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ARCHIVED - Service Improvement Initiative - How to Guide

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Where Do Our Clients Want Us To Be?

Step 5
Setting Client Centred Service Standards and Client Satisfaction Targets

After establishing priorities, it is vital to set standards and targets by which you intend to judge performance. Success needs definition. Standards and targets serve to focus the organization to ensure it achieves the most it can for both short and long-term goals.

In this Guide, standards refer to the levels of service performance, while targets refer to the levels of satisfaction aspired to. Standards are the performance levels we are committed to in the present – the quality one can expect. Targets are the satisfaction objectives we are moving towards.

Service standards are a commitment by the organization to provide a certain level of service to clients. These are usually in areas such as communications, access, timeliness, interactions between staff and clients, and costs. For example, answering telephone calls within six rings nine times out of ten could be a standard. Consistency counts with service standards. Clients don't want great performance one day and lousy service the next. A client whose call is answered on the first ring and then locked in 'voice mail jail' for ten minutes won't consider that 'on average' good service was delivered.

Service standards must incorporate performance objectives. The standard of replying to a letter sent by mail within two weeks may not be achievable all the time, but may be achievable in a majority of situations. What is the appropriate level of performance for achieving the standard? It could be set at 80%, 90%, or even higher. This allows for standards that are citizen/client based and attempt to meet their expectations for service delivery. To ensure that it could respond to letters 100% of the time, an organization might have to set the standard at twelve weeks. However, it is unlikely citizens/clients would find this acceptable. Incorporating performance objectives into service standards also provides the organization with room for improvement, such as setting the goal to move the objective of meeting the standard, for example, from 80% to 85% of the time.

Service standards are an important tool for managing client expectations and should reflect the available resources. They tell your clients what you can provide and what they should expect to receive. Service standards must be published so they are known by all those affected – staff, partners, and clients. Publication motivates staff, influences client expectations, allows educated feedback on performance and ensures that accountability and measurement are open and honest.

As well as service standards, targets should also be set for the levels of citizen and client satisfaction the organization wants to achieve within a given timeframe. Service standards are the key means for managing client expectations based on available resources. But satisfaction targets are the key means for improving actual service performance and quality.

Satisfaction targets should be reasonable. For the Service Improvement Initiative, the Treasury Board has established a government-wide objective of a minimum 10% improvement in client satisfaction for all key services to the public. To begin, set targets in a few areas identified as key by the client and do-able by your staff within five years. Targets must be realistic, reviewed regularly and adjusted annually as necessary to meet the minimum 10% objective over five years.

How to Set Service Standards

Your surveys will have told you what levels of service your clients want. Service standards should be client driven and reflect what the client wants, but also what the organization can currently afford. Standards are a way of managing expectations. They tell your clients what you can provide and they can expect. Service satisfaction is related to expectations. Managing expectations well is an important part of service improvement. Look at the standards in other similar operations that have high levels of client satisfaction. What is the 'industry standard'? Discuss these with your staff, to find out what it would take to meet them. Review what level of service you are now providing. Determine what standard you can achieve now, and what standards you will strive for in the longer term. Further information on how to set service standards can be found in Appendix F.

Satisfaction Improvement Targets

Client satisfaction targets are more complicated since they are less direct. By helping to manage client expectations, service standards may contribute to increased client satisfaction. But they will not guarantee satisfaction. Satisfaction targets must be set and measured independently. What satisfaction levels do you want to achieve?

It is important not only to set targets for satisfaction improvement, but also to measure achievement. Improved client satisfaction, after all, is the end goal of the Service Improvement Initiative. Improved client satisfaction is also the way to measure whether you have actually set the right priorities for service improvement and whether you are making regular annual progress toward the minimum 10% satisfaction improvement objective over five years.

Steps To Take

The steps you take will vary according to your structure and organizational culture. But here are eleven steps that offer guidance. Throughout, ensure that staff are actively involved in the process and support the targets that are set.

  • Review the data you gathered about client priorities.
  • Divide the priorities into two areas: access (including the ability to find the service); and service performance (including the main drivers of satisfaction).
  • Use the Service Improvement Team or subgroups to deal with each area. Decide what standard of service is appropriate in each area.
  • Present the management committee of the organization with a complete list of proposed service standards and satisfaction targets.
  • Reach organization-wide agreement on service standards; select the most important few to focus on while keeping in mind the different service delivery channels.
  • Ensure the government-wide target of a minimum 10% improvement in client/citizen satisfaction over five years is translated into specific annual targets for each service or program area and that these targets are reflected in accountability agreements.
  • Ensure that a strong service culture is being developed to complement client satisfaction target setting. This will help make the targets achievable if the organizational culture supports and promotes the delivery of good service.
  • Continue to regularly measure client expectations, priorities and satisfaction and anchor your planning process in this data.
  • Ensure a client complaint redress mechanism is in place.
  • Make sure that for any satisfaction target or service standard the results can be (and are) measured, benchmarked, monitored, reported and used to guide management decisions.
  • Ensure the results-based service improvement planning and implementation process is integrated with the annual business planning process, for ongoing monitoring and updating of targets. Standards and targets are not static, but dynamic. Monitoring and updating for continuous improvement is a never-ending process.

Setting targets can be a source of anxiety. This may be particularly true in a traditional 'inside-out' focused workplace that suddenly finds itself judged by the standards of its clients. But in the end, targets can also unify. Most people are goal oriented. They enjoy achieving, and surpassing, performance targets. If the targets are reasonable and the purpose clear, you can secure buy-in and unleash new energy, as people strive to show their stuff.

Establishing priorities for improvement, and setting standards and targets, further refines where the organization wants to be. These should be woven into the fabric of the organization's planning process (including the Report on Plans and Priorities), and even deserving of a special improvement plan specific to this initiative.

Checklist for Step 5

At the completion of this step, you should have:

  • Service standards that are published, and openly accessible.
  • Service standards based on client priorities and expectations, but also reflect available resources.
  • Satisfaction improvement targets that are sufficiently challenging that achieving them will result in a noticeable reduction in the satisfaction gap, yet realistic enough that they can be achieved.
  • Measurement and performance reporting against the service standards and satisfaction improvement targets.

See Appendix F: Setting Service Standards and Targets