Better service, one smile at a time

Steve Kelman proposes adopting a wordless rating system from Singapore.

While on the way to the United States from Australia, I got off my plane in Singapore and promptly repaired to the men's room. On leaving, I noticed a TV-size screen inviting me to rate the facilities by touching the screen – with five options, ranging from a super-smile to a super-frown. (No words were used.) 

I then went over to the airport information counter to ask where to meet my connecting flight. Again, next to each of the two customer services representatives was a screen with the five faces.

In times of tight budgets, some government employees may become more inclined to ask why any of their agency's resources are being spent measuring their performance rather than on performing. Performance measurement is important whether budgets are scant or generous because it can improve performance. Nonetheless, in tight budget times it becomes imperative to look for ways to develop lower-cost metrics.

This is why the smiley faces are such a great idea that we should really be looking to adopt. They are far easier to complete than long customer satisfaction surveys. They cost very little for the government. And, in addition to providing managers with good performance information, they are a visible statement to the public that government cares about how well it treats people in interactions with them.

There are many places where this technology could be used in the federal government, not to speak of local governments. Think of national parks, public restrooms in federal buildings, and offices (such as Social Security) where government employees interact person-to-person with people. Think of adaptations of this approach to quick ratings for features of government websites. And of course for passport control, the original application for which this was developed in Singapore.

By providing trend information, these ratings can be a warning signal to managers about deteriorating service, or a way to track the effect of service improvement initiatives. Where a number of employees are interacting with the public, the ratings, used judiciously, can provide comparisons among employees. I would be disinclined to use any but the worst ratings as grounds for punishment or dismissal, but I would like the idea of friendly competitions and of interviewing the best employees and the middling ones to see if there are differences between how they interact with customers that could provide the basis for changed training or standard operating procedures.

These smiley face ratings systems have become common in Asia. Why are we allowing ourselves to fall behind?

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