); and
  • To inform clients what to expect ("Waiting time is less than 10 minutes").

Many organizations have implemented service standards that serve these purposes. Examples are included in Appendix A.

A service standard should be linked to an operational performance target or the frequency to which the organization expects to meet the service standard. The target takes into account the risks associated with process delays and uncertainties arising from factors such as workload fluctuations, staff movements, and seasonal variations.

The purpose of the target is to help manage operations and track progress against overall delivery objectives. The target is typically designed for management use but can also be made available to the public. Table 1 below provides examples that distinguish between a service standard and an operational performance target.

Keep in Mind

Operational performance targets are a good starting point. Working from a target to a meaningful external service standard can save design time and effort.

Table 1. Comparing Service Standards and Operational Standards
Service Standard Operational Performance Target
The Canada Revenue Agency has put in place a standard to process T2 corporation income tax returns within 60 days. The target for achieving this standard is set at 90 per cent.
Western Economic Diversification Canada has established a standard that states: "WD will issue a claim payment cheque within 15 business days of receiving a complete claim from the client, including all of the required claim information." The target for meeting this standard is set at 95 per cent.

What Is a Service Pledge?

Service standards are distinct from service pledges. Specifically, a service pledge is a public commitment to a basic code of conduct and generally consists of a qualitative statement expressed within values and principles. A pledge can provide the overarching service direction for an organization and provide context to the service standard development process. A comparison of service pledges and service standards can be found in Appendix B.

The following are examples of service pledges from the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec: "We undertake to provide our clientele with quality service." "We serve our clients courteously and professionally." "We serve our clients in the official language of their choice." (Website of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec. Accessed on October 25, 2011).

Characteristics of a Good Service Standard

  • Relevant to the client: Service standards are consistent with client priorities and address aspects of the service they value most within available resource allocations.
  • Based on consultation: Service standards are developed in consultation with clients, managers, staff, and other partners in service delivery to ensure that they are meaningful and match the organization's mandate.
  • Measurable: Service standards are quantifiable and linked to monitoring activities.
  • Consistent across government: Service standards should be consistent throughout federal organizations providing similar services. Having similar service standards across government for similar services helps both clients and government. Clients will find it easier to deal with different organizations, and the organizations themselves will find it easier to share best practices and adopt common approaches.
  • Ambitious but realistic: Service standards are realistic, based on analysis and consistent with objectives, yet sufficiently challenging to service providers.
  • Endorsed by management: Service standards are understood and endorsed by senior management.
  • Communicated: Service standards are clearly communicated to clients, employees, and other stakeholders to help manage expectations.
  • Transparent: Service standards are monitored and reported to senior management, and performance results are published to ensure transparency and client trust.
  • Continuously updated: Service standards are regularly reviewed and updated as appropriate.

Note: These are general characteristics and practitioners should refer to policy-specific requirements when developing their standards.

Types of Service Standards

There are three types of service standards: access, timeliness, and accuracy. In deciding what kinds of service standards to establish, organizations are encouraged to focus their efforts on areas of greatest importance to the clients they serve and program

Table 2. Types and Examples of Service Standards
Types of Service Standards Access Standard Timeliness Standard Accuracy Standard
Definition Commitment outlining the ease and convenience the client should experience when attempting to access service Commitment stating how long the client should expect to wait to receive a service once the service has been accessed Commitment stipulating that the client will receive a service that is up to date, free of errors, and complete

Service Canada

"We provide 90% of Canadians with access to our services within 50 kilometres of where they live."

Western Economic Diversification Canada

"WD will provide a funding decision to a client within 90 business days of receiving a complete funding proposal. If the 90-day standard will not be met on a project, the client will be contacted on the delay."

Canada Revenue Agency

"Respond to written [benefit and credit] enquiries and to telephone referrals from the Call Centres with the correct information, and process new recipient information, including issuing a payment, notice, or letter, accurately."

Canada-Ontario Business Service Centre

"The information you request will be provided by your choice of fax, mail, or e-mail. Faxes and e-mails will be sent within three hours of your call. Mail is sent the same day if your call is received before 3:00 p.m. (Eastern Time)."

Veterans Affairs Canada

"You will be advised in writing of our decision [relating to eligibility for the Public Service Health Care Plan] within 4 weeks of receiving your signed and completed application form."

Department of Immigration and Citizenship (Australia)

"We will regularly review and update information to ensure it is current and meets your needs and expectations."

Do Clients Have Obligations?

Many services provided by the Government of Canada require clients to fulfill certain obligations. Service standards can be conditional upon clients satisfying their obligations, in which case they should be incorporated into the service standard.

3. Service Standards Portfolio

A service standards portfolio represents all the service standards the organization has in place. Examining service standards as an integrated portfolio increases transparency, which in turn encourages consistency across the organization. It also facilitates the development of coherent approaches to service standards across sectors and branches. Finally, examining service standards as a portfolio helps ensure that all major services and client groups have been addressed.

How Do Service Standards Contribute to Overall Organizational Management?

When integrated with corporate planning and reporting activities, service standards are a useful tool to support overall organizational management:

  • The Treasury Board Policy on Management, Resources and Results Structures requires departments to establish a Program Alignment Architecture (PAA) identifying and grouping related activities and linking them logically to the Strategic Outcomes they support and providing "the framework to link expected results and performance measures to each program at all levels of the PAA and for which actual results are reported." Service standards comprise one source of information used to develop a performance measurement framework related to services.
  • Part III of the Estimates process requires that departments prepare departmental expenditure plans consisting of a Report on Plans and Priorities (RPP) and a Departmental Performance Report (DPR). Service standards help express and formulate performance objectives and should be incorporated into the business planning process. Reporting on performance against service standards helps demonstrate progress toward expected results.
  • The Management Accountability Framework (MAF) sets out the Treasury Board's expectations for effective performance. One of the 10 elements that make up the MAF is "citizen-focused service." Service standards are an essential component in achieving service excellence and directly contribute to advancing results-oriented management activities.

4. Service Standards Life-Cycle Management

The following five phases of service standard management support the creation, implementation and assessment of service standards from an organizational perspective:

  1. Establish priorities;
  2. Plan and develop service standards;
  3. Implement service standards;
  4. Measure performance against service standards; and
  5. Act on the results.

Figure 1 lays out the overall process (inside circle) and presents the specific steps included under each phase (outside circle). While 5 phases and 15 steps are presented in a sequential order, some can be undertaken concurrently. The remainder of this Guideline outlines this methodology and provides helpful tools and guidance to successfully implement service standards throughout the life cycle. Some organizations have experienced some common challenges and opportunities – these are highlighted in Appendix C.

Figure 1. Phases and Steps in Life-Cycle Management of Service Standards

Figure 1. Phases and Steps in Life-Cycle Management of Service Standards - Content of this image is detailed below

5. Phase I: Establish Priorities for Service Standards

Figure 2. Phase 1 of the Life-Cycle Management of Service Standard - Content of this image is detailed below

Step 1: Take Stock

The first step to developing service standards is to review the services your organization delivers. Consider the following:

  • Has government set priorities for service that should be taken into account?
  • What service standards already exist across the organization? Are there gaps that should be addressed first?
  • Do other organizations offer similar services for which service standards already exist or are being developed?
  • Is the organization compliant with existing policies and legislation with regard to service standards?
  • Are other parts of the organization in the process of reviewing or establishing service standards right now?

This review will help you understand the context, including government priorities related to service. It will also raise awareness of similar services offered by other federal departments and agencies. Where possible, comparable service standards should be considered for similar services, and best practices shared across the organization.

Adopting an integrated management approach for service standard development, review and oversight can further encourage the development of a balanced service portfolio. A service inventory, or catalogue of the services that are delivered by an organisation, can assist in this area and a separate guideline is devoted to this topic.

Did You Know?

Service standard development and implementation can apply to internal and external services. Please keep in mind that all government departments provide services to their employees and in certain cases to other federal organizations. These internal services in turn can enable front-line staff to deliver services to the public.

Step 2: Connect Service Standards to Organizational Priorities

Once you have taken stock, the next step is to identify which services should be priorities for service standard development. To help decide where to focus efforts first, it is useful to ask the following questions:

  • Which services have the broadest reach, largest impact on clients, or are rights and benefits related?
  • Are there services that involve substantial risk for clients and government if expectations and performance associated with service delivery are not clear?
  • How many services already have service standards in place? Are they up-to-date and published?
  • Are there major services with their own distinct client groups that do not currently have service standards? If so, do other organizations already have service standards in place for similar services that could serve as a model?
  • Are there Treasury Board policies or applicable legislation requiring service standards?

Answering these questions will position the organization to decide where to focus efforts first. The selection of priorities may involve balancing several considerations, including clients' needs, resources, alignment with government or organizational priorities, and the existence of comparable service standards in other organizations that could serve as a model (in order to save time and effort, and promote alignment across organizations). Beginning with a manageable number of priorities can help provide focus and create the opportunity for early successes.

Validate Priorities with Senior Management

Visible support and engagement from senior management in the development of service standards are essential.

In establishing service standards, senior management and service-related program managers should create a plan that outlines the work involved, timelines for implementation, capacity (human resources and monitoring mechanisms) for delivery and monitoring, and the roles and responsibilities of each party. The careful consideration of priorities, roles and resources is critical in establishing strong service standards. Designating a champion to spearhead their implementation may also assist in driving change as needed.

Best Practice: Adopting a Project Management Approach

Including the development of a business case, a project brief, or a project charter helps secure senior management approval from the outset. It explains the expected reach and impact of the proposed service standards, clarifies roles and responsibilities, describes the overall service standards project schedule, and provides essential details regarding the consultation and approval process. Designating a service standard "champion" or sponsor can further help by integrating and aligning service standard development efforts.

Checklist for Phase I

  • Review the services and service environment:
    • Identify government priorities for service improvement.
    • Identify existing service standards within the organization and any ongoing efforts to develop service standards.
    • Review organizational compliance with existing policy and legal requirements.
    • Identify high-impact services that do not have service standards in place.
    • Identify comparable services delivered by other organizations and review existing service standards that could serve as a model.
    • Review TBS policy and regulatory requirements related to service standards.
  • Develop a short list of priority services for which service standards should be developed, by considering government priorities, client needs, policy and legal obligations, and resources.
  • Engage senior management and validate the priorities.
  • Develop a plan to guide the development process.
  • Identify a champion or internal sponsor to lead the effort.

6. Phase II: Plan and Develop Service Standards

Figure 3. Phase 2 of the Life-Cycle Management of Service Standard - Content of this image is detailed below

Phase II consists of: developing service standards, assessing monitoring capacity, validating proposed service standards, and determining the performance methodology and measurement framework.

Step 3: Develop Service Standards

Review the Service Context for each Service

This involves examining how the service standards will contribute to the organization's mandate and business activities.

Take into consideration the following:

  • Legislation, policies, and guidelines associated with the service.
  • Service specifics including main characteristics, delivery channels, and seasonal fluctuations.
  • Whether other organizations deliver similar services for which service standards may already exist.
  • The suite of services that your organization is delivering. A service inventory (see Step 1) can assist in this process.
  • Baseline information on current levels of service performance.


In addition to reviewing the service context, consultation can provide other valuable information to develop and manage service standards. Input can shed light on aspects of the service that are viewed as most important, such as current client satisfaction levels, changes in client needs and expectations, and the roles and responsibilities of each party. Consultation can include focus groups, telephone or online surveys, feedback forms, and one-on-one meetings.

Important: Talk to Your Departmental Public Opinion Research Coordinator

Before engaging in consultation activities, consult your departmental Public Opinion Research Coordinator for guidance and to ensure compliance with the Communications Policy of the Government of Canada.

Throughout the consultation process, consider:

  • Consulting with front-line staff and considering innovative ideas for improving service.
  • Consulting with service delivery partners such as other organizations and private sector partners to fully understand roles, responsibilities, and operational constraints.
  • Determining the aspects of service delivery that are most important to recipients of the service.
  • Identifying areas where clients propose changes or problem areas that require improvement.
  • Identifying client priorities relative to the targeted level of service.

Linking service standards to client satisfaction measurement allows an organization to target the most relevant areas of improvement, ensuring that the standards are meaningful and easily understood by the client and that progress is being made.

Identify the Service Standard Type

Reviewing the service context and consulting key stakeholders will assist in providing an understanding of both what is valued from a client perspective and feasible from an organizational perspective. It will also help identify which types of standards are the most appropriate for the service.

As indicated earlier in Table 2, there are three types of standards: access, timeliness, and accuracy. For example, what might be most important to clients applying to a grants and contributions program is the time required to receive approval for their application. In this case, a timeliness service standard best responds to client needs. Specific guidance on developing service standards for grants and contributions is included in Appendix D.

Draft Service Standards

Service standards should be based on clients' needs and be expressed in a way that is easy to understand, and consider available human and financial resources. Strike a balance between client expectations, internal capacity and priorities. Adopting a risk management approach is an important step in crafting strong services standards.

Did You Know?

Over the past decade, the Institute for Citizen-Centred Service (ICCS) has conducted research studies in the area of service needs and expectations. Chapter 5 of Citizens First 5 focuses on service standards and on what Canadians consider timely services.

When drafting service standards, consider:

  • Developing clear statements that describe the public commitment to service, taking into account the information collected through consultations, dialogue with legal and communications service groups, your organization's communications strategy and overall performance monitoring approach. For services that require a great deal of time to deliver outputs, such as decisions on appeals, intermediate service standards could be set for timeliness at different stages in the process to facilitate client expectations.
  • Developing realistic internal targets for each standard.
  • Crafting a monitoring strategy.

Establish Feedback and Redress Mechanisms

Establishing a process to collect constructive information and resolve issues raised by various stakeholders is fundamental. Elements to consider include:

  • Establishing internal processes to handle comments, concerns or complaints, including possibly a point-of-service resolution mechanism.
  • Developing a tracking system that monitors client feedback and complaints. This could be an essential component of your service standard monitoring strategy. The information contained within the system can be a valuable resource to determine client satisfaction. One example is a record that includes the nature, source and description of each complaint.
  • Ensuring the redress mechanism is publicly available and easy to locate.
  • After reviewing comments, concerns and complaints, inform clients of any changes made.

Step 4: Assess Monitoring Capacity

Performance against the service standard will be regularly monitored. An organization needs to ensure it has sufficient capacity to monitor and evaluate performance, and report against the service standards. This capacity will require the necessary resources and infrastructure to support performance evaluation.

Consider the following when addressing performance measurement capacity:

  • Is sufficient monitoring occurring, including an analysis of performance data?
  • Are we currently collecting information that could be used to monitor the proposed service standard? If so, which methods are we using?
  • Are there reliable and accurate data sets available to assist in evaluating performance? If not, possible data sources will need to be identified.

An evaluation branch or other similar unit that specialize in undertaking statistical analysis or conducting internal audits can help identify successful and practical approaches to performance measurement.

Step 5: Validate Proposed Service Standards

Proposed service standards should be validated by testing before launching full-scale implementation. This provides an opportunity to assess the standard and minimize potential interruptions on service operations.

Important: Involve Your Organization's Legal Services Group

Your organization's legal services group should be involved in the development process for service standards from the beginning and regularly review the proposed wording to eliminate potential legal liabilities.

Ensure that the proposed standards are realistic, attainable, and measurable. Carrying out a pilot project or test can help secure manager and staff support and verify that the standards are meaningful to clients.

As part of the validation process, consider:

  • Verifying the service standards with senior management, service-related program managers, front-line staff, and your organization's legal services group;
  • Consulting stakeholders, clients and service delivery partners to validate proposed priorities and standards; and
  • Seeking feedback from independent third parties such as professional associations, advisory groups, other government jurisdictions or PAAs, as they can provide objective assessments.

Step 6: Determine the Performance Methodology and Measurement Framework

Consider the examples in Table 3 to assist in framing evaluation criteria:

Table 3. Examples of Evaluation Criteria
Standard Successful applicants will generally receive their grant within X weeks.
Measure What proportion of successful applicants received their grant within X weeks?
Standard The information contained in this database will be updated every 48 hours.
Measure How many times was the database updated on schedule in the previous quarter?

When developing performance methodology and timing for a suite of services, consider the following:

  • How will the information on performance be collected?
  • At which frequency will the information on performance be reviewed – annually, quarterly, monthly?
  • What performance criteria need to be in place?

Once performance indicators have been identified for the service standards, they will need to integrate these into a performance framework. The framework should cover each of your service standards and clearly indicate how the organization is assessing their progress. The aim should be to provide a clear and comprehensive picture of the organization's achievements and should be linked to the overall organizational performance framework.

Remember that performance activities should be relevant, timely, systematic, affordable, based on evaluation parameters, and aligned with the other applicable planning, monitoring, and accountability activities (see Appendix E for more details).

Important: Remember to Seek Approval from Senior Management

Once the service standards have been defined and a plan for tracking performance and measuring achievements developed, approval should be sought from senior management. Be sure to include next steps such as an implementation plan, publishing the results and making any future changes to the service standards.

Checklist for Phase II

  • Review the service context and define the key characteristics of service standard types applicable to the organization.
  • Consult with clients, employees, stakeholders and other organizations, where relevant, to obtain their feedback and input on proposed service standards.
  • Draft clear service standards statements and associated internal targets.
  • Identify the process to handle complaints and other feedback.
  • Assess internal capacity to monitor service standards.
  • Develop a performance measurement methodology.
  • Seek final approval from senior management.

7. Phase III: Implement Service Standards

Figure 4. Phase 3 of the Life-Cycle Management of Service Standard - Content of this image is detailed below

Step 7: Establish an Implementation Plan

With the service standard priorities already established, an implementation plan indicates when, where, and how service standards will be applied to departmental services.

To create an implementation plan, consider the following elements:

  • Set time frames associated with key deliverables and milestones for each service partner in the process.
  • Identify potential risks that might affect the implementation of service standards, and establish mitigation strategies.
  • Examine constraints and opportunities for efficiency linked to standard implementation, and develop strategies to address them.
  • Develop a strategy to monitor progress.

Step 8: Determine if New Processes Are Required

Implementing service standards may require restructuring existing processes or introducing new systems. Decisions to modify or introduce new processes or systems should be carefully thought out. Consider:

  • Which tools and resources are required? To maximize efficient service standard implementation, determine which tools, such as a tracking database, and which resources, such as who will be responsible for collecting the information, are required to successfully move forward.
  • Does the change make sense? The decision should be based on a risk analysis exercise, taking into account implications, including financial, to the organization. Consider if this could be combined with another tool or system to reduce effort and cost.
  • When and how quickly should change be implemented? When assessing appropriate timing to modify or introduce new processes, strike a balance between the drivers for change and your organization's human and financial capacity.
  • What information and training are needed and for whom? To foster smooth implementation, clearly communicate the expected benefits and the rationale for the change and identify any training needs.

Step 9: Train Staff and Service Delivery Partners

Training activities help ensure that employees and service delivery partners have the resources to meet the service standards and understand what is expected of them. Training provides the opportunity to clarify roles and responsibilities and answer questions that relate to the standards and their implementation.

Consider the following when developing training activities:

  • Assess the degree of formality required. Minor service changes call for informal training sessions; more complex service changes require sophisticated training activities.
  • Determine the most appropriate structure, such as instructor-led courses, workshops, self-service training modules, information sessions, Q&A workshops, and staff retreats.
  • Focus on essential knowledge and skills such as service process, complaint mechanisms, and communication and analytical abilities needed to successfully meet the service standards.

Service Standards Training

Organizations interested in receiving specialized training related to service standards are encouraged to contact the Canada School of Public Service or the Institute of Citizen-Centred Service to learn more about their course offerings.

Step 10: Communicate Service Standards

The final step to implementation is putting in place a communication strategy that ensures standards are visible and well understood. This strategy should state how the organization plans to inform its clients, service delivery partners, and employees about the service standards and when they are scheduled to come into force. Your departmental communications branch can provide invaluable assistance in developing and implementing your communication strategy.

A meaningful communication strategy should target the following:

  1. Plan what needs to be communicated, including service descriptions, the service standards, and complaint mechanisms.
  2. Identify the target audience and position the communication messages accordingly.
  3. Evaluate which are the most appropriate communication channels, such as websites, social media, speaking engagements, and news releases.
  4. Communicate overall direction and timelines to staff and service delivery partners using communications such as emails, social media, newsletters, and memos to clarify the objectives of the initiative. A Question & Answer format is one way of effectively communicating this information to employees.
  5. Ensure senior management supports your communications strategy.

Keep the following points in mind:

Always use plain language when communicating your service standards to clients. Ensure that they are clear, easily understandable, and readily available to clients.

Checklist for Phase III

  • Develop a plan to implement service standards.
  • Review processes to introduce any appropriate changes.
  • Train employees to successfully meet the new service standards.
  • Prepare a communications strategy to ensure that the service standards are publicly known and understood by employees and clients.

8. Phase IV: Measure Performance

Figure 5. Phase 4 of the Life-Cycle Management of Service Standard - Content of this image is detailed below

The measurement of service standard performance enables the analysis of trends and identification of potential areas for improvement. A well-designed measurement process helps determine:

  • Whether the service is consistent within and across delivery channels such as in person, telephone, mail, and the Web.
  • How well the service is being performed compared with similar services provided by other organizations (benchmarking); and
  • Whether the service performance level is improving over time and by how much.

Step 11: Measure Performance

Performance should be measured regularly to establish progress against baseline data, and performance measures related to service standards should be incorporated into the overall performance measurement strategy. Your work should align with the performance measurement framework that was created in Step 6. For more information, see Appendix E: Characteristics of Measurement Activities.

When measuring performance, take into account the following principles:

Collect data through impartial sources such as Web hits.
Review data periodically to ensure that the service is performing at the desired level and to identify any needed adjustments.
Verify data and confirm accuracy.
Consistency over time:
Measure performance in the same way for each assessment to facilitate results comparison throughout the standard life cycle.
Data should present a clear picture of performance and make it easy to identify future trends.

Important: Consult Your Departmental Head of Evaluation

In accordance with the Policy on Evaluation, performance measurement strategies should be reviewed by the department's head of evaluation.

Step 12: Evaluate Findings and Report to Senior Management

Evaluating service standard performance data determines organizational strengths and weaknesses, identifies progress, and sets priorities for future action. When evaluating performance activities, consider the following elements:

  • Examine overall performance against each individual standard such as access, timeliness, and accuracy as appropriate.
  • Analyze the results of monitoring activities and identify trends, issues, and progress.
  • Compare standards and results with similar services both within the department and in other organizations (benchmarking). The ICCS can provide assistance with regard to benchmarking activities (
  • Consider other evaluation activities, such as client satisfaction measurement, consultations, and operational reviews. Identify any gaps or successes.

The results of this evaluation should then be reported to senior management to provide intelligence on how their organization is meeting its service goals and should highlight areas of success and where additional attention may be required.

Step 13: Publish Results for Clients

Communicating performance results can help manage client expectations about the level and consistency of service. It can also provide staff with objective feedback on how well they are meeting the standards.

When communicating results:

  • Ensure that information is meaningful and relevant to clients and staff.
  • Identify the key standards to report on publicly.
  • Determine appropriate venues to share results and ensure that information is easily accessible. Consider sharing performance results using Departmental Performance Reports (DPRs), service delivery points of access, and websites.
  • Present information using clear and understandable language so clients and staff can easily interpret performance results.
  • Remember that communication materials should respect the requirements of official languages and the Federal Identity Program.

Checklist for Phase IV

  • Measure actual performance against standards.
  • Evaluate performance data and identify trends, successes and issues.
  • Evaluate findings and report to senior management.
  • Publish results for key services (easy to access) and indicate any circumstances that were not deemed to be "normal".

9. Phase V: Act on the Results

Figure 6. Phase 5 of the Life-Cycle Management of Service Standard - Content of this image is detailed below

The final phase is examining the performance-monitoring findings and acting on those results to enhance performance.

Step 14: Determine Course of Action

Once evaluation of performance results has been completed, determine the future course of action, including what measures should be taken to maintain or enhance service quality. Table 4 outlines three scenarios and possible courses of action.

How to Handle Unmet Service Standards

In cases of reports or complaints regarding unmet service standards, determine what happened. A first step is re-examining the reliability of the performance measurement system and its data. In some cases, interviewing selected staff and clients can be helpful in diagnosing the issue. When a genuine occurrence of unmet service standards is established, determine whether it was due to a systemic issue that will cause performance to fall short on an ongoing basis or whether it was due to unusual or exceptional one-time circumstances such as sudden increases in intake or workload, sudden changes to legislation or practice, or a high level of absenteeism due to illness.

Table 4. Three Performance Results Scenarios and Possible Courses of Action
Scenario 1:
Results Exceed Standards
Scenario 2:
Results Are Consistent With Standards
Scenario 3:
Results Fall Short of Standards
  1. Determine why standards are being exceeded:
    • Was the methodology used to develop the standards adequate?
    • Has the organization's capacity improved?
    • Are the standards too low?
    • Were projections about trends and client behaviours accurate?
    • Did circumstances change, such as lower than expected demand or new technology?
  2. Decide how to respond:
    • Raise standards where appropriate.
    • Redeploy resources to lower-performing areas.
    • Communicate results to clients, staff, and service delivery partners.
    • Share knowledge, including best practices and lessons learned, with the service community.
    • Celebrate success.
  3. Prepare plans to address emerging / longer-term issues, such as resources, capacity, expected change in demand, and new priorities.
  1. Confirm that clients are satisfied with current levels of service through client feedback and results of client satisfaction measurement.
  2. Determine whether higher standards are warranted or desirable.
  3. Prepare plans to address emerging / longer-term issues such as resources, capacity, expected change in demand, and new priorities.
  1. 1. Determine why standards are not being met:
    • Are service standards too high?
    • Is the business process unclear or unnecessarily cumbersome?
    • Were there unexpected changes in resource capacity and level of demand for service?
    • Was sufficient attention paid to the potential impact of known trends, such as new demand, loss of resources, or change in channel preferences?
  2. Decide how to respond:
    • Rethink the business process?
    • Increase capacity?
    • Identify best practices for similar services?
    • Consult stakeholders?
    • Lower service standards if appropriate?
  3. Inform stakeholders of your plans to address outstanding issues and to improve service.
    • Remember to take financial resources and changing organizational priorities into account.

Step 15: Implement Changes

It can be challenging to successfully implement and integrate changes to an established service. To increase the likelihood that changes will achieve anticipated results:

  • Engage employees and service delivery partners to offer suggestions for improvement and identify potential solutions.
  • Monitor implementation of change to quickly identify any problem areas.
  • Show flexibility and allow for modifications to occur throughout the overall process.

Checklist for Phase V

  • Assess which Performance Results Scenario matches your service standards.
  • Decide a future course of action for continuous service improvement.
  • Implement any necessary enhancements.

10. Conclusion

When used effectively, service standards can be an important tool for organizations to manage their portfolio of services for the public. This Guideline has outlined a clear process for service standard development, measurement and improvement at an organizational level. When developing service standards related to transfer payment programs, user fees, or regulation, consult these policy centres for specific advice.

Service standards demonstrate an organization's commitment both to transparency and providing service excellence. They also provide a source of relevant information to senior management on the quality of service and potential difficulties the organization may be facing. Finally, this commitment reflects positively on the organization, both with employees and the public at large, by illustrating an open approach to working with the public to improve service delivery.

Appendix A. Examples of Service Standards

  • Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada: As part of its ongoing commitment to quality client service, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada has developed renewed national service standards for its programs:

    Source: Farm Debt Mediation Service (FDMS) "Renewal Service Standards", website of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. Accessed on March 19, 2012.

    Milestone Service Standard
    Client phone inquiries By end of next business day
    Application processed and decision provided to client By end of next business day
    First mediation meeting Scheduled within 70 calendar days of receipt of application
    Documentation sent to creditors and producer 7 business days prior to the mediation meeting
  • The Canada Revenue Agency is committed to developing, monitoring, and reporting on a full suite of service standards in areas of importance to taxpayers and of benefit to recipients. For example, taxpayer and business assistance aim to respond to general telephone enquiries in queue within two minutes. Similarly, when considering the assessment of returns and payment processing, the objective is to process GST/HST returns within 30 days. ("External Service Standards in the CRA", website of the Canada Revenue Agency. Accessed on March 19, 2012).
  • Human Resources and Skills Development Canada has completed a pilot project on developing service standards related to the Canada Education Savings Program. One of the standards created and included under the program is: Within 65 days of making a contribution into a Registered Education Savings Plan (RESP), you can expect the Canada Education Savings Grant to be deposited directly into the child's RESP account. Your application must be complete and accurate. (Service Standards, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, 2012).
  • Passport Canada regularly updates information about processing time on its website. For example, passport applications will be processed within 10 business days when submitted in person, 20 business days when submitted by mail, 20 business days when submitted through a receiving Agent (Canada Post outlet or Service Canada Centre), and 20 business days when submitted through the Mobile Passport Unit. "Passport Canada Processing Times", website of Passport Canada. Accessed on March 19, 2012.

Appendix B. Distinguishing Between Service Standards, Internal/Operational Performance Targets, and Service Pledges

Service standards, internal performance targets, and service pledges are three distinct but complementary commitments that organizations can make regarding service delivery to their clients. The table below illustrates the key features.

Service Standards Internal/Operational Performance Target
  • Client-focused—Standards address aspects of service important to the client
  • Public—Standards are communicated to clients and staff
  • Externally and internally accountable—Performance is reported to clients, management, and staff
  • Concrete—Standards articulate specific actions
  • Measurable—Adherence to standards is objectively evaluated through performance measurement activities
  • About Performance—Focus is on the service's execution, including its timeliness, access, and accuracy
  • Management-focused—Performance targets address aspects of service related to managing operations
  • Internal—Performance targets are for internal (management) use and are rarely made public
  • Internally accountable—Performance is reported to management and staff
Service Pledge
  • General—Pledges articulate commitment to a basic code of conduct
  • Qualitative—Adherence to pledges is assessed indirectly through the evaluation of client opinions and satisfaction
  • About Principles—Focus is on how clients perceive the service (Was I treated fairly? Were staff professional?)

Appendix C. Key Challenges and Opportunities

Through consultation, a number of recurring challenges associated with the development and ongoing management of departmental service standards have emerged. This section highlights these challenges and presents strategies for addressing them.

1. Challenge

How to secure necessary approvals for proposed service standards.


  • Understand the different steps and levels of approval for the service standard initiative and secure senior management buy-in from the beginning through a business case, project brief, or project charter.
  • When the proposed service standards require ministerial approval (or the services themselves involve interaction with or decisions by the minister), working with the Minister's Office has proven to be a successful approach in securing ongoing support.
  • Involving legal affairs from the outset can also identify and mitigate potential challenges early in the process.
  • Accessing existing service standards (that senior management and legal affairs have already approved) can also help position new service standards by identifying and reusing accepted word sets, and discussing the strategy used for securing approval.

2. Challenge

Setting "national" service standards for services delivered regionally.


  • An organization that offers services across the country (and, in some instances, across the globe) should consider any different levels of resources and targeted client groups at each of their regional service points. This can complicate communications, performance measurement, and consolidated annual reporting on the service standard. As a result, the impact of regional operations should be explored prior to having the overall standard approved and published.
  • "National" service standards are preferred because they help the organization send a consistent message to all clients. Where possible, avoid sending different messages to each region or client group or encouraging unwanted comparisons between the level of service offered to each region.

3. Challenge

How to write service standards that do not create legal liabilities.


  • Involve legal services early in the process and consult on the wording of the standards and risks associated with non-performance. Fine print, footnotes, and other forms of caveats may provide good risk management, but be careful not to overly diminish the effectiveness of service standards or to create readability or interpretation challenges for clients. In these cases, consider consulting the Department of Justice. Remember that in some cases, standards must also meet additional TBS policy requirements.

4. Challenge

How to balance the need to set ambitious and challenging standards with the need to set safe and achievable standards.


  • Achievable standards help an organization meet expectations and gain experience with the process of collecting and reporting on performance. Reviewing service standards regularly and taking organizational performance into account provides an opportunity for adjustment, including raising the standards if appropriate. Organizations that strive to continuously improve their performance are likely to meet client expectations more frequently and thereby increase client satisfaction. After service standards have been in place for a period of time and client needs and available resources have been assessed, organizations may decide to raise their standards. Care should be taken to gradually increase expectations, ensuring that employees understand the changes and that systems and processes will help enable and support the organization.

5. Challenge

How to ensure engagement of employees in the service standard cycle.


  • Explain the benefits of service standards to the organization and its clients; link the standards to service improvement priorities established by the organization; and clarify accountabilities for developing, implementing, and tracking performance against the standards. Ask employees for their ideas. Designating a member of senior management as "champion" can also help provide the necessary momentum and focus.
  • Explaining to front-line employees the importance of the standards and providing them with the necessary information and/or training to help them meet performance expectations can lead to broad participation and position the organization for success.

Appendix D. Suggested Template for Grants and Contributions Service Standards

Organizations may find this template helpful in establishing service standards associated with grants and contributions programs. This model is in use within the Government of Canada and includes three service standards targeting different parts of the process: receipt of application, notification of funding decision, and receipt of payment. It also provides clients with the opportunity to provide feedback or view performance against standards. The following is an example of service standards.

our service standards


We will acknowledge receipt of application form within 15 calendar days.


We will issue official written notification of the funding decision within an established timeframe specific to each program. For decision service standards by program, please consult our table

Decision service standard - Without Deadlines Our goal is to issue official written notification of the funding decision within XX See footnote 1 * weeks of the date we receive your complete application.
Decision service standard - With Deadlines Our goal is to issue official written notification of the funding decision within XX See footnote 1 * weeks of the program's deadline date of YYYY/MM/DD and upon receipt of your complete application.


We will issue payments within 28 calendar days of either the successful fulfillment of requirements as outlined in the contribution agreement, or the date of issue of a grant awards letter

Please note that the achievement of this service standard is a shared responsibility and is highly dependent upon your submission of all required documentation to Canadian Heritage officials in a timely fashion

Return to footnote reference 1 * Note: Decision Service Standard Commitments will vary by program to reflect each program's unique assessment process

your feedback

We measure our performance and are committed to publishing our results annually. Results are available at: www... Or by contacting: ...

Appendix E. Characteristics of Measurement Activities

Characteristics Interpretation
Pertinent Performance measures for a given service standard should apply to the standard in question.
Timely The lapse of time between the performance evaluations for a given service standard should be based on factors such as:
  • the stability of the service or area,
  • trends or changes that affect performance,
  • the channel,
  • the volume of activity, and
  • the degree to which measurements can be supported by automated processes.
Systematic The performance measurement method for a service standard should indicate:
  • the measurement activity,
  • the unit of measurement, including volume and percentage,
  • the evaluation period (monthly, annual, every third year), and
  • the process (who collects and approves the information).
Comparable with similar services Where possible, measures that are comparable to those used for similar services should be used in order to facilitate benchmarking.
Affordable The cost of collecting and reporting performance information should be documented and part of the decision process to establish appropriate performance measurement activities. Consider the following questions:
  • What opportunities exist to use simple, automated, or lower-cost processes to collect reliable performance information?
  • How will the measurement of performance be funded?
  • What will be the annual cost of gathering the financial and non-financial information needed to report on service standards?
Aligned with planning, monitoring and reporting activities The timing and structure of performance measurement should be coordinated with other relevant planning, monitoring, evaluation, and reporting activities to help integrate the service standard management cycle into management practices. These activities could include:
  • measuring client satisfaction according to a timeline,
  • reporting publicly, including annual Reports on Plans and Priorities, Departmental Performance Reports, or other public reports,
  • auditing,
  • periodically reviewing policies and business processes,
  • executive Performance Management Agreements, and
  • other activities aimed at promoting quality service.

Appendix F. Glossary

The intended recipient of a service. Clients may be external to the federal government (e.g., citizens, businesses, non-Canadians and non-profit organizations) or internal to government (e.g., departments).
Client Satisfaction Measurement
The measurement of how products and services supplied by an organization meet or surpass customer expectation.
Internal Target
Frequency (often expressed as a percentage) by which the department expects to meet the service standard.
Provision of a specific output, including information, that addresses one or more needs of an intended recipient and contributes to the achievement of an outcome.
Service Pledge
Public commitment to a basic code of conduct.
Service Standard
Public commitment to a measurable level of performance that clients can expect under normal circumstances.
Clients, service delivery partners, staff and other groups, including advisory and special-interest groups, other government jurisdictions, professional associations, unions, PAAs, and business lobby groups.

Appendix G. Bibliography

BMB Consulting Services Inc. (2001). Developing and Implementing Service Standards. Ottawa.

Canada Revenue Agency. (2009). Canada Revenue Agency Guide to Service Standards. Ottawa.

Department of Justice Canada. (2004). User Fees Act. Ottawa.

Erin Research Inc. for the Institute for Citizen-Centered Service and the Institute for Public Administration of Canada. (2008). Citizen First 5. Toronto.

Institute for Citizen-Centred Service. (2004). Toward Citizen-Centred Service Delivery: A How-to Guide for Service Improvement Initiatives. Published with permission by the Government of Canada based on Toward Citizen-Centred Service Delivery: A How-to Guide for the Service Improvement Initiative.

Marson, B. and Heintzman, R. (2009). From Research to Results: A Decade of Results-Based Service Improvement in Canada. New Directions Series, Toronto: Institute of Public Administration of Canada.

Ontario Ministry of Government Services. (2008). How to Develop Effective Service Standards.

Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat. (2000). A Policy Framework for Service Improvement in the Government of Canada. Ottawa.

Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat. (1995). A Guide to Costing of Service Delivery for Service Standards. Stretching the Tax Dollar Series. Government Review and Quality Services, Financial and Information Management Branch. Ottawa.

Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat. (2001). Summary Report on Service Standards. Prepared for Innovative and Quality Services Division, Service and Innovation Sector, Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat. Prepared by Consulting and Audit Canada. Project No.: 550-0743.

Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat. (2001). Literature Review on Service Standards. Prepared for Innovative and Quality Services Division, Service and Innovation Sector, Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat. Prepared by Consulting and Audit Canada. Project No.: 550-0743.

Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat. (2004). Policy on Service Standards for External Fees. Ottawa.

Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat. (2007). Cabinet Directive on Streamlining Regulation. Ottawa.

Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat. (2008). Policy on Transfer Payments. Ottawa.

Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat. Draft Service Policy Framework and Policy on Service. Ottawa.

© Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, represented by the President of the Treasury Board, 2017,
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