Six (not so) simple steps to a service delivery revolution – Canadian Government Executive

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May 7, 2012

Six (not so) simple steps to a service delivery revolution

The Beatles once sang, “You say you want a revolution? Well, you know, we all want to change the world.”

Of course, the 1960s were a different time – paisley shirts and bell-bottoms were the height of fashion and e-mail hadn’t even been invented yet. Still, those Liverpool lads were onto something. A revolution, you say?

The word “revolution” can mean different things to different people but, at its core, a revolution is a new way of thinking that directly affects the future and pushes beyond the status quo.

A few years ago, ServiceOntario began its own “service revolution,” dramatically changing the way we think about service delivery to provide services faster and better than ever before.

So how do you go from not meeting expectations to exceeding expectations for service delivery – every time? What kind of change can you deliver to a public that demands better, faster service from their government? For ServiceOntario, the answer was simple – don’t just fix the system; revolutionize it.

Case Study
A few years ago, ServiceOntario’s Office of the Registrar General (ORG) was in dire need of a “service revolution.” A combination of factors had created a situation where no one fix would work.

The ORG has been in operation in Ontario for 140 years – almost as old as Canada itself. It registers and issues certificates for births, deaths and marriages and is an area of government most people don’t think about until it’s not there when they need it.

A few years ago, that was too often the norm at ORG.

A combination of higher demand, tighter security needs and various organizational issues made for long lines and wait times for even the most basic services. Much of this followed 9/11, and resulted in tougher standards and processes for documents used to get a passport, including birth certificates.

Since a birth certificate is a “foundation” document used to get most other forms of identification, these new requirements exacerbated an already fragile system. Add to that a longer list of countries that required a passport for travel, and the demand for birth certificates became more than our systems could handle.

The result was a 20-week-long birth certificate backlog. If you needed a birth certificate to get a passport, driver’s license or health card, you had to wait. And wait. And then wait some more. At one point, it took 41 weeks (10 months) to register a birth – longer than most full-term pregnancies.

Fixing it wasn’t easy – and it didn’t happen overnight. It took hard work and “out of the box” thinking. It took a “service revolution.”

ServiceOntario’s six (not so) simple steps…making it easier by:

1) …modernizing your systems and processes
At first glance, the need for effective systems and processes may not sound revolutionary. After all, any business textbook will tell you that agile infrastructure, modern technology and effective processes are must-haves, and that redundant and wasteful processes are, well, redundant and wasteful.

At the time, the ORG had antiquated infrastructure and technology. Processes were lengthy and manual. To eliminate the extensive backlog and reduce wait times, ORG staff refocused and re-engineered their systems and processes – every piece of technology and process was up for review. After all, this wasn’t about making existing machines faster; it was about creating a whole new machine.

To that end, a new computer system was adopted to help leverage advances in technology. Studying processes from start to finish helped identify bottlenecks and roadblocks, and led to a better system that moved work through faster. Better quality applications helped reduce errors, which meant the system worked faster.

And while it took time to iron out all of the wrinkles and fix what didn’t work, this first step was foundational to our long-term success.

2) …building your brand
With new systems and processes in place, the ORG was ready to take the next step: deliver. Sounds simple, right? Not quite – it’s one of the most complicated steps on my list.

I can’t say enough about the value of a strong brand – it delivers lasting impressions to your customers and shapes every aspect of the service experience your customers have with your organization.

Anyone living in Ontario at the start of the decade will remember the not-so-favourable press we received at the time. And, for the most part, this criticism was fair. What we needed was a renewed brand that communicated timely, efficient service delivery.

Now, a revolution that’s misdirected is just a rebellion. Get it wrong using public tax dollars and your brand will be held up to painful scrutiny. Get it right and you’ll be surprised where it takes you. ServiceOntario got it right.

This meant building a world-class reputation and gaining the trust and confidence of our customers. To do this, proactive communications were shared regularly with customers, stakeholders and staff to help manage expectations and avoid last-minute panics where possible.

We also needed to establish confidence in our ability to protect a customer’s information online so they would use our online services. This meant emphasizing the benefit of online systems and getting more people access to the Internet. And it worked. Wait times were eventually reduced as people began to go online.

Rebuilding a brand isn’t easy, especially in a government environment. But with tenacity, perseverance and customer-focused strategies, we built back the trust that we’d lost over time.  We also learned that branding is more than just colours, logos and taglines – it’s about the customer experience we provide from start to finish.

3) …engaging your employees
Any good revolutionary knows the value of engaging others in their movement. Give the people a voice and they will help move the agenda forward.

In my career, I’ve learned that engaging employees is one of the most important and rewarding things you will ever do as a leader. And nowhere was this more evident than at the ORG.

The 20-week backlog hanging over the entire office didn’t exactly build morale – it had become as much a psychological backlog as a physical one, and new technology and processes just weren’t enough. It required a sizeable shift in workplace culture to create an environment where people worked together to achieve a single goal.

I can’t say enough about the employees who worked evenings and weekends, and the leadership that supported them. By making employees part of the solution, we were able to build trust and enthusiasm internally and, very quickly, they became our best brand advocates. They delivered – over and over again – with consistency and confidence, and together we took pride in the significant achievements we had undertaken as a team.

4) …guaranteeing service
A revolution means moving beyond the ordinary. At ServiceOntario, this meant guaranteeing service. The ORG experience not only revitalized our brand, but it helped us launch service guarantees – a “revolutionary” initiative and a first among North American governments.

Our new systems allowed us to process birth certificate applications within six to eight weeks – a vast improvement from a 20-week wait. But we knew we could do better and offered the first service guarantee for birth certificates – processed and delivered “from desktop to doorstep” within 15 business days or your money back.

Or your money back? Government was offering you your money back if they didn’t deliver? Hard to believe, right?

The service guarantee was important because it gave customers unprecedented certainty and a way t

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