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Where Do Our Clients Want Us To Be?

Step 4
Setting Priorities for Improvement

Armed with client feedback information, it is now time to prepare for action by outlining priorities. These priorities should be defined by the client feedback, but remain consistent with the mission and mandate.

A strategy must be set around the priorities, the purpose of the initiative, its values, and its goals, as well as the timelines for program design, implementation and evaluation. The strategy will flow from the government-wide Service Improvement Initiative and the specific results in your own review.

Identifying the Key Drivers of Client Satisfaction for Your Service and Potential Areas for Improvement

The process will vary by organization and findings, but a good starting point is to focus on the five key drivers of client satisfaction as identified by the Citizens First research: timeliness, knowledge/competence, courtesy/comfort, fair treatment, and outcome.5 It is important to emphasize the implications of these findings: "If governments provide an acceptable level of service on these five drivers, they will achieve service quality ratings of 85 out of 100."6

While these are the key drivers of client satisfaction, you need to understand the key drivers for your specific type of service, as the drivers and their relative importance vary by service type. Understanding these drivers will assist you in further identifying your clients' priorities for improvement.

To assist you in identifying your key service drivers, each of five key drivers of service quality are discussed below. In addition, other potential related elements of service quality discussed below include: visibility and access; human resources; partnering, and information technology.

Five Drivers of Service Satisfaction

  1. Timeliness: This driver refers to the satisfaction with the time it takes to get service, as opposed to the absolute length of time it takes. In terms of the five key drivers, the Citizens First research tells us that by far, the most important driver is timeliness. However, depending upon the nature of the service, it should be recognized that there are limits to the extent government processes can be speeded up, which will impact satisfaction levels. For example, for some services considerations of fairness and accountability impose limits on the speed at which a service can be delivered. Fortunately, if service must be delayed beyond what citizens would normally expect, providing reasons for the required timeframe may serve to maintain acceptable ratings of timeliness.

  2. Knowledge/Competence: The second most important driver is the knowledge and competence of the service provider. Research tells us that performance on this driver is maximized from a well-functioning system, including adequate staffing, proper training resources, and good internal services including management support, technical facilities, human resources services and so forth.

  3. Courtesy/Comfort: The third most important driver from the Citizens First research is courtesy and comfort. That is, were the staff courteous and did they make the client feel comfortable? Despite the best efforts of government staff, citizens may feel uncomfortable in certain encounters with government – possibly to the point that staff may be unable to overcome it. A good example of this could be a taxation audit.

  4. Fair Treatment: This driver refers to whether clients feel they were treated fairly. Governments take great efforts to ensure fairness in service delivery, but problems arise when opinions differ as to what is meant by "fair." Government service providers may see fair as what legislation and regulations prescribe, while citizens with opposing views may regard their treatment as unfair. Examples are most obvious when they involve social issues. In such cases, ensuring clients are provided with sufficient information could be an important factor in determining satisfaction levels.

  5. Outcome: The final key driver of citizen satisfaction in order of importance is outcome. This is defined as whether or not the client got what they needed. Competing claims for resources means that government cannot satisfy everyone. For example, applications for financial assistance may not meet requirements, or a tax levy may be larger than anticipated. The inability of government to provide the desired outcome may impose a ceiling on service quality scores for those who are denied the outcome they want. The desired outcome will be denied more often in some services than others, which means that service quality ratings will vary across different services.

Understanding the drivers for each particular service is critical for developing a service improvement plan. Although the above five drivers were found to be the most important based upon Citizens First research, there is no one set of answers that are standard for any particular service; each will have its own set of drivers and clients with a set priorities for improvement. Understanding what your particular drivers are, which driver performed best, which was worst, and which priority for improvement is most important from your clients' perspective are all questions that you will want to pose. In addition, you will need to decide if it is practical to work on several drivers at once, or to proceed one at a time, with a recognition that some efforts will require more time for planning and training. Early efforts may work to attain the biggest gains in client satisfaction to secure early successes for the organization. It is the drivers of satisfaction to which particular attention should be paid when setting priorities. These are the elements that clients/citizens indicate are important, and priorities that they indicate will help close the service gap by working to meet their expectations.

Other Considerations for Service Quality

Visibility and Access

Visibility: On average, when Canadians want to contact a public service, they do not know where to find it 25 per cent of the time. How visible is your operation to citizens? Can it be improved?

Access: How satisfied are the people that know how to contact you about the process? Are there concerns about the length of the wait? How many attempts were required to get through? How would they prefer to access you?

It is worth noting that sixty per cent of access issues are related to slow telephone responses, so this may be a priority area for action. For telephone service, citizens expect:

  • less than a two minute wait;
  • to find the right person on the first or second try;
  • to have a response to a voice mail message within four hours.

In considering priorities, do not forget the importance of instructing clients on how to use the service. Service interactions can be unsatisfactory not because the product or delivery was inferior, but because the client did not know how to use the service or product. Public servants have a role as an educator, which is especially true for those services used only once or twice in a lifetime. Just as advertising helps clients find and access a service, there are ways to support clients in use of a service.

The People Dimension of Service

Employees are the key to success. It is difficult to conceive of any organization treating its staff poorly and then expecting them to treat clients well. If you look after your staff, they will look after the client. You do not order staff to smile; you recruit service-oriented people, train them well, give them good working conditions and a chance to do a good job. Courteous service is a by-product – empowered employees tend to enjoy their work.

Do staff have the proper skills to do the job (competence) for a citizen-centred approach? If not, a training plan should be developed. As well, do staff use their own initiative? The rules cannot foresee every eventuality. How can you give them the training, the tools and the freedom to use their initiative? In this, the organization needs to pay attention to the constraints that prevent capable employees from using their good judgement to achieve the mission. Welcome and applaud new ideas and initiative.

Service Integration

About one time in six, the service a client needs involves more than one agency – for example, a provincial birth certificate is required in order to obtain a passport. And to change an address, citizens must deal independently with a number of government organizations. Citizen-centred service delivery requires new partnerships within and between governments – and with the private and not-for-profit sectors – to integrate service so that it makes sense to the client. To start, the organization should ask how it can work with partners to improve service, and determine the logical place to start.

Government On-Line

Technology can be a great enabler to improve service delivery to Canadians. Electronic service delivery can bring services to citizens how they want them and when they want them, wherever they live. It also allows governments to provide seamless, integrated service delivery. The 1999 Speech from the Throne made the commitment for the Government of Canada to become the most electronically connected government in the world to its citizens by 2004 and provide Canadians with electronic access to federal information and services. This initiative, known as Government On-Line (GOL), is the beginning of an agenda to offer citizens and businesses faster, more convenient and seamless electronic access to services and programs. GOL will make it easier for citizens and businesses to find what they need through one-stop access points with services and information organized by theme – like the environment – or type of activity – such as services for seniors – rather than by government department. It also supports improved client satisfaction in that it can improve performance on some of the key drivers of client satisfaction, such as timeliness.

The past few years have seen great progress and many innovations in the on-line delivery of federal services and information. Government is just starting to tap the potential of getting on-line. With the ever-increasing potential of new technologies and the growing demand for electronic service delivery, the need for a co-ordinated, forward-looking approach is clear. The Government On-Line initiative builds on what has already been accomplished to ensure that government works consistently and collaboratively, and with other partners, to create a world-renowned system of on-line service delivery. How can you make use of client-focused electronic service delivery to improve service in your organization?

Further information on the Government On-Line initiative can be found on the GOL Web site.

Setting Priorities

So far, a considerable amount of information has been gathered from clients on their needs, expectations, and priorities for improvement. The above areas are starting points, but you should ask how the information gathered should be used for decisions. The Service Improvement Team should work with the management team to discuss and agree on a decision model, which will then be applied to the situation.

One such model is the satisfaction-importance matrix (Appendix E).."7 This model assists in identifying which service improvements should be focused upon first. Briefly, the model creates a service improvement matrix by plotting the satisfaction rating with the importance rating on a two-dimensional grid. This allows decision-makers to determine which improvements are a top priority (low satisfaction rating, high importance rating). Unless both dimensions are measured and evaluated, improvement efforts may be misguided. If the organization only measures satisfaction and sets priorities based on the lowest satisfaction scores, improvement efforts may have little impact in improving satisfaction levels if these items have little importance to clients. Items with low satisfaction scores and high importance are areas to target improvement efforts.

Checklist for Step 4

At the end of this step, you will likely have:

  • A list of priorities for service improvement;
  • Identified priorities to improve visibility;
  • Identified priorities to improve access;
  • Identified priorities for improvement on each of the five drivers of satisfaction;
  • Priorities for strengthening the people dimension of service delivery;
  • Priorities for integrated service delivery;
  • Priorities for improved use of information technology.

See Appendix E: Setting Priorities.