Customer service challenges facing public sector

By Fiona Wilkins, Corporate Communications Manager

YPO sets out customer service challenges facing public sector 

Budget, reduced staff numbers and barriers to innovation are the biggest challenges to improving customer service in the public sector according to new research from YPO, the UK’s largest public sector buying organisation. 

To mark National Customer Service Week 2017 (Oct 2-6), YPO, one of only a handful of public bodies to be a member of the Institute for Customer Service (ICS), has revealed the findings of national research among public sector workers and UK consumers¹. The survey, which explores the realities of customer service in the public sector, found half (49%) of those working in the public sector say budgetary constraints and reduced staff numbers are the biggest challenge to delivering good customer service now and in the future (39%). While stretched budgets are also cited as a barrier to innovation.

Against a backdrop of rising financial pressure for public organisations the advent of social media is putting further pressure on customer service as it changes the way consumers and service users communicate.  The social shaming power of Twitter and Facebook has seen public organisations formalise their digital approach. 

The majority of public sector workers surveyed (83%) said the rise of social media has made public sector organisations take customer service more seriously, a development welcomed by 87% of workers as a ‘good thing’. A third (34.3%) said their customers and service users should be able to share great experiences through social media and almost a quarter of customers and service users said they would use social media to express their satisfaction (23%) or complain (18%).

Jo Marshall, Executive Director at YPO comments, “As public sector organisations face the challenge of decreased funding coupled with increasing demand, they are looking to find new, innovative ways of working to improve customer service. This research explores what good customer service looks like in the public and private sector, challenges and barriers to good customer service and what it feels like for those who deliver and receive services.”

One area highlighted from the survey is the potential for sharing experiences and key learnings between public and private sector to create improvements and innovation. The research found that 72% of public sector workers were not able to compare levels of innovation across the sectors suggesting that increased collaboration would be beneficial. 

“More effective collaboration across the public and private sector and with suppliers will create a more productive environment in which to innovate and will enable public sector organisations to continue to set the pace of improvement,” said Jo Marshall. 

Other ways to innovate include moving services online, however, the suggestion received a mixed response. The majority of public sector workers say they are in favour (69%) while consumers and service users are less enthusiastic. Nearly half (44%) believe there would be no improvement in customer service as a result. 

“The YPO customer service research raises some interesting issues and topics for debate and reveals key themes for public organisations facing difficult choices when planning to meet customer expectations today and in the future,” continued Jo Marshall. “Together with developing on-line and digital responses, improving competencies through training and upskilling, implementing effective listening and creating a culture of continuous improvement are all revealed to be central to improved customer service.” 

The findings and insights from the research, together with YPO’s recommendations for the future of customer service in the public sector, are set out in a new Customer Service White Paper: “Improving customer service in the public sector”.

Download a copy or email [email protected] 

 ¹ The research was carried out by Opinion Matters between 18/11/2016 and 23/11/2016. Sample: 502 public sector workers / 1989 UK consumers.