How SHARP is your customer service edge?

What do Amazon, Trader Joe’s, Apple and County Health and Human Service agencies have in common?

The answer is – they’ve created a customer-centric business model. The notion of putting the customer first has become a competitive advantage for these private sector companies – it’s what they are known for. In the public sector, it is now becoming an organizational mandate. What organization doesn’t want their customers to be happy? It seems like a no-brainer – but still many organizations struggle with this concept. And though this concept may at first blush appear as something that is unique to the private sector, it applies to government-operated organizations as well.

Based on my experience in working with health and human services agencies, I’ve put together a short checklist for how to determine if your county Health and Human Services organization is a customer-centric organization, and assess how sharp your “edge” is when it comes to client service.

Directions: Score how your organization performs for each question. For some questions, you may choose to give yourself a partial score.

  • ~If you measure client satisfaction at regular intervals, give yourself five points.

  • ~If a focused, consistent customer care message is featured prominently in all client-facing materials and facilities, add three points.

  • ~If you offer more than a single method for your clients to obtain the information or help they need, add five points. If you truly have a ‘No Wrong Door” service, give yourself 10 points.

  • ~If you manage and react to customers waiting in your call que as much as the lobby, add three points.

  • ~If more than 90 percent of your inquiries can be handled without transferring the caller multiple times, add five points. If you don’t know, deduct five points.

  • ~If you manage customer impacting FUNCTIONS such as lobby, phone, work processing as closely as you manage people, buildings and policy, give yourself 5 points. If you just added phones and tasks but have not made a REAL cultural shift to being client driven – deduct 10 points

  • ~If you have seen a significant reduction of call wait times in the last six months, give yourself 10 points

  • ~Data Driven Management… if you know what it is, give yourself five points. If you have actually re-organized to use data driven management practices – give yourself another five points.

  • ~If you do something with the customer information, such as re-allocate staff resources based on customer need, reorganize workflows, manage client communication more clearly etc. – give yourself seven points.

  • ~If you have invested in pro-active communication to educate your community based organizations and customers on how to do business with you today, give your self 10 points and a pat on the back!


63-53 points – Sharp Enough to Split an Atom – Wow! You give a new definition to the meaning of “world class” and are probably one of the highest performing services agencies in the state.

52-42 points – Ginsu knife, carving out excellent client services – It’s likely that service is a defining attribute in your agency.

41-31 points – A worn, hand-me-down knife. You need to get more serious about client satisfaction, and have a look at what other county agencies are doing to serve their clients.

30-20 points – Dull. If you’re reading this article, hopefully there is a tops-down initiative in place. Call in the cavalry now.

20 or less – A rusted relic – You are not delivering the kind of dignified services your clients deserve, and it must be corrected immediately.

It’s our observation that the best customer service plans approach it from four quadrants:

  • ~Philosophy and vision – a clear, crisp message championed by leadership in your organization and backed by organizational-wide accountability for client satisfaction.

  • ~Process – engineering, documentation, training and communication of both customer service/call center processes and the inter-departmental dependencies and hand-offs.

  • ~Personnel – great talent, skillful development, properly compensated and respected career paths (often the most overlooked element of customer services, but it’s the people on the phone that make the greatest impression on your clients).

  • ~Infrastructure and technology – fast, flexible, automated, integrated and user friendly, designed to accommodate the people and processes… not the other way around.

The good news is that you don’t have to figure out all of the fixes for a customer-centric health and human services agency yourself. In fact, for anything outside of your core competence, it is advisable that you don’t. Where your internal expertise runs out, there are legions of consultants and outsourcing vendors to fill the gaps. These days, the best solutions creatively leverage all three.

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