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Setting Service Standards and Targets

How to Set Service Standards

What Citizens Have Said

What are citizen expectations for the speed of service in various delivery channels? The 1998 Citizens First survey documents Canadians' expectations for service standards in the area of telephone service, counter service, voice mail, mail service, e-mail, and referrals.

  • Telephones: 97% of Canadians feel that a thirty second wait on the telephone is acceptable; 76% of Canadians believe that a wait of one minute or more for a government representative is unacceptable;
  • Referrals: 85% of Canadians find it acceptable to deal with two people in order to get the service; 84% find it unacceptable to deal with more than two people;
  • Voice Mail Messages: 75% of Canadians believe that a telephone voice mail message should be returned within four hours; 86% believe that returning the call the next day is unacceptable;
  • Waiting in Line: 98% of Canadians believe that waiting in line at a counter for two minutes is acceptable service; 74% of Canadians believe that a wait of ten minutes or more in a government line is unacceptable;
  • Postal Service: 82% of Canadians feel a two week wait is an acceptable time to allow for a mailed reply; 72% find more than three weeks is unacceptable;
  • E-mail: 90% of Canadians believe that an e-mail message should be returned within four hours; 74% believe a reply the next day is unacceptable;

Elements of Service Standards

  1. Description of the service provided and, where applicable, benefits clients are entitled to receive.
  2. Service quality pledges or principles that describe the quality of service delivery clients can expect to receive.
  3. Delivery targets for key service aspects, such as timeliness, access, and accuracy
  4. Cost of delivering the service.
  5. Clear complaint and redress mechanisms for clients when they feel standards have not been met.

Service Standards Principles

  • Widespread and equitable. Service standards should have a wide application across an organization, with the same standards applied to clients in using the same services through different locations.
  • Meaningful to individuals. Standards should be meaningful to the people using the service, relate to those service aspects the clients feel are important, and be expressed in terms the client can easily understand.
  • Based on consultation. Service standards should be developed in consultations with clients.
  • Attainable yet challenging. Standards should be realistic, based on analysis, consistent with program objectives, and achievable while at the same time they provide a challenge to the service providers.
  • Affordable. Standards should include user charges, if applicable, and be attainable within available resources.
  • Owned by managers and employees. Service standards are an essential management tool in service delivery. The managers and employees are responsible for taking ownership of them and setting and using service standards to continually improve the cost-effectiveness of service delivery.
  • Published. Service standards should be published and made known to clients.
  • Performance measured and reported. Performance achievements should be monitored against the standards and client satisfaction with the service provided, with results reported to clients.
  • Reviewed and updated. Standards should be regularly reviewed and adjusted to reflect new circumstances.

Steps in Developing Service Standards

  • Know your business. Identify clients (direct and indirect), services, and partners; define current activities; know what is affordable (what does it cost to deliver your services?).
  • Consult with clients and staff. What are the most important features of the service you provide? What are the clients' satisfaction levels with the service? What changes do clients want or need? What are client expectations? What are your responsibilities? Outline reciprocal responsibilities and roles.
  • Set client-sensitive service standards. Establish standards which are easily understood by - and important for – clients. Consider piloting a standard on a small scale, and provide cost projections when appropriate and reasonable. Fine-tune the standard.
  • Empower and train service providers. Train and equip staff to help clients and let staff know what is expected of them. Empower front-line staff to make decisions. Train managers and supervisors in leadership and motivation.
  • Communicate service standards and report on performance. Advise staff and clients of service standards. Report on the performance achieved versus the standards; report on clients' satisfaction level with this service.
  • Manage to service standards and service quality. Measure your performance against your standards. Strive for continuous improvement. Develop a service improvement plan.

Further Information

For more information on service standards in the Government of Canada, please consult:

Canada. Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, 1995. Quality Services - Guide VII: Service Standards. Ottawa: Minister of Supply and Services Canada.

Canada. Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, 1996. Service Standards: a Guide to the Initiative. Ottawa: Minister of Supply and Services Canada.

Canada. Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, 1996. An Overview of Quality and Affordable Service for Canadians Establishing Service Standards in the Federal Government Quality and Affordable Services for Canadians: Establishing Service Standards in the Federal Government (An Overview). Ottawa: Minister of Supply and Services Canada.

A Service Standard and Satisfaction Targets Template is available in RTF (79KB) and PDF (67KB) formats.