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Customer Service


I am looking for suggestions for some practical exercises and content suggestions for a customer service course for a governemnt agency. It's non-profit focussed (but it incorporates staff that includes administration, management, research, physical labour/construction, etc.)

Many thanks.

Jarlath Duffy
jarlath duffy

4 Responses

  1. Role-play is one possibility
    If one of the learning outcomes is to have enhanced skills for dealing with irate customers then role-play is one way of helping the participants to achieve this. This can be structured to run in groups of 3, an employee, a complainer and an observer. The following is an example for another public service but you could use this as a template for a situation relevant to your agency. You just need a vivid imagination, or access to/experience of previous complaints.

    Employee Brief
    • You are Steve, one of the hospital car park attendants.
    • You are checking the cars in the out-patients pay-and-display car park.
    • One of the cars is not displaying a parking voucher, and after waiting 20 minutes to allow for the owner to return you stick a fixed penalty parking ticket on the windscreen.
    • Just as you are leaving the area a very distressed and irate looking Mrs Sortum approaches you.

    Complainer Brief
    • You are Mrs Sortum.
    • You recently found a lump and your doctor made an urgent referral to your local hospital. You arrived at the hospital about two hours ago for an out-patient appointment. Your journey was delayed by road works.
    • On arrival you found that you hadn’t got enough change for the parking machine. You asked in the hospital shop if they could change a £5 note, but the assistant told you in a rather abrupt manner that they don’t give change for parking. As you were a few minutes late you decided to find the clinic otherwise you may have missed your turn.
    • You had to wait over an hour until you were called and all the time you were worried about what the doctor would find, and about not paying for parking. You have seen the doctor and he wants you to return in a few days for an urgent biopsy.
    • As you hurry back to your car you see a parking ticket stuck to the windscreen. You see the car parking attendant and you run towards him. You approach him very angrily …..

    • Irate and annoyed.
    • Point out all the problems you have had getting to the hospital, being late for your appointment, not having enough change for parking, and being refused change in the hospital shop, having a long wait in the clinic, being very worried about seeing the doctor.
    • Demand that the parking ticket is removed and cancelled, otherwise you want the name and telephone number of the Chief Executive.

    Observer Brief
    1. ‘Employee’ gives their view:
    • How do you think it went?
    • What went well?
    • What might you do differently next time?
    2. ‘Complainer’ gives their view:
    • What was it like being on the receiving end?
    • What was good about it?
    • What could have been improved?
    3. ‘Observer’ give their view – positive feedback FIRST
    • What went well?
    • What could have gone better?
    • How did the employee come across to you, if you were the other party?
    • Summarise your feedback.

    As there are angry emotions involved then role-play delivery skills are needed and it is important to de-role afterwards.

  2. who, or what, is the customer?
    It may not be relevant in this case but I have found, working with public sector/quangos/agencies, that a large part of the issue is the question of who is the customer. Is it~
    #the end user of the service
    #the organisation the agency uses as providers
    #the government department that holds the budget
    #the taxpaying public
    #the party in power
    #the mandarin who heads the agency

    I find that this issue is a real eye opener for them that then sets the tone for much that comes after. It releases much feeling from some staff about the difference between a “customer” and a patient/passenger/claimant/student/resident etc etc etc.

    If you have the range of delegates you refer to it is also worth looking at the customer chain since traditionally much of the problem in the government sector relates to the chain element falling down, resulting in the “customer facing” staff being unable to provide good service due to the decisions/support(or lack of) from other departments.

    Hope this helps

  3. Delegate’s personal experiences
    It can be very useful, early on, to ask for one out-of-work example of when they have received good customer service and one when they received poor customer service. It is quite telling that many people find it difficult to identify good examples, whereas it is usually easy to identify poor examples! Then to discuss how they felt at the time and what the consequences were afterwards. Then ask them to identify what the consequences are for their agency of good/poor customer service. How will a poorly-treated customer of their agency feel?

    Another issue can be, for government agencies which are in effect monopolies, that the ‘customers’ have no choice/alternative. What are the implications for the agency of being a monopoly? What frame of mind could a customer be in who has no choice but to return following a previous bad experience? What are the implications for the customer if they don’t return at all?

    My experience of delivering customer service/handling complaints training has mainly been with the NHS. I found that some delegates found it difficult to ‘buy into’ good customer service. This seemed to be partly because they found it difficult to consider their service users as customers (similar to Russell Slater’s comments), and partly because they didn’t feel cared for, valued and respected themselves as employees. If these issues are relevant to your agency then perhaps they need to be explored.

    By the end of your training event the delegates ought to be able to identify examples of existing good practice and areas which need to be improved.

  4. Customer identification, and personal experience
    I strongly support the inputs about customer identification, and personal experience. I have used the personal experience technique in both the private and the public sector, and it is powerful as it engages both the emotional centre of the brain as well as the more rational part of the brain. I’m always amazed how quickly raw emotion enters the room, and how powerful that can be. Get it right, and behaviour change follows. However, Russell’s caution on identifying the key customer groups/stakeholders and their “interests” is also important.
    Good luck
    Dick Townsend


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