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I Can’t Get No…Satisfaction

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Rhonda Allen
July 19, 2019

Relying on performance measurements that provide reliable data is essential for the improvement of public organizations. While agencies continue to use inputs, outputs and outcomes to measure their performance, adding an external perspective such as satisfaction to the internal measures will provide an additional source of data for a more comprehensive picture. Using the broader range of measurements provides a different dimension into performance measurement. 

Using the United States Postal Service (USPS) as an example only, often comments reflect that the agency is not efficient or customers are dissatisfied. Just recently, three different people shared their post office saga.

With the assignment of a new postal carrier, a popular magazine was not delivered repeatedly. After filing a complaint with the USPS Customer Service Office and filling out numerous forms, no action or response was received. It was not until the assignment of another replacement mail carrier that the popular magazine began to be delivered again.

A long line of customers witnessed a service employee arguing and using profanity toward his supervisor. After the argument ended, the service employee continued to grumble and mumbled as he served customers.

A mail carrier placed a, “Missed package delivery,” receipt in the mailbox when the resident was home and looking out the window. The mail carrier never knocked on the door or attempted to deliver the package. 

These anecdotal stories provide us with insights into the customer experience, but do they measure efficiency? These experiences speak to service and customer satisfaction.  Customer satisfaction is a useful tool for performance management. Hence, using satisfaction or customer experience as a measure of performance could provide the USPS with data to better identify and manage their operations and service quality.  The USPS Office of Inspector General provides the results of its customer retail experience survey. Also, USPS retail receipts list a telephone number and website to participate in a postal experience survey. If used correctly, the external perspective could provide data that increases operations as well as identifying corrective actions when needed.

While this article uses the USPS as an example, all public facing agencies could use customer satisfaction and experience as a complementary measure.  Performance that may fall through the cracks during normal management process might benefit from gauging customer satisfaction.  Using customer experience includes immediate feedback on service delivery, which is much broader in scope. Customer experience, combined with complaint data, would reveal a more comprehensive picture of performance. Efficiency and cost-effectiveness data integrated with customer feedback would identify a critical dimension of quality for service improvements.  For example, understanding why customers use USPS instead of United Parcel Service (UPS), FedEx, or DHL may provide a more precise understanding of what keeps customers coming back.

Employee surveys could also add another dimension to performance management. Employees can provide valuable feedback that would increase overall performance in government agencies. Engaging employees in how to improve the agency and what they may observe of the job offers baseline information. Agencies may also increase employee satisfaction by engaging their employees in these performance measurement efforts. Such data would complement customer feedback, efficiency and cost-effectiveness data. Keep in mind that employee feedback needs to be anonymous so that employees will speak freely about their observations. Reporting out findings are also necessary as well so employees know that the data is reviewed and used.

These additions need to be consistent and done over time to get an accurate picture of performance rather than a snapshot of a few events. Granted, like any survey, getting customers to respond is difficult. So make the feedback survey quick, easy and accessible. Using incentives can help to increase the response rate, but in these times of tight and shrinking budgets, using public funds on such endeavors is not feasible.

As government agencies strive to improve the quality of service and increase customer satisfaction, it is necessary to measure performance from all dimensions of the organization. The measurements are critical for improvements and allow public agencies to gain an accurate picture of performance.  Providing goods and services with the highest level of customer satisfaction is a goal of all government agencies.

Author: Dr. Rhonda Allen, Associate Clinical Professor in the Department of Politics and International Affairs | Northern Arizona University. Contact info: [email protected]

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