GG08 - Putting Californians First-Creating a Customer Service Framework


California state government lacks a statewide system to improve customer service. State departments do not consistently assess customer satisfaction, benchmark best practices in customer service or develop and implement customer service standards. As a result, the state is unable to effectively improve its business processes to ensure that it is meeting customer needs.


California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's Executive Order S-5-04, which created the California Performance Review, states ". . . the people of California have. . . made clear their desire for a government that is a better provider of services, more responsive and more accountable. . ."[1] Various efforts have been launched, at both the federal and state levels, to make government less costly and more responsive.[2] Many of these public sector initiatives have focused on improving customer service.

Federal customer service models

In September 1993, President Bill Clinton issued Executive Order 12682 that required federal agencies to establish and implement customer service standards, customer surveys and customer service plans. All executive departments and agencies that provide significant service directly to the public were required to take the following actions:

  • Identify the customers who are, or should be, served by the agency.
  • Survey customers to determine the kind and quality of services they want and their level of satisfaction with existing services.
  • Post service standards and measure results against them.
  • Benchmark customer service performance against the best in business.
  • Survey front-line employees on barriers to and ideas for, matching the best in business.
  • Provide customers with choices in both the sources of service and the means of delivery.
  • Make information, services and complaint systems easily accessible.
  • Provide means to address customer complaints.

The order encouraged federal agencies to provide customer service training to employees who directly serve customers. The order also directed agencies with high levels of public contact to publish a customer service plan within one year.[3]

The federal government also created the National Partnership for Reinventing Government (NPR). During its eight years of operation (1993-2001), the NPR's purpose was to create a federal government that works better, costs less and gets the results that citizens care about. The NPR looked to the private sector for innovations such as adopting a strong customer focus, a mindset rarely associated with government bureaucracies. The NPR accomplishments included reducing the federal workforce by 426,000 and recommending efficiency measures that achieved approximately $136 billion in savings.[4]

State-level customer service improvements

The California Franchise Tax Board (FTB) developed a strategic plan that identifies customercentered service as its number-one goal. This goal has been deployed to the individual employee level and has been incorporated as a performance measure for the Board's Collection Call Center employees. For example, an FTB collection call center team has identified what the customer expects from them-courteous, professional and flexible service, as well as effective problem solving. The team has developed a customer service evaluation form used to evaluate its interaction with customers.

Since February 2004, the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) has reduced wait times from as high as three and one-half hours to a statewide average of 30 minutes within its 90 major field offices.[5] The department accomplished this by identifying and adopting the best customer service practices that were in place at outstanding field offices. The best practices identified include the following:

  • Create and share a baseline of workload performance with all team members and work together to establish goals for achieving higher levels of performance.
  • Use data available to educate employees about the office's overall performance.
  • Use the strengths and knowledge of front-line employees to make changes in workflow, processing, scheduling, etc. Front-line employees provide face-to-face customer service and have a clear understanding of customer needs.
  • Understand office workload trends and peak workload periods and adjust staffing levels accordingly.
  • Use a "heads-up" management approach to quickly identify when intervention is required, so that technicians can move on to other customers.
  • Practice "once and done" processing methodology to reduce and/or eliminate the need for the customer to return. This methodology requires that each customer service transaction be performed one time only and performed correctly the first time, thus eliminating or reducing the need for the transaction to be handled by multiple employees and the customer to make return trips or phone calls to the department.
  • Provide full cross-training to staff to increase their ability to work in several areas of the office.[6]

In 2003, Governor Gary Locke of Washington issued an executive order to improve customer service by establishing customer service standards. All state departments were directed to assess customer satisfaction and to report the progress quarterly to the Governor's office.

The executive order also required departments to establish complaint systems to track and resolve customer service problems.[7]

The Governor established the Office of Quality and Performance within the Governor's office to administer the executive order. The office is staffed by two people and the budget is provided by a funding pool created from contributions from all of the departments.[8] The office meets monthly with all of the departments' Internal Quality Consultants as a group to provide guidance and training. The training needs of individual departments are assessed in separate quarterly meetings with the Internal Quality Consultant of each department. Action plans are developed and implemented to address any training needs.

In 2003, Oregon's Governor Ted Kulongoski issued an executive order to streamline regulations and improve customer service. State regulatory agencies were ordered to evaluate customer service delivery and customer satisfaction and required to submit customer service improvement plans to the Governor.[9] The Office of Regulatory Streamlining was created to implement this executive order. It is located within the Consumer and Business Services Department. Other states have established similar customer service, quality improvement, government efficiency and performance units. For example, in Minnesota, the Office of Strategic Planning and Results Management is housed within the Department of Administration.[10] In Iowa, the Iowa Excellence Program is housed within the Department of Management.[11] Virginia's Results Program is housed within the Department of Planning and Budget.[12]

Customer service must drive strategic and budgeting direction

The NPR also sponsored a consortium to study the role of the customer in the private sector, as a benchmark for federal agencies. The consortium found that in private organizations, customer satisfaction drives performance, budgeting and strategic direction. Many organizations have structured their entire businesses around customer groups and serving their needs. [13]

California state government should adopt similar customer-focused approaches in their strategic and budget planning. Customer service must be a strategic goal of each department and customer satisfaction must be continually assessed to determine how well a department is performing. Each department's strategic plan should address identified deficiencies in customer service.

A study by KPMG Public Services concluded that successful state governments must demonstrate that they are delivering value to customers and that customers determine the value of services they receive. This can be possible if state government employees are trained in developing customer service standards and achieving customer satisfaction.[14]

Benchmarking is key to improving customer service

Benchmarking is the process of continuously comparing and measuring an organization's business processes and practices against those of successful businesses to gain information that will help the organization take action to improve. Effective benchmarking can be a catalyst for change within government by establishing performance measures and accountability; recognizing excellent customer service and inspiring competition; and establishing a basis for continuous improvement.

California does not have a statewide approach to benchmarking and process improvement. Therefore, with few exceptions, the state is unable to take advantage of some of the best practices of other organizations to improve on its own operations.


  1. The Governor should establish, by Executive Order, a statewide customer service system. The Executive Order, titled "Putting Californians First" should include the following components:
    • Customer Service Action Plan: The plan should establish customer service standards, including measuring performance and customer satisfaction.
    • Compact with Customers: A written commitment should specify how a department will serve its customers.
    • Customer Service Coordinator: Each department should have a Customer Service Coordinator who will be responsible for the department's customer service program as defined by the Executive Order.
    • Customer Service Award: Outstanding departments and employees should be recognized.

    The Executive Order would require all agencies and employees to take the following specific actions to improve customer service and develop a Customer Service Action Plan:

    • Identify customers
    • Survey the customers' satisfaction levels
    • Establish customer service standards
    • Benchmark and measure customer service performance
    • Compile customer survey results
    • Survey front line employees
    • Develop improvement plans
    • Implement a complaint system
    • Develop a written compact with the customers
    • Report survey results
    • Report progress on improvements
    • Designate a departmental Customer Service Coordinator that would report to the department's executive office
    • Provide input on employee surveys
    • Implement improvement plans
    • Respond to complaints
    • Resolve customer service problems
    • Adhere to customer service standards
    • Apply for awards
    • Use customer service tool kit (see description below)
  2. The Executive Order should create a Governor's Customer Service Office (GCSO) to oversee the implementation of the above steps.
  3. The GCSO should consist of an executive leader and a yet-to-be-determined number of staff to oversee and assist in the deployment of the Executive Order and departments' Customer Service Training Plans.

  4. The GCSO should provide customer service training to the departments' Customer Service Coordinators.
  5. The training would be conducted in two segments. The first segment would consist of an initial classroom training to the Customer Service Coordinators from each agency. They would be provided "tool kits" that would include guidelines, best practices and strategies for implementing each component of the executive order and the departments' Customer Service Action Plan. The second segment would consist of quarterly workshops for the Customer Service Coordinators. The workshops would provide additional training on each component of the executive order. The GCSO would invite subject matter experts in the various areas of customer service to conduct the workshops. The Customer Service Coordinators would, in turn, provide customer service training to departmental employees, as needed.

  6. The GCSO should develop a website that would contain descriptions of its purpose, mission and vision; the Executive Order; customer service reports; and notices of customer service awards. The website would provide the aforementioned tool kits, as well as links to related customer service sites.
  7. The GCSO should receive and review customer survey results and improvement plans from the departments.
  8. The GCSO should establish and award customer service awards to departments.

Fiscal Impact

The workload associated with GCSO and the Customer Service Coordinators within the agencies, should be met with existing resources and allocations.


[1] California Office of the Governor, "Executive Order S-5-04, California Performance Review," Sacramento, California, February 10, 2004.
[2] National Partnership for Reinventing Government formerly the National Performance Review,, (last visited March 12, 2004); and Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, Texas Performance Review, (last visited March 2, 2004).
[3] The White House, "Executive Order No. 12862, Setting Customer Service Standards," Washington D.C., September 11, 1993.
[4] Social Policy Action Network, "What States and Communities Can Learn From Eight Years of Federal Reinvention," by Kathleen Sylvester and Michael Umpiere (Baltimore, Maryland, 2001), p. 2.
[5] Interview with Ken Miyao, Deputy Director, Registration, Department of Motor Vehicles, Sacramento, California (May 28, 2004). Wait times may increase during peak periods such as a three-day holiday weekend.
[6] Memorandum from Dorothy L. Hunter, deputy director, field operations, Department of Motor Vehicles, to regional administrators, Department of Motor Vehicles (February 24, 2004).
[7] State of Washington, "Executive Order 03-01, Service Delivery," Olympia, Washington.
[8] Interview with Mary Campbell, special assistant for quality and performance, Washington Office of the Governor, Olympia, Washington (June 2, 2004).
[9] State of Oregon, "Regulatory Streamlining," Executive Order 03-01, Salem, Oregon, February 20, 2003.
[10] Interview with Jay Stroebel, State Results Leader, Office of Strategic Planning and Results Management, Minnesota Department of Administration, St. Paul, Minnesota (June 2, 2004).
[11] Iowa Department of Management, "Iowa Excellence," (last visited June 7, 2004).
[12] Interview with William L. Murray, deputy director of Policy, Virginia Office of the Governor (April 23, 2004).
[13] National Performance Review, "Serving the American Public: Best Practice in Customer-Driven Strategic Planning," Federal Benchmarking Consortium Report (February 1997), (last visited June 3, 2004.)
[14] KPMG Public Service, "Organizations Serving the Public-Transformation to the 21st Century," January 1997, pp. 14-15 (pamphlet).