This is the second of a 2-part article. You may want to start with Part 1 located here…
Government is a Service Business
Service is a means of delivering value to customers by facilitating the outcomes customers want to achieve without the ownership of specific cost and risks. When we purchase something “as a service,” we want to directly experience the outcome or benefit without having to worry about the know-how, systems, and processes it takes to deliver it.
To say that government is a services provider is to say that government delivers value to the governed (that is you and me) by facilitating outcomes the governed want to achieve without the ownership of specific costs and risks of undertaking to achieve these outcomes individually or even in small groups. Take National Defense as an example of a government-provided service. Most people will agree that a nation has a much better chance of withstanding a foreign aggressor if it maintains an army than if the people were to rely on the tenacity of individuals or the valiant efforts of small militias. Other examples include the construction of roads and canals, the conduct of diplomacy and foreign affairs, and general enforcement of the laws of the land.
The 5 Government Services
In fact, everything government does can be categorized as one of five types of services.
- National Services are government services to the nation as a whole, without intent to benefit one group, region, or industry more than another, including regulation that affects more than one industry. National services are the purest sense of government services and we associate them with the missions of the Department of Defense, the Congress, the Federal Trade Commission, and the Environmental Protection Agency.
- Citizen Services are provided directly to members of the public or individuals. Examples include Veterans Benefits, Social Security, Federal Student Aid, Pensions, and the DMV.
- Industry Services are provided for the benefit of specific industries either as a whole or to firms directly, including industry-specific regulation. Examples include the Federal Aviation Administration’s air traffic control, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and much of the Department of Agriculture.
- Regional Services are provided to or for the benefit of discrete geographic areas. This includes parts or all of multiple States. Examples are the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Appalachian Regional Commission.
- Intra-governmental Services are provided to other parts of the government. The work of the General Services Administration is the quintessential example of this type of service. Internal or Shared service providers with departments and agencies such as human resources, acquisition or procurement, information technology, and finance are also forms of intra-governmental services.
Call to Action
Service is about delivering value to customers by facilitating outcomes. Customers are the recipient of the value delivered by the service — usually, but not necessarily, the ones who pay for a service. A family goes out to dinner, they are the restaurant’s customers; you buy a new pair of shoes at the mall, you are the shoe store’s customer; a homeless woman receives shelter and meals from a donor-funded organization, the woman — as opposed to the donors — is the organization’s customer.
While these examples are seemingly straightforward, this concept can get lost in the day-to-day operations of a service organization. Customers are a discrete subset of their stakeholders, but at times these other stakeholders have more direct influence, control, or presence which can sometimes distract us from the needs of the consumers. For this reason, it is critical to build a customer-driven mindset into the culture of the organization and integrate it systemically into the core operations of the service. In addition to being good for customers, it also renews the sense of purpose that likely called employees to public service in the first place. Service business philosophy permeates all aspects of program management.
In our practice, we identified nearly a dozen key aspects of a government services where a customer-focused shift can significantly improve overall program performance. This means that solutions to improve your organization’s customer experience will also have a direct impact on your mission’s bottom line — lower costs, more efficient processes, higher employee productivity. Look closely and you will find there is a role for your customers in nearly every aspect of your business.
Not understanding that the mission is always to do something for someone also has consequences. Opportunities to grow on what government does well or eliminate waste are not detected early enough. Not understanding that every mission has a customer means that public service will only sometimes include customer service and public satisfaction as legitimate metrics. Not thinking of itself as a service business means that improvements in government performance will be isolated and driven by a random cadre of passionate leaders constantly challenged by the long-term average of “good enough for government work.”
It Is Time to Change the Tone of Government Services
Government is fundamentally a service business, at least for nations in which government is founded on the consent of the governed. All who touch government would be decidedly better off if they conceived of government as a service business and operated as such. This extensive ecosystem includes government executives and employees, legislators, judges, suppliers, service providers, consultants, lobbyists, and every citizen.
Once we acknowledge that government is fundamentally the provision of services we will be better able to assess government value and performance. The debates over what missions the government should and shouldn’t undertake will continue as long as the Republic stands, but each time a new service is provisioned or a program funded, it should start out with a clear understanding of who the customers’ are they are expected to serve, what risks are the customers’ trying to avoid, and what outcomes those customers are expecting.