Importance of the customer

The NSW Government has prioritised customer service and appointed Australia's first Customer Service Commissioner, Mr Mike Pratt, in 2012. Commissioner Pratt's assessment of key issues and future directions is included in this chapter. Reforms to date include a 'one-stop shop' – Service NSW – with service centres, a single 24/7 telephone service and a single digital channel. Fostering a public service culture where customer service is strongly valued is a legislated objective of the Public Service Commissioner.

Other state governments have sought to measure customer satisfaction with government services. South Australia has run its Household survey since 2008 and the Queensland Government ran its third Customer Satisfaction survey in 2014.

The Australian Government has commissioned research into the relationship between agency performance and customer experiences. This research found that high-performing agencies tended to deliver superior customer experiences because they put more effort into understanding customer needs, invested relatively more time and resources, and were better at responding to suggestions and feedback. High-performing workplaces were also found to be more productive and therefore more efficient in their service delivery.14

Many NSW Government agencies actively seek customer feedback to improve service delivery; for example, the Mystery Shopper Program conducted by the NSW Police Force and the annual statewide Patient survey conducted by NSW Health. A PSC survey in late 2013 identified that 94% of the 83 agency respondents collect feedback from their customers and nearly three-quarters make changes as a result of views presented by customers.

Until now, customer feedback has typically been sought by individual agencies or programs, with limited coordination or comparison of customer satisfaction across agencies. To complement existing agency initiatives and create a coordinated approach to customer service reform, the Public Service Commission Advisory Board worked with the Customer Service Commissioner and others to develop a whole-of-government customer satisfaction instrument in 2013.

The inaugural statewide Customer Satisfaction Measurement Instrument – a survey of people who use public services – was conducted by the Customer Service Commissioner during 2014. It involved 6,208 customers, including 5,189 from the general population and 1,019 from the business community, responding to a telephone survey, face-to-face interviews, and mobile phone–based or online questionnaires. A diverse range of customers participated, including those from metropolitan, regional and rural areas, with a mix of gender, age, ethnicity and socio-economic status.

Twenty different types of services were included in the Customer survey including education, health, roads, transport, water licensing, agriculture, environment, family support, housing, police, fire, emergency services, prisons, courts, business advisory and art galleries and museums.

The objectives of this research are to understand the drivers of customer satisfaction and dissatisfaction, in relation to service quality and its relationship to public sector values, goals and culture. The results provide baseline scores to gauge future performance and the success of any reforms. The views of customers, employees and services are reported in this chapter.

Research results

Overall, the survey found NSW customers were relatively happy with public services. The average rating for satisfaction with services over the previous 12 months was 7.3 for consumers and 7.4 for business customers (on a 10-point scale). However, the experience was below expectations for both consumers (7.6) and businesses (7.5). The gap between expectation and satisfaction is reinforced by the fact that only 43% of consumers and 45% of businesses rate their experience as close to their vision of an ideal service.

Public sector performance on core values was generally good, with both consumers and business customers scoring three out of four values at more than 7.0 (see Figure 12 on the following page). The research found these values were important in driving overall satisfaction, and among them, good service and trust were the biggest drivers.

Figure 11: Customer perceptions of employees and processes

Figure 11 is a horizontal bar graph showing customer ratings out of 10 against satisfaction statements. Employees are honest and Employees deliver high safety standards 7.6; Employees provide services without bias 7.5; Employees are reliable and Employees engender confidence in their knowledge 7.3; Employees do what they promise and Employees provide good-value services 7.2; Employees focus on addressing customer needs 7.1; Employees are held accountable and Processes are easy to understand 6.9; Employees get things done as quickly as possible 6.8; Employees see things from my perspective 6.7; Processes ensure employees are empowered to make decisions 6.6; Processes ensure I can get to the right person the first time 6.4; Processes are designed to reduce wait times 6.3.

Figure 12: Customer perceptions of public sector values

Figure 12 is a horizontal bar graph showing average customer rating out of 10 against four public sector values . Findings show 7.2 'operates with integrity'; 7.1 'provides good service'; 7.1 'is a body I can trust' and 6.9 ' is accountable for its services'.

Customers were also generally positive about issues such as safeguarding privacy and confidentiality (7.6 for consumers, 7.7 for businesses) and the accessibility of information about services (7.1 and 7.0 respectively). However, they were most critical about the extent to which the public was able to participate in decision making (6.0 from both).

When asked to rate the public service overall rather than their direct experiences, customers gave lower scores than for service satisfaction (6.5 for consumers, 6.2 for businesses). Three in four customers described the public service positively, using terms such as 'capable', 'helpful' and 'friendly', whereas two out of three associated it with being 'inefficient', 'wasteful', 'difficult', 'impersonal' and 'inflexible', highlighting the imperative to improve public services.

The survey also found that more than a quarter of customers had complained to a public sector agency or department but only 15% of these felt their complaints had been handled well. Businesses, specifically, found it hard to know where to lodge complaints at all. The findings show that handling complaints well has a positive impact on customer satisfaction, even more than reducing the incidence of complaints.

The results of the inaugural statewide Customer survey will be considered by the NSW Government along with advice from the Customer Service Commissioner and department and agency heads on how to improve satisfaction over time.

Overall, NSW customers were happy with the public services they received. However, only 43% of consumers and 45% of businesses rate their experience as close to their vision of an ideal service.

14.Boedker et al (2011), Leadership, Culture and Management Practices of High Performing Workplaces in Australia: The High Performing Workplaces Index

The Public Service Commission acknowledges the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation, the traditional custodians of the land on which our office stands.