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Over the past decade, customer service in every industry – including the public sector – has completely evolved to become a real-time information hub for customers. Customer service used to be almost exclusively phone interaction, often with significant wait times and uneven results, but now it includes email, online chat and social media.

Quite obviously, the driving force behind the next generation of customer service is the change in consumer communication preferences. They want instantaneous, constant, digital communication and are demanding immediate service and feedback from their peers, brands of all sizes and even government agencies. Think about it – when have issues or questions you want, and more importantly you expect, to get answers immediately. You want your email returned, your tweet addressed or your Facebook post responded to.

Fortunately, the public sector has taken notice. Nearly all federal agencies are actively engaged in social media, giving citizens multiple access points for their customer service needs. And citizens are taking full advantage of this approachability. In fact, this infographic shows that 52 percent of constituents use three to four channels when seeking customer service.

The targeted, two-way nature of LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and GovLoop, combined with interaction on government websites, allow agencies to give real-time advice that would have been unheard of previously. Five years ago the U.S. Geological Survey would never think of using Twitter to help them detect sizable earthquakes before scientific instruments can even track and convey the data. The Department of Homeland Security would never imagine launching a competition on a website to ask citizens to develop ideas that will improve the future of government security, and the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention was far from using social media posts from citizens and predictive analytics to track epidemics like the flu.

Here are a few tips for agencies to consider as they start to utilize social media in customer service:

  • Know your audience: If your agency serves baby boomers, you should understand that they typically don’t just want rapid customer service that moves them along more quickly than they’d like. They appreciate when a customer service representative values their time and works with them to solve their inquiry. Therefore, this audience would not exclusively turn to the fast nature of customer service over social media and would prefer the option to speak to a representative over the phone. Today’s technology is not a fit for everyone and it’s important for agencies to know their constituents’ preferences before taking the leap into a social media focused approach.
  • Ask yourself, do you have the manpower?: If providing customer service over digital platforms would be beneficial, agencies need to evaluate their structure and determine if they are able to answer the incoming queries with current staff or consider hiring representatives who are solely responsible for requests that come in over social channels. If you aren’t prepared to address questions in real-time you aren’t ready to implement social media-led customer services.
  • Don’t be too hard on yourself: This is a completely different type of customer service and there is going to be a learning curve associated with it. Make sure that everyone involved sets reasonable expectations and don’t be afraid to fail. Being transparent with customers and telling them that you are still working out the process is probably the best thing you can do for your customer satisfaction rating. Most likely your agency will not get it right the first time and without bumps in the road, you will not learn what works best. Therefore, don’t get discouraged, give yourself time and adjust the approach as you go.

We’d all agree that every agency should be considering ways to better serve their citizens, and it’s evident that engaging with and servicing citizens over social media is one way to elevate constituent care in the majority of agencies.

About the Author

Charles (Chuck) Brooks serves as Vice President/Client Executive for DHS at Xerox. Xerox is a global product and services company that serves clients in 160 countries. Chuck served in government at the Department of Homeland Security as the first Director of Legislative Affairs for the Science & Technology Directorate. He also spent six years on Capitol Hill as a Senior Advisor to the late Senator Arlen Specter and was Adjunct Faculty Member at Johns Hopkins University where he taught homeland security and Congress. Chuck has an MA in International relations from the University of Chicago, and a BA in Political Science from DePauw University. Chuck is published on the subjects of innovation, public/private partnerships, emerging technologies, and issues of cybersecurity.

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