Recently I was at a conference  where former New Labour spin-doctor Alistair Campbell was speaking. He stated that the “citizen and the consumer had merged” and that people want “private sector standards and public sector values”.  I pondered on this and decided it meant that people want the efficiency of the private sector and the care of the public sector. Hold that thought.

Alison and colleagues with Alistair Campbell

A few weeks earlier I attended a Citizen to Government event “Digital by Default” where Martha Lane Fox, UK’s Digital Government champion, was asked by a local government worker, “What would someone from the private sector know about customer service? Surely all the private sector is interested in is making profits.”  To which Ms Lane Fox raised an eyebrow and said “Trust me, if the private sector delivers poor customer service, they will make no profits”.

Finally, and by this time you must think I am a professional event attendee, I was at KANA’s UK Customer Summit in September last year. Speaker Ross Shafer, spoke about how delivering good customer service would ensure customer retention and would avoid defection to the competition. One of KANA’s Local Government customers, who shall remain nameless, leaned over to me and said “Why should I care about this?  We are a Council, the citizens have to come to us. There is no competition.” She was right.  They didn’t have to worry about competition, but is it short-sighted to not care about delivering good customer service?

Here’s why Local Government must learn to care; delivering good customer service, i.e. delivering products and services in an efficient and professional way, in the private sector leads to increased profits and customer loyalty and in Local Government it leads to cost savings, citizen loyalty and the re-election of Local Government politicians. In elections where the voter turnout can be as low as 20%, relatively few disgruntled citizens can significantly influence the result.

In addition, in the UK, the Localism Bill, passed in May 2011 will establish a “community right to challenge”. This means that voluntary groups, social enterprises, parish councils and others will be able to express an interest in taking over council-run services – the local authority will have to consider it. It could prompt a bidding exercise in which the group could then compete. Therefore the lack of competition that used to exist is no longer a given,

Like Alistair Campbell, at KANA we believe there is no difference between the needs of our customers’ customers- be they “citizens” or “consumers”. They expect excellent customer service experiences. In fact we believe this so strongly that KANA, with a predominantly private sector customer base, acquired Lagan, with approaching 200 government customers worldwide, in October 2010. We recognised the benefits each organisation’s technology could bring to our joint customers.

You can find out more about what we’re doing to support Digital Government and Local Government solutions on our new web pages at www.KANA.com

Alison Palmer is Marketing Manager, UK and North America, KANA