Taking care of business

Results drive research.

That was the message from the research committee of the Public Sector Service Delivery Council (PSSDC) at this year’s Lac Carling Congress. The research presentation, “Taking Care of Business,” was delivered by Brian Marson of the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat and Charles Vincent of the Institute for Citizen-Centred Service (ICCS). Delegates were reminded that the driver for PSSDC research was results and that the goal behind the research work of the committee is to provide public sector managers not just with tables and graphs, but with clear direction from Canadians about how to improve service.

For example, the Citizens First surveys have shown that citizens expect as good or better service from the public sector as from the private sector. However, 25 per cent do not know where to find a given service, and once they know where it is, have difficulty accessing it. Finally, once they do find the service, their satisfaction with it is measured by its speed, the courtesy and competence of service providers, the fairness of the process itself and the outcome. Citizen priorities for improvement in government service include one-stop service, better telephone and ESD service, and improved timeliness.

With this kind of information regarding the challenges and drivers of service satisfaction, Canadian governments have been able to set priorities and take action for improvement. The presentation noted that service ratings since the findings of the initial Citizens First survey have, overall, gone up at the municipal, provincial and federal levels. Not only that — for the fourth year in a row, Accenture has ranked Canada first in e-government maturity.

The report also reminded delegates of the pending fourth Canadian service survey in the Citizens First series. The research objectives include learning more about citizen views on service and client segmentation, marketing of service options, telephone service delivery, confidence in public institutions, security and privacy concerns in ESD and channel synergies. The main section of the report discussed the findings of the major survey, Taking Care of Business. This survey of business attitudes toward government service asked a cross section of 5,965 Canadian businesses their views on government service access (by channel, service type and characteristic), service quality (of 32 separate services), drivers of satisfaction, service preferences (including an exploration of third party service delivery) and client relationships.

Once again, the objective of the research was to provide hard information that would set the stage for government improvement of services to business. Regarding business needs and expectations, the data shows that respondents believe that governments have a greater challenge than the private sector delivering high quality service since they must protect the public interest as well as meet the needs and expectations of businesses. Nonetheless, many still expect government service to businesses to be better than that of the private sector.

Regarding the transactional experience itself, it was learned that 25 per cent of all service transactions between business and government involve more than one level of government and that 84 per cent of all business/government interactions are compliance-based. Regarding access to government services, businesses expect multi-channel service options for three-quarters of the service interactions they undertake with government, suggesting that future research should look at efficient channel combinations. At this time, the telephone is used the most by businesses, and while Citizens First has shown that the fax is not a popular channel among Canadians, it has a high usage among businesses.

The biggest access challenge facing businesses — like those of citizens — is finding the required service; once they find it, they then need help getting the information they require. Businesses report that “being informed of everything you have to do to get a service” is the biggest determinant of whether a business finds a service easy to access. This would suggest that governments need to find strategies to ensure that this knowledge is readily available. Interestingly, and perhaps because of this challenge, 75 per cent of the respondents end up using intermediaries to do this work for them

Businesses rated the overall service quality of 13,690 service experiences over a six-month period at 3.41 out of a possible five. An assessment of the findings regarding the factors that determine whether a business has a positive or negative service experience (the “drivers of satisfaction”) led to five common themes: Communication (being informed), minimizing burden, fair treatment, outcome and timeliness.

Toby Fyfe (tfyfe@sympatico.ca) is a federal public servant in Ottawa and a long-time participant in the Lac Carling Congress.

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