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ARCHIVED - Service Improvement Initiative - How to Guide

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Where Are We Now?

Step 2
Assess the Current State

Having built a better understanding of your clients and services to which the service improvement approach will apply, the next logical step is to begin to learn more about the clients so you can determine the current state of client satisfaction with your organization's services and establish a baseline from which to measure future improvement in citizen/client satisfaction.

To do that, the organization has to design and implement a continuous assessment strategy that includes: mechanisms to diagnose the main drivers of satisfaction (outlined in the Preface) for each key service, client group, partner and stakeholder; tools and methodology to measure and monitor client and staff satisfaction, expectations and priorities for improvement.

Establishing a Continuous Feedback Strategy

How are we doing, what needs improvement, asking questions, and listening to the answers is an ongoing process. The first time provides baseline data. Repeated at regular intervals, survey data is part of feedback strategy for the organization and linked with the organization's performance framework.

You will need to develop a process and time lines for initial surveys to gauge current client satisfaction, as well as follow-up to assess the progress that has been made. Most departments and agencies will likely already have some methods to obtain feedback. They may include:

  • postal, telephone, or electronic surveys;
  • focus groups;
  • comment cards;
  • complaints procedures;
  • open houses and town hall meetings with client groups;
  • citizen advisory councils;
  • regular meetings with staff for input;
  • evaluations, reviews, audits and Auditor-General reports.

While valuable, some of these methods are episodic and can be biased because the people willing to take the time to fill out comment cards or attend meetings may not be representative of the clientele. It may capture the comments of people vocal enough to complain, but not capture the comments of others equally (or even more) dissatisfied, but less vocal. Therefore, the feedback strategy should be balanced with methods that accurately reflect (from a statistical perspective) client satisfaction, such as postal, telephone or electronic surveys.

To Begin

Managers have an array of methods available to understand how well they are doing. The best method is simply to ask clients. Focus groups are an excellent method to do this. They involve gathering a small number of informed clients and asking them open-ended questions about service, quality, expectations and priorities for the future. Themes emerge which can then be used to create a survey designed to get more detailed responses from a larger sample.

Focus groups should be used at the start of the consultation process, but can also be used in the middle to help identify solutions, and at the end for feedback on implementation. The groups provide qualitative data, which is then refined by quantitative data, most notably with the Common Measurements Tool (CMT).

See Client Feedback Strategy


In response to a decline in campground attendance over several consecutive years, in 1985 BC Parks started to monitor visitor satisfaction levels in Provincial Parks to better serve its visitors and increase park use. Initially conducted as a pilot, satisfaction surveys were continued to create and maintain a customer-oriented management philosophy for the organization.

The Visitor Satisfaction Surveys are part of a larger information strategy for the organization. Other elements of the strategy include a citizen survey every five years, comment cards, and focus groups. Attendance and satisfaction improved as efforts were taken to close the gap between expectations and service delivery performance. As well, the organization surveys its staff every three to four years, to determine their satisfaction with their work, business practices, training and other internal services.

The feedback is now so integrated that it is proactive. When faced with a decision about whether or not to install a centralized telephone reservation system for campsites, BC Parks consulted the public, who supported the idea. Once implemented, the organization experienced increased satisfaction levels (along with ideas for improvement).

Input from visitors also leads to creative solutions. When decreased funding led to cutbacks in security and maintenance, satisfaction dropped. BC Parks responded by restoring those services in some parks, while creating a new policy that not all parks would offer the same level of service.


HRDC Income Security Program (ISP) (Ontario Region) recognized the value of consulting stakeholders. Concerned about benefit overpayments after the death of the recipient, they wanted more timely notification of deaths. ISP managers met with a group of stakeholders – funeral service directors – who agreed to notify ISP of deaths, in addition to informing the relatives of how to apply for Canada Pension Plan Survivor Benefits. Project leader Ellen Pasquale reports: "What started as a cost control, program integrity initiative provided an opportunity to demonstrate our compassion for the bereaved and be more efficient at providing survivor benefits." A career civil servant, Pasquale was pleased when a funeral director said, "You must have been in retail to come up with such a client-centred idea."

Common Measurements Tool (CMT)

While many tools are used to obtain feedback, the key one for the Service Improvement Initiative is the Common Measurements Tool (CMT). The CMT measures are the methodology authorized by the Treasury Board for use by organizations in the Service Improvement Initiative. The CMT is a measurement tool developed by the public sector to provide consistent quality information and to enable the comparison of results over time and across agencies. For the purposes of the Service Improvement Initiative, client feedback and satisfaction measures must be consistent with the CMT methodology in order to permit consistent measurement and comparison across the public service.

Using a five-point scale, the CMT assesses where service delivery exceeds, meets, or lags behind client expectations. It includes focused questions in the areas of service/product delivery, access and facilities, communication and cost, but also allows room for general comments on these issues. These questions will help the organization to address the experience of clients with services, their expectations, and their priorities for service improvement.

Organizations can add further questions or drop irrelevant ones, as the case may be, provided they maintain consistency of style and measurement. But each user should include a core set of government-wide questions (Appendix C) to provide benchmarks for comparison over time and across agencies. This set of questions is based on the main divers of service quality identified in the Citizens First research, plus general questions on accessibility and overall satisfaction.

The CMT is in fact more than a questionnaire. With its accompanying manual, it is a guide to developing a survey of client satisfaction based on sound methodology. The CMT is discussed further in Appendix C of this report. A manager's guide for the CMT is available on the Canada School of Public Service Web site.

A Note on Methodology

If you do not have internal research expertise, it is useful to have an external expert review your plan. Issues such as validity, representative samples, consistency over time, confidentiality of participants, bias and other technical matters need to be resolved. Guidance on methodology can be obtained from the Service and Innovation Sector of the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat.

Establish Baseline Data

The next step is to implement the feedback strategy by employing the CMT and other tools to obtain baseline data. That will provide a reliable sense of the starting point for the organization: in colloquial terms, "How Are We Doing?"

Environment Canada – Prairie and Northern Region (Human Resources Branch), for example, found a baseline of 51 percent. That was – it's worth stressing – not a surprising result. Different organizations and types of services will have different baselines and different ceilings on what can likely be achieved. Fire departments tend to attain top service ratings, with satisfaction levels around 80 percent. But other kinds of public services may be doing well at much lower levels of satisfaction. It is, therefore, important to understand the standard satisfaction range for your type of organization or service, and where you currently are located in this range.

There may well be some trepidation about finding out how you are viewed by clients. Yet, it is important to remember that the idea here is to start the process of measuring yourself against yourself so that you can determine priorities for improvement and ultimately implement an improvement plan. That, in turn, will require regular updates on client satisfaction through the continuous feedback process you establish. It is therefore important to establish a core set of questions for internal benchmarking purposes so that the organization can monitor the progress in meeting the objectives of an improvement plan.

Checklist for Step 2

At the end of this step, you should have a feedback strategy developed and reflected in the organizational business planning process and a performance framework. This strategy must address, at a minimum:

  • How to survey clients, staff, and citizens.
  • The instruments and procedures to use.
  • The efforts needed to create (if it does not already exist) a willingness, even eagerness, to use feedback constructively.
  • Questions that address client/citizen expectations, the experience with the service, and priorities for future improvement, as well as the key drivers of client/citizen satisfaction.
  • A method to share the feedback.