Legend has it that during the early days of Amazon.com, CEO Jeff Bezos would wheel an empty chair into important meetings. In that chair, he told executives, was the most important person in the room: the customer.
Amazon relentlessly focuses on putting customers’ needs first. In survey after survey, Amazon is number one for customer experience. This obsession with customers has paid off, with Amazon last year becoming the most valuable retailer in the world.
The formula is simple: start with what the customer needs and work backwards. Get it right, and you win over customers for the long haul.
Perhaps it’s because governments don’t need to win customers that they stubbornly neglect to put citizens at the centre, with services designed around what is best for government agencies, not the people they serve.
While we demand great service from our banks, telcos and retailers, we settle for less from government services, despite paying for them with our taxes.
It’s high time governments joined the customer revolution.
To do that, we must ask ourselves two questions: are our services designed around the citizen? And have we chosen the right people to run them?
My view is that citizens don’t actually care who provides a service, as long as it’s done well and is cost effective.
Take Sydney Ferries, run under a franchise arrangement with a private operator for the last four years. A recent audit found on-time running was up, complaints were down and taxpayers had saved over $100 million.
Most importantly, customers were happier with the service.
Then there’s Service NSW.
Run by the public sector, Service NSW has taken over 850 transactions from 40 different agencies and put them in one place. Many Service NSW centres are open from 7am to 7pm, so you can visit outside work hours. You can check wait times before you leave home and book appointments. An increasing number of transactions are available online or via the mobile app. Satisfaction with the service is currently running at 97%.
These are just two government services where we have taken a customer-focused, outcome-driven approach.
But this is just a start: all of our services should be delivered with the best quality and the best value.
That is why the Treasurer and I today announced a new initiative: an expert Commissioning and Contestability Unit within NSW Treasury to identify and drive service reform across government.
Commissioning addresses the first question I posed – is a particular service designed around the end user? – by scoping, defining and costing the service, so the Government understands who the end-users are, what the direct revenues and expenses are, what the service quality is like, and how the government service stacks up against other jurisdictions and the private sector.
Contestability looks at the second question: who is best placed to run the service?
Here the unit will carefully consider whether other providers can deliver services the government currently delivers itself; whether a service could benefit from some form of competition; or whether the public sector is ultimately the most appropriate entity to run it, as with Service NSW.
The Government already does this work to some extent. For example, a new competitive tender for the John Morony Correctional Complex will evaluate bids from private operators and Correctional Services NSW.
But citizens have the right to expect high quality services right across the board, from hospitals to prisons to ferries and beyond.
That’s why the new unit will work collaboratively with agencies across government on designing customer-oriented services, improving delivery models, introducing competition, harnessing innovation and driving value for taxpayer money.
This is our plan to ensure NSW citizens have access to the best services, built around their needs.
Importantly, it avoids the lazy option of simply borrowing more or increasing the tax burden to improve services, because, first and foremost, our responsibility to taxpayers is to make better use of the resources we already have.
It’s time for governments to bring Amazon’s empty “customer” chair into the room – to put the “service” back in public service, and inject a customer-first approach in all of the services government delivers.
Using commissioning and contestability will enable us to do just that.
Read the article on LinkedIn here