Citizen Service: Service Orientation in Public Sector


Citizen Service: Service Orientation in Public Sector

This the year of good citizen service and it seems very opportune to develop a basic analysis of the service provided by public organizations. These entities, in general, have not been characterized by providing a good service quality to citizens, although it must be recognized that some of them have undertaken a set of improvements in order to better serve citizens. However, the questions that we have to ask: are citizens satisfied with the services these entities provide?, how should be managed the citizen service in public organizations?, and, what is the main focus to be considered to finally develop a culture of service in public sector?

If we start by reviewing how citizens are satisfied, we can take the results of a study that was presented last May by Pulso Digital in Lima Metropolitan about the services of public health centers and municipalities[1]. In health sector, 43% of respondents manifested that services are regular and 50% rated them as bad or very bad. Taking into account that regular is not a positive response, we would have to say that an overwhelming 93% of citizens indicate that they are not satisfied as they expect. Truly creepy results considering that we analyze health centers that should be real models of service orientation, given the implication of its performance for the human person. In addition, according to the evaluation carried out in 41 public hospitals by Defensoría del Pueblo in 2016 November[2], 82% of these hospitals maintain patients more than 12 hours in emergency services which means that these patients are not attended opportunely. Also, 65% of these hospitals have its corridors occupied with patients on stretchers, which demonstrates the visible and daily overcrowding. 48% of emergency services do not have the ultrasound scanner 24 hours, that is, almost 20 hospitals do not have this main equipment, a very relevant lack, and 36% of hospitals have stretchers with a separation of less than one meter among them in emergency services, only to mention the most salient results. According to the National Superintendence of Health (Susalud), two of the main hospitals in Lima, Rebagliati and Almenara, are among the 10 health centers-including public and private- with the most rate of complaints this year. The Police Hospital comes to my mind: what level of patient satisfaction would we find there?

If we review the services provided by municipalities, according to the aforementioned results, 46% of respondents indicate that these are regular, and 34% manifests that they are bad or very bad, that is, 80% of citizens say that these services are not satisfying them. Another result that speaks for itself related to the services management that these entities show. If we ask citizens about services provided by police stations, or other public entities, there would very likely be results that we would like to be more positive. In fact, I have experienced the very bad service in a police station a few years ago, specifically could verify the scarce of capacity and service attitude when attending citizens. Needless to say, services in education public sector where despite the efforts, they deliver a very poor service quality for different users they attend. It is clear that, in general, public sector is characterized by not providing the service quality that citizens and organizations expect and thus, not achieving the level of satisfaction they demand. Although this is not new information, as it comes from many years ago, what you can observe now is that as population and its demands increase, sector public is not aligning to this reality and  therefore, cannot fulfill the essence of its role: to deliver a dignified and good service quality for citizens. We must recognize that there are some improvements, as a newspaper editorial mentioned[3], however, we have to say that those are well-intentioned but isolated and insufficient actions, that fail to solve the lack of service orientation in public sector. As this editorial points out, many entities in this sector lack of a customer-oriented culture.

Let´s look at now, in a simple way, what should be taken into account to promote a service orientation and how it can be managed and sustained over time. Since a swallow does not make summer, and what is required here and now are public organizations with a clear mission to serve citizens, demonstrated in experiences and results that positively satisfy them, not only a passing slogan, or sporadic actions, for very good intentions that they bring. The problem is bigger, and it is not addressed in an integral and consistent manner. In particular, I would propose to develop a service discipline in the public sector, and to do that, I will outline some ideas of this proposal that is based on a culture of service[4]. This culture should start with top management, in other words, if from the highest level of management comes a philosophy and vision of service, you have the first link in a service orientation chain within the organization. However, this is not enough, as middle managers are real architects to ensure that this orientation and its management becomes a reality, and through these managers, front-line employees will be able to deliver the services that are expected, supported by their co-workers or back-office employees. We can remember Wong, the supermarket chain, which started in the 80s delivering a service that had not been delivered before, and the starting point was a top management convinced and prepared to implement a culture focused on service. But in addition, they developed a special philosophy and trained carefully each of middle managers, bosses of stores, and also trained consistently and continuity their employees. The results are well known. If we look countries, Singapore is a good example, a very small Asian country, that has been able to focus on its customers and offer them what they expect and even more. They have built a convenient infrastructure and designed efficient services: port, airport, finance services, security, etc. And the most interesting thing is that their success has been achieved through their best resource: their people. For this purpose they created a human resources ministry with a clear mission: to develop a world-class workforce. It is a highly competitive country. Whether companies or public entities or countries, require a strong orientation from the high level, for which right executives’ selection and policies and norms are needed in order to give the appropriate framework.  And along with it, a service-oriented leadership at all levels of management, especially at the middle as these managers are key drivers to consolidate an orientation in employees. It is through this chain of service leadership that it will be possible to create a real environment in which employees know, can and want serve the customers, not just through several service standards but also, trying to do their best in each case in order to solve problems and situations that citizens use to have. Something that is not common to observe in public employees.

Only through consistent leadership a service culture can be built, which is based on two fundamentals aspects: 1) Efficient modes to operate, and 2) Coherent attitudes for action. In operations it is necessary to differentiate the technical aspect that is focused on a specific economical sector in which the organization operates, plus the ability to deliver reliable services and rectify when them have failed, two different fields that should not be separated. About the action that implies attitudes and behaviors that employees must show, we must identify the social and emotional behavior, plus ethical behavior, one of the weakest sides of public sector. All of which, in turn, will have repercussions on a positive and authentic institutional image, or not. This is, in short, the reality of service, which affects the perception of citizens, and not the simple advertising of an image that is not real. This is a continuous temptation for directors in public sector.

It is easy to realize that service begins and ends in people: officials and their collaborators. It is true that today more than ever, digital technology platforms are needed with effective processes, but how it could be useful if employees lack of competencies, show negative attitudes and behaviors, plus corruption. In order to achieve a high homogeneity in services’ performance, it is essential to focus on three key elements: a) to include the right employees, b) to train them through a consistent program and, 3) to establish the appropriate policies and exert a coherent leadership. To face element 2 we have developed a model in order to apply a service orientation for employees[5]. We can understand that Servir Law, proclaimed for past government, is the way to achieve this purpose in public sector. However, the issue is how to implement rightly in all public entities, considering that a service orientation not just needs a policy, norm and law, but an organizational culture that really favors commitment and conviction with a mission from all the members of an organization. In other words, a transcendent motive appropriately understood and assumed that foster in public employees: to do things right, to do these satisfied, and to do these with commitment.

Service management must be assumed through these three pillars: 1) What customers or users are expecting and demanding, 2) What the organization offers and delivers, and 3) What makes both issues possible. In other words, how the organization is capable to integrate conveniently marketing, operations and people. We would like to ask: how much dedication and effort to focus on customer each public entity does? That is, what actions in marketing each organization does in order to know, follow and manage the different tasks in this aspect? If we see the results of citizen satisfaction shown before, it is clear that what is being done here is very weak, at least according to the situation observed. It seems that in operations’ field these entities have achieved a more noticeable advance, but it should be noted that basically in the technical aspect, not in service operation. The implementation of technologies, processes’ improvement and even in some cases in the infrastructure and equipment, allow them to offer faster and efficient services, so, they can obtain positive results in operation. However, as service chain within the organization is not properly integrated, these effective actions do not solve the entire problem. Undoubtedly, these three pillars must be managed harmoniously and coherently, something that is not common in public sector. We have to be aware that with only a plan for digital transformation we will not obtain the results citizens expect, we need first or at least simultaneously, a mental transformation with a new attitude focused on service. And also, it will be useful to evaluate the use of new technologies in order to replace employees where it is necessary and so, have a better employees’ assignment. It is not the way to continue taking isolated and erratic steps to build a real service discipline in public sector. Peru needs, since a long time ago, a solid culture focused on service in each public entity. This sector unfortunately is characterized by being slow, full of inefficient procedures, with few exceptions, and all of these with a unfriendly and incompetent employees that are attending every day Peruvian and foreigner citizens, off and on-line. The question is: what kind of image they project in these customers?

Finally, while we know that a service oriented institutional culture becomes a great project, this is precisely the big gap that we need to fill as soon as possible. This will result in an important contribution to become a competitive country in this global era. Marketing and Operations must be managed correctly and efficiently, but this transformation begins with a fertile terrain which has been lacking until now. The competencies’ development for people working in public sector cannot be focused only on knowledge, operational techniques and management tools, as it usually is. This country needs a transcendent transformation of public sector in order to build a real service culture in institutions. Citizens are not just expecting speed and simplicity, although it is a very relevant step, they expect positive attitudes, efficient manners and human qualities that should be considered in the employees’ talent development. As long as we do not understand the convenient and integral development for officials and public employees we will not be able to count with persons that deliver pleasant experiences with effective results. If we are capable to do this, it will certainly be a clear signal of a real change: that every public school, hospital, municipality and police station provide the quality of services that citizens deserve and that will facilitate a more dignified and gratifying quality of life especially for those of low and middle social class, because they should not be suffering the very bad service that many public entities use to deliver in this country.

[1] Gestión, Peruvian Business Newspaper, 2017 May.

[2] El Comercio, Peruvian Newspaper, 2017 September.

[3] Gestión, Business Newspaper, 2017 September.

[4] Lescano Duncan, L. ”The Service Discipline”, (2014) Ediciones de la U, Colombia.

[5] Lescano Duncan, L. “Developing a training process with service orientation for employees”, (2014), Empresa y Humanismo Journal, Navarra University, Spain.