ServiceOntario has helped change the way the Ontario government serves people and made it easier for customers to access a variety of highly demanded services. Jason Okamura spoke to Deputy Minister and CEO Frank D’Onofrio about transformation, the organization, its role and its value.

What type of influence does the ServiceOntario brand have?

ServiceOntario has a rich network of online, in-person and over-the-phone services. We have nearly 300 offices across Ontario, offer 40 key online services and operate a modern call centre. No other government network is as visible across Ontario. Together, we process approximately 49 million transactions each year and have over 11 million unique visitors to

Putting the customer first is quite different from what I think most people envision when they think of government services.

People expect good service wherever they go, and we’re out to prove that they can expect just that from ServiceOntario. Whether they need a health card or a driver’s licence, they’re getting married or having a baby, we’re out to deliver great service every time.

Offering a range of channels is a big part of our service commitment, but we also make their life easier by offering appointments to avoid standing in line, and coordinated renewal dates on driver’s licences and health cards, to reduce the need for multiple trips. Step by step, we’re out to be a recognized leader in delivering great customer service, to individuals, families and businesses across Ontario.

And how’s that going?

Really well. A few years ago, only five percent of people knew who we were based on an independent brand-industry survey. That’s changed a lot. By the end of this quarter we project that number will be around 80 percent. More and more, people know who we are, and judged against very tough service-industry standards, they believe we are relevant and unique in their lives, and that we deliver high-quality service.

How have you done that?

Ultimately, we had to improve perceptions one customer at a time – that was a real challenge. We had to think about the customer’s experience, rather than our own needs, and I think that mindset puts us in company with some of the best service organizations out there. It’s led us to continuously improve, making things easier for customers while protecting and respecting privacy, security and reliability standards – “must haves” for any government entity.

Improving online services was a game changer, giving us a 24/7 service presence anytime, anywhere. It allows our team to work on complex customer care issues that require our expertise. Our money-back guarantees – which we meet more than 99 percent of the time – took things a step further. It’s a shining example of putting customers first. Expanding the suite of services available throughout our retail offices was another major accomplishment.

Can people, or governments, afford good service when budgets are tight? Are there more valuable areas that the government could focus on?

Without hesitation, I would say that there’s real value in improving the way government services are delivered. For example, before we brought several routine services under one roof, it was not out of the ordinary to hear about people who would have to take a day off work to get their driver’s licence and health card renewed, going from one office to another, often in different towns. Our service improvements represent real cost savings, especially for the customer.

There’s no question we have to keep improving services in a cost-effective way, but doing it right means better service at a lower long-term cost. It’s something we can’t afford not to do.

I understand you measure your brand equity. A private sector company can translate that into higher prices or profits, but why does it matter for ServiceOntario?

It’s very important for people to know which services they can get, and where to get them. People now recognize that we are the first place to turn to when they need government service; even if we can’t provide what they need, we can refer them to the right source. As a key government store front, Ontarians increasingly see ServiceOntario as relevant, unique, high-quality, familiar and popular. Ultimately, that spells out trust and confidence, and an opportunity for us to grow.

It’s also an opportunity for our public sector partners to benefit from our progress and to leverage our brand as we continue to add and integrate more services – all to the benefit of our valued customers.