Customer Centricity in the public sector: innovation or obligation?

Written by Silvana Buljan for Buljan & Partners Consulting

I stopped reading the newspaper. Just writing this gives me an enormous feeling of liberation. There´s no day that passes without bad news topping nice announcements – if there actually are any! Bad news nowadays are led by disorder and corruption affairs in economy and politics. It seems that there´s no way of coming to the top without betrayal, intrigue, avarice, and hunger for power, exactly the opposite that is told and taught in schools and universities all over the world. This blogpost would be endless if I shared my reflections on the “state of the art” of our society, so I will be reducing it to some thoughts on the public sector.

Before the German Prussian politician Otto von Bismarck founded the bases for a public civil service as profession in the 19th century, first steps towards citizens serving citizens were already present in the Antique (Egypt, China, Roman Empire). And this is what it really is about: citizens serving citizens. Do we – meaning those citizens receiving service by public service professionals like for instance politicians – feel that we are served according to our expectations? Do we measure the return of investment that we have on the investment in the country we reside in by paying taxes? Are we conscious of the power democracy and freedom of opinion offer?

I observe a mass behavior of being outraged, protesting against cost cutting in public services, organizing demonstrations, but no individual efforts in complaining about concrete issues as we usually do as customers when paying for a product or service. There´s no difference in the public sector: we pay the services we receive with our taxes, every year increasing in a disproportional manner without receiving the equivalent value. Some of us pay more taxes, others less. Some of us use more services, others less. So far I have not seen an analysis made by governments as it is a habit in private companies: they know their customers, know what they spend with them, analyze customer satisfaction surveys, and personalize marketing activities – and have loyalty programs in place! Why is the public sector so far away from that?

Customer Centric Management should be an obligation in the public sector to the same degree as it is in the private sector: a company that is not able to delight customers and deliver excellent products and services will not survive in the longterm (as long as it is no monopole). And customer centricity starts with observing, listening and getting to know customers. It also includes “making the numbers” and analyzing the give and take of the relationship. Customer value could be translated into citizen value, would that be so wrong? It must not mean that one citizen has more value than the other, but it can mean that one contributes more than the other, and this could be translated into equal benefits in times of incapacity.

All in all, we cannot sustain a system that builds on equality on the one hand (diversity, equal rights, democracy, etc.) and on imbalance on the other (legal rights, obligations, responsibilities, etc.). Every customer knows what he gets for what he pays. No citizen nowadays has got the same amount of information and direct impact. Are we fine with this?


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