A few days ago, I had the need to call a government agency to get clarification on an outstanding issue. After navigating the labyrinth phone tree set up to keep me away from other human contact, I finally reached a customer service professional. After telling the voice on the other end the nature of my call and what I needed from her organization, she placed me on hold (why is still unclear since she didn't feel the need to tell me, nor did she ask if putting me on hold was even OK, but that's another discussion). A few minutes later she returned to tell me that she had no record of me in their system. After an uncomfortable silence, I reminded the voice on the phone that I had received correspondence from her department and the letter referenced her number to call if I had any questions; how could this be? Her answer; "sir, I don't know what to tell you, if you're not in the system there's nothing I can do for you". Rather than get completely frustrated, I apologized for interrupting her and thanked her for her time.
My initial reaction was to mark this experience up to another bad service story courtesy of the great folks in our federal government, but I think it's more complicated than that. Government employees seem to be unhappier than the rest of us, and their service delivery to the public is almost always less than satisfactory, but why? I think the answer can be found in job satisfaction.
Think about some of the country's best customer service organizations. No matter what the industry, the companies that deliver the best service to their customers all have one very clear characteristic in common; their employees are generally very happy and excited to be a part of the organization. If you don't believe me, see for yourself. Take a look at Fortune magazine's list of America's best companies for 2006, or any year for that matter. You'll find that the great companies are great companies because they have great people who are excited about the organizations they work for. When job satisfaction is high, those great feelings are usually transferred to customers in the way of high quality service delivery. When feelings aren't so warm, it too shows up in customer service delivery as a reflection of how employees feel about the place they work.
Now that I've uncovered the secret of all service(no thanks necessary), think about this the next time you have to call a place like Comcast, or you visit the folks at a service-focused establishment like Nordstrom's. Your experience during these exchanges will tell you a lot about how the company's representatives feel about their organization.