It’s long been a popular sport to complain and talk trash about government customer service/constituent service employees. These public servants are popular punching bags for politicians as well, a reality grimly catalogued in Michael Lewis’s brilliant book, The Fifth Risk. On one side of the political aisle in particular, it’s popular to suggest (in the interest of scoring political points) that government workers are essentially do-nothings who love to sit around and waste taxpayer money.
I beg to differ. As a customer service and customer experience consultant and training designer/trainer working within and outside of government agencies, K-12 education, and constituent-serving institutions (and simply as a constituent myself) I admire and revere the essential work that customer service workers employed by federal, state, and local governments, school systems, and related entities do to safeguard, sustain, and improve our wellbeing.
It’s important to celebrate these rarely honored employees, departments, divisions, agencies, particularly important during the current crisis, when they’re obliged to carry out their work while undergoing extraordinary stresses themselves. (Do you think it’s easy to switch to teaching and running a school system by remote, as hundreds of thousands of educators and classified employees in K-12 have suddenly had to do? And, on top of that, to try to pull this off while simultaneously serving as entertainment director for your own kids at home–and worrying about your own health status?)
Customer-facing governmental employees, and the employees behind the scenes who develop and troubleshoot the technologies and processes that allow them to do their best work, are citizens like you and me who have chosen this particular calling, sometimes in lieu of shooting for greater wealth in the private sector.
The calling itself is the motivation for many, including those who work behind the scenes, who provide internal customer service to those who serve on the frontlines of governmental work, as is the case for the information technology team helmed by Jonathan Feldman, Director of IT Services for the City of Asheville, North Carolina:
Jonathan Feldman, Asheville NC CIO
We find it particularly motivating when we keep in mind that when we serve internal customers, they are able to serve the external customer better. In the case of IT in a local government, when we do a great job of serving police, fire, water, and sanitation, these folks are much better able to focus on making our community better for everyone.
Part of the pull can be the chance to serve those facing similar challenges to what you’ve faced yourself. As Todd Johnson, Chief, Office of the Patient Experience and Advocacy at Washington DC VA (Veterans Affairs) Medical Center puts it,
Todd Johnson, Chief, Office of the Patient Experience and Advocacy at Washington DC VA (Veterans … [+]
Being in the government doesn’t mean that we are “other.” I’m a vet; my wife’s a vet; my sons are vets. Working in the VA, I’m aware every day that it’s an honor to serve my brothers and sisters in arms.
Of course, what Johnson says here isn’t unique to his particular context. Workers at a state DMV are also customers of the DMV. Workers in City Hall are often constituents themselves. Employees, both classified and certificated, in K-12 education are very likely to have children and grandchildren in the school system. Even where there isn’t such a tidy mirroring as this, any well-intentioned (and well-trained) government worker will stretch their perspective to achieve the “situational empathy” needed to get on the same wavelength as the constituent they are serving.
Who are they doing this all for? You. Me. Constituents. Citizens.
In other words, customers.
Micah Solomon is a customer service and customer experience consultant, speaker, trainer, and training designer. Micah was recently named “the World’s #1 Customer Service Turnaround Expert” by Inc. Magazine. Reach him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org, visit his website, or check out his new bestseller: Ignore Your Customers (and They’ll Go Away) (HarperCollins Leadership).