Agencies turn to technology for customer service

2006-2007 Governmentwide Assessment of Citizen Service Activities

Funding shortages are hampering agencies’ growing number of customer services, but technology is helping reduce the dependence on those dollars, a new study shows.

The 2006-2007 Governmentwide Assessment of Citizen Service Activities report from the General Services Administration states that federal workers cited funding as their top challenge in providing the information citizens are seeking from them.

Several federal employees described a vicious circle in which inadequate funding led to cutbacks in hiring and training, which placed more demands on poorly trained customer service representatives, causing higher turnover, which often reduces management’s willingness to invest more resources, according to the report, released July 2.

Meanwhile, technology has brought sophisticated tools to the table, such as frequently-asked-questions systems, e-mail and Web-based forms, that can trim costs by reducing the number of necessary workers, according to the report. Agencies recognize this tradeoff, it states.

For example, the Health Resources and Services Administration found that introducing the FAQs reduced e-mail inquiries from about 900 a month to about 500. It permanently reduced staff members’ time and other resources devoted to answering questions.
The administration now configures its Web site so that every page links to the FAQs. Furthermore, the system requires that users consult the FAQs before sending a question via e-mail.

“Advances in Web-based technology are fueling this phenomenon as citizens are more and more likely to get the results they are seeking on their own without relying on federal government staff,” said Martha Dorris, deputy associate administrator for GSA’s Office of Citizen Services.

The survey, conducted by GSA’s USA Services, studied more than 200 federal offices within 35 departments and agencies.


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