McGowan’s cuts to public service may not serve the public well

[Originally published on the Sydney Morning Herald online on 4 July 2017. Syndicated to]


Western Australian government departments have been slashed by 40 percent since Mark McGowan became Premier with 41 departments becoming 25 under reforms.

While these reforms might be fiscally responsible, how will the savings deliver “a more efficient public sector to deliver better services for the community”, as promised by the Premier?

Yes, the amalgamation of government departments does streamline services which makes some departments a ‘one-stop shop’ for the public, but that doesn’t necessarily equal better customer service.

We are clearly in a period of change, and a change this large over just three months is never a customer-focused change. The public service is called just that because it is there to serve the public – its customers. Service is the keyword here and we mustn’t lose sight of this fundamental principle when making such broad and sweeping changes.

When the clock struck midnight and departments ticked over to new names and structures, what happens to the continuity and standard of service? Is it to focus on transition and saving money or is to focus on the critical need to continue to provide undisrupted service to customers?

Now is the best time for the government to embrace customer service as part of its values. Customer service is often the one area that is forgotten or left aside during periods of change like this.

How will customers who access the Department of Housing regularly, know that it becomes the Department of Communities? How can local tourism businesses continue to make investments in their products and services if they feel their respective department is diluted amongst other priorities like jobs, science and innovation?

If we can learn anything from the retail and technology sector, customers need things fast. Everything is at the click of a button or app, designed with the user in mind. Imagine how the state government’s ‘customers’ are feeling right now – do they have any confidence in their access to services under the new structures?

Now it is true, the government has a responsibility to be accountable to where our taxes go, but ultimately the customer finds this irrelevant. The customer wants to know that they will still be able to access the services they need in the most efficient way possible and they’re not interested in the inner workings or politics behind these decisions. Customers wouldn’t like it if they went to a shopping mall to find the doors locked with a sign saying “closed for a staff meeting and restructure” and the very same applies here.

Here’s the top five things government should be doing, to ensure the customer comes first amidst this enormous transition, and no one falls between the cracks:

1.      Don’t confuse red-tape reduction and customer service as the same thing

2.      Think of interactions with government departments as a two-way process – what creates more confidence and loyalty with customers to keep accessing services?

3.      Ensure the internal communication to employees is centred around service instead of transition and change

4.      Don’t think of customer service as the skill that everyone already has – now is a time to deliberately reinforce it through training

5.      Look at customer service indicators to measure the effectiveness of the amalgamation, not just the dollars saved.

I hope that government embraces this critical moment as a time to prove that customer service is a priority and will not be lost amongst the focus to save money and improving the state’s finances.

This shouldn’t be perceived as just a political gambit but rather as an opportunity to demonstrate that the government can improve their customer service – as after all is said and done, they are public servants.

Chris Smoje is a customer service speaker, trainer, facilitator and founder of the DIME™ Customer Service approach. Chris works with organisations and their people to develop a common interest and excitement about delivering exceptional customer service results:

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