Understanding Customer Expectations and Satisfaction
Ultimately, government agencies and other organizations exist to serve one or more customer needs. This is an organization’s purpose. Delivering value to the customer – which for government can take many forms – is one of the most important principles of Lean. To achieve their missions, agencies must be clear about the customer(s) they serve and what those customers expect.
By pursuing the activities outlined in this Roadmap thus far, Washington agencies will certainly improve the quality of products and services that are delivered to the customers they serve. In turn, customer satisfaction levels should increase.
While the concept of customer satisfaction applies to both public and private organizations, the drivers of satisfaction for customers of for-profit businesses are different than the drivers of satisfaction for customers of government. According to ACSI (American Customer Satisfaction Index), the level of customer satisfaction associated with government entities is rooted in customers’ expectations and the “perceived quality” of the product or service delivered. In this context, ACSI defines “perceived quality” using four categories:
- Ease and timeliness of government processes
- Clarity and accessibility of information
- Courteous and professional customer service
- Ability to access information quickly and easily
It should be apparent that the only way for an agency to know if customers are being satisfied in these four areas is to receive direct feedback from customers or customer representatives. Agency employees must not rely on assumptions when considering customer satisfaction. Even if internal performance measures are designed to track outputs associated with customer wants and needs, these internal metrics are still incapable of accurately measuring customer satisfaction. The only way to truly know if customer value is being delivered is to ask customers.
Establishing Customer Feedback Loops
Due to the range of “customers” served by Washington State agencies, including individuals, organizations, communities and the environment itself, there is no one way to measure whether or not customer value is being delivered. Each agency must assess its own situation, and determine which method(s) are most appropriate. Some common customer feedback techniques that generally work well include customer surveys, focus groups and customer interviews. A specific approach that is gaining popularity and may be useful to some agencies is called Net Promoter Score (NPS), which measures customer satisfaction largely through a customer’s willingness to recommend or “promote” an organization’s products or services to others.
Regardless of the technique(s) used, agencies must establish their customer feedback programs as closed loop systems. For any customer feedback effort, agencies must design procedures for:
- Handling any immediate or critical issues that are brought to light
- Examining and addressing longer term trends and issues
- Demonstrating to customers that their feedback is being heard and put to good use
The ultimate goal of collecting customer feedback should not be just to measure customer satisfaction, but rather to gain insights into customer expectations and experiences, and to use those insights to set appropriate organizational goals and to identify opportunities for improvement.
The Four Dimensions of Lean Culture is a highly effective framework for structuring holistic organizational change efforts. The model’s purpose is to provide a roadmap for building a healthier organization, where values and behaviors are aligned with the core principles of Lean Management, and where employees are engaged, customers are delighted and stakeholders are satisfied.
Any group of people that wants to work together to achieve a shared objective needs to march in the same direction. This is true of any group of people, be it a sports team, an orchestra, a corporation or a government agency. People need to know where the group is going and every person needs to know what they are supposed to do to contribute to reaching the destination.
“We can always do better” is a powerful belief. When this philosophy is promoted across an organization, wonderful things can happen. Establishing common language and common practice enables people throughout the organization to quickly and effectively come together – across departmental and/or functional lines – to work as teams on improvement efforts that help move the organization forward toward the achievement of the strategic vision.
Cohesive Teamwork; Effective Leadership; Meaningful Relationships – These are the organizational characteristics that enable a healthy culture to thrive. Without strong connections between people, the long-term results of any alignment or improvement efforts will be modest at best. When organizations focus energy on Cultural Enablers, everything else they do just works better.