Public service and centrality of citizenry

by | February 9, 2018 12:21 am



In view of its position in terms of formulating and executing government policies, there is now an urgent need for the public service at all levels to embrace a change of perspective in its operational mode.  Having the right perspective is of utmost importance in any endeavour or organisation. Hayley Hobson once wrote a piece titled, “A New Perspective Can Change Everything” in which she stated that power is within and not outside of us. She opines that if you want to change the results you get, you need to go within and start working on your thoughts and perspectives. Your thoughts and perspectives create your feelings. Your feelings determine the way you act while the way you act defines your results.

In this regards, the public service needs to start charting a path to the adoption of a citizenry-centric, customer-focused, or customer-driven perspective in all its activities. A customer-centered organization is one that considers the customer in everything it does, from procurement to deployment and to the entire customer experience. It also speaks to its customers in their own language and makes it easy for them to align their goals with the mission at hand.

Many government agency executives have important messages to deliver, and the success of their communications is crucial to the agency’s success. Senior executives need to deliver effective mass communications to the agency employees, concerned citizens, and other stakeholders while maintaining impeccable standards that live up to the ever- increasing scrutiny of today’s communications environment. There are empirical methods that drive successful communications which agencies can seek out now.

In making a case for a customer-centered public service, Christopher Brown noted that, countless studies have documented the link between organizational culture and organizational performance. Specifically, many studies show that a customer-centric culture drives superior service and value for customers resulting in an experience that creates customer satisfaction and advocacy. This, in turn, drives exceptional organizational performance in terms of productivity, new product/service success, innovation and financial performance.

In the public service, all MDAs have clearly defined missions to provide services to their constituents. Each reports to a government official who is part of a central, state or local government that represents a community – much of which is made up of customers that experience the service. Poor experience leads to complaints that in turn, ultimately affect public perception if service is consistently bad.

Ideally, the public service must understand its customers’ changing needs and really care about the needs of the public. Inability to do this might create undue stress for both employees and customers and takes resources away from their core roles. The momentum and complexity of global change are challenging all organizations, including government agencies, to move faster, work smarter, use their resources more effectively and think further ahead.

Indeed, more than ever before, governments at all levels have an opportunity to dramatically change the nature of their interactions with citizens. The emergence of new tools, technologies and methods offers a unique chance to secure the bond between the public and those who serve them. As noted by Pedro Nava and David Bieir, “there is growing recognition that government can offer services attuned not to an alphabet soup of government bureaucracy but to the realities of life, with pathways for engagement around events such as the birth of a child or registering a new car. Equally, the massive data collected by government can be made available openly to allow the private sector create useful new products and applications, as it already has done with GPS technology.

Today, businesses across the world understand that customers want to access their services at any time, from any device and location. Connected citizens have the tools and the confidence to control how and when they engage services. What is more, these new forms of engagement are not just helping brands to deliver an even greater customer-centric service; they are unlocking new revenue streams in the private sector.

It is in order to inculcate this new perspective of public engagement into the Lagos State public service that the State Government is demanding from its workforce a new attitude and orientation. It is the view of government that the public sector has what it takes to easily emulate the private sector’s use of technology in order to meet the ever-increasing citizen expectations and boost commercial viability.

Consequently, the public sector needs to build a customer-first culture with customers as the primary focus of interactions. This can be achieved by meaningfully consulting with citizens about their needs and experiences. Also, efforts should be made to organize government to make its interactions simpler and easier by experimenting with new digital and other techniques and service-delivery tools.

Equally, the public sector should be prepared to work proactively with current government employees while recruiting new workers who understand why customer-centric government is essential. Digital-savvy younger graduates are a rich source for this new workforce. Gladly, the Lagos State public service is currently not doing badly in this direction.

Finally, it is important to regularly measure citizen satisfaction. Identifying which services citizens find most problematic and measuring the extent of that dissatisfaction is one way governments can prioritize areas for improvement. Thus, it is essential to let the citizens decides what matters most, but avoid asking them directly. It is also crucial to identify natural break points in customer satisfaction. Striving for zero wait times and a one-click transaction across the entirety of government services is likely to prove both unrealistic and costly.

Public servants can strike a balance between delivering high-quality, responsive services and managing resources effectively by using citizen-satisfaction metrics to determine acceptable service levels. One way of doing that is by identifying break points, the point at which delays or service shortfalls cause customer satisfaction to drop significantly. Also, public feedback must be combined with internal data to uncover hidden pain points. Combining customer-satisfaction information with operational data—call-center volumes and number of in-person visits can yield additional insights, beyond what citizens state explicitly via surveys and other feedback channels.

It is, therefore, in view of the truism that we are in an emerging golden age of citizen engagement that the Lagos State Government has been providing its workforce with relevant trainings that could make them fit into the emerging pattern in public engagement. Consequently, they are now better equipped to effectively discharge their roles as leaders in the different MDAs of the state’s public service.

The result is that the citizens are now steadily being regarded as kings and as such are being accorded the utmost honor and respect. Thus, by and by, we are marching towards the realization of the state government’s vision for a Lagos State that can compete with the most admired global cities. This, indeed, is the real essence of the public service.

Akintola Benson Oke