Customer Service
CUSTOMER SERVICE NON-EXISTENT IN GOVERNMENT

Published June 13 by HNN, http://www.huntingtonnews.net/115801

By Rene A. Henry

  SEATTLE, Wash., June 12 – Customer service is an oxymoron in government at all levels: federal, state, county
and city. It is getting so bad that soon it will be non-existent.

I applauded Rep. Henry Cuellar (R-Texas) when he recognized this and introduced the Government Customer
Service Improvement Act which passed the U.S. House of Representatives on September 11, 2012. His bill is a sad
commentary on society today that legislation is needed to remind public servants to practice good old fashioned
common courtesy and to combat their rudeness, inefficiency and incompetency.

Regrettably, members of the Congressman’s own staff and those serving on his Congressional staff committees
most likely have not read or understand the legislation and certainly do not practice its intent. Last November I
contacted his press secretary, Miranda Margowsky, and Congressional staff for an update so I could write this
article. For more than six months we exchanged emails until I pushed for answers and then no one responded..

A month ago when I called Rep. Cuellar’s office I learned he had a new press secretary, Kristen Hartman, so I left
word for her to call me. Two weeks later with no response I wrote Rep. Cuellar asking for help. Receiving no timely
response, I next talked with Lindsey Teel who told me she handled correspondence related to legislative matters
and said all letters sent by mail took three weeks to be cleared by security.

This could be yet another ridiculous reason why Congress gets nothing accomplished. Perhaps because of TSA’s
95 percent failure rate the Congressional post office believes it needs to double, triple and quadruple check all mail.
Congress should be more concerned about computers and email being hacked like so many other areas of our
government. Today a letter mailed through the U.S. Postal Service might be the safest way to communicate.

I emailed Teel the letter in question and asked her to respond upon receipt and she did not. On another call lst
week to his office I asked the woman who answered the phone if she was familiar with the bill and she responded: “I’
m not authorized to discuss that.” And that’s customer service?

When H.R. 538 passed the House, the Social Security Administration sent a notice to its offices but from my
personal experience either no one in the Seattle region read it or they chose to ignore the intent of the bill. The
same is true for the Medicare administrator in Department of Health and Human Services in Washington and the
Seattle regional office.

For several weeks I’ve been working on a story about the failure of the Department of Education to enforce
compliance of Title IX in athletics but Sandra Battle, the deputy assistant secretary for enforcement, will not respond.
When you call her office you get a recording that tells you that you cannot leave a message but to email ocr@ed.
gov where repeated emails have been ignored.

When you notify the FTC on its “Do Not Call” registry about a robodialed or unsolicited phone call don’t bother
taking time to write anything in the “comments” section. No one at the FTC reads them.

There is nothing magic about customer service. It is just basic common sense. But there is so little of that in any
government anywhere. I spent 10 years in federal service at three departments and agencies serving
administrations of both parties and this is why I included a separate chapter just on government customer service in
my latest book, “Customer Service: the cornerstone of success.”

When I headed communications and government relations for the Mid-Atlantic States region of the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency in Philadelphia, thanks to Lawrence Teller, my senior communications advisor, we
established a policy for all government agencies to copy.

“Our surveys of Congressional offices, state agencies and the public we served consistently showed that prompt
replies were much preferred to more ‘perfect’ replies that took days or longer. Why? The survey results and my 35
years of government experience tell me that people value a caring attitude at least as much as the specific
information provided in response to their inquires,” says Teller.

We were the first EPA region that established a sizeable cash award to recognize the outstanding customer service
performer each year. Here are a few of our practices:

•        Respond to all phone calls the same day and no later than the end of the next business day.
•        Respond to all letters, faxes and e-mails within 72 hours. Respond to emails preferably within 24 hours. Give
an interim reply when a complete answer is going to be delayed.
•        Update the voice mailbox weekly and always when on travel. Many of our employees updated their voice
mailbox daily.
•        When on travel or vacation, an “out of office” response should be left for emails or the voice mailbox and
preferably with someone as an emergency contact.

Teller, also spearheaded customer service as the lead for all EPA regions, says the following additional principles
were adopted as EPA’s Six Principles of Customer Service:

•        Be helpful! Listen to your customers.
•        Respond to all phone calls by the end of the next business day.
•        Respond to all correspondence within 10 business days. (Headquarters and the other regions did not adopt
our 72-hour policy of the Philadelphia region).
•        Make clear, timely, accurate information accessible.
•        Work collaboratively with partners to improve all products and services.
•        Involve customers and use their ideas.

The U.S. Department of Transportation keeps track of all airline complaints and annually releases the results. This
is what is needed in government today. Shine a spotlight on those who are doing a good job and those who are
failing.   

I question why anyone in government or for that matter, any senior position in any company or organization, cannot
communicate. Is it because of rude and insulting behavior? Malfeasance? Incompetence? Illiterate regarding
common courtesy? Or all of the above? Maybe the libertarians are right – if the government employees can’t do
their jobs simply eliminate them and cut the budget.


Selected Op/Eds and Commentaries
To access any of the following, click on the headline ...

Customer Service Is Non-Exitent In Government, published by Huntington New Network, June 13, 2015, http:
//www.huntingtonnews.net/115801
Customer service is an oxymoron in government at all levels: federal, state, county and city. It is getting so bad that
soon it will be non-existent.  I applauded Rep. Henry Cuellar (R-Texas) when he recognized this and introduced the
Government Customer Service Improvement Act which passed the U.S. House of Representatives on September 11,
2012. His bill is a sad commentary on society today that legislation is needed to remind public servants to practice
good old fashioned common courtesy and to combat their rudeness, inefficiency and incompetency. ...

Silicon Valley Is Destroying Courtesy, Customer Service, published by Huntington News Network, May 19,
2013, and Jack O'Dwyer's Newsletter
The proliferation of social media and the almost daily introduction of new electronic devices are quickly destroying
good old fashioned common courtesy, the backbone of customer service.  I lay the blame on the tecchies in Silicon
Valley. They have created a generation of people who are all thumbs into their pads, pods, berries, and phones and
oblivious to the world around them...

Customer Service Sells for Cruise Lines, published by Huntington News Network, November 21, 2001
Crystal Cruises is another company that is proving my thesis that many people want and will pay more for customer
service. This cruise from New York City to Los Angeles on the company's Crystal Symphony is sold out and the
travelers are proving that even in a depressed economy or recession that they will pay extra for great customer
service ...

Customer Service Does Sell - Ask Ally Bank, Discover Card, published by Huntington News Network,
September 21, 2010
Customer service has virtually disappeared and is becoming an oxymoron at too many American companies.  
However, there are two believers who are not only winning new customers but raising the concerns of their
competitors. Ally Bank and Discover card believe consumers today want service and both are doing a great job
spoofing all of the negative stereotypes of other banks and financial institutions with clever and humorous television
campaigns....

Government Spokesmen Are Paid to Speak, published by O'Dwyers Public Relations News, April 30, 2008
Government spokespeople have an obligation to the taxpaying public to speak to the media when asked to do so. ..

Return Every Call, Answer Every Letter, published  by Huntington News Network, May 16, 2009; www.
odwyerpr.com, May 27, 2009; and CoSIDA Newsletter (College Sports Information Directors of America), May
22, 2009
Early in my career I had a mentor who told me to promptly return every telephone call and answer every letter.  It
was some of the best advice I've ever been given.  And, over the years, with new technology, I've added faxes and e-
mails to that list. ...

Customer Service Even More Important Today, published May 2009 by Automated Builder magazine
There is nothing magic about customer service.  It's just basic, common sense - street smarts.  Treat people the way
you want to be treated, only better.  Don't just meet, but exceed your customers' expectations. ...