Quality service to the public has always been a challenge, and few Government agencies do it well, as documented by customer service studies conducted by the University of Michigan’s School of Business and other institutions. Running a Contact Center, the central point from which all customer contacts are managed, can be one of the hardest jobs in any business, and is especially true for government agencies. Typically, a contact center has to serve as the face and voice of an enterprise. To accomplish this, agent training, attendance, and knowledge of order processing systems must be first-rate. General office practices normally accepted elsewhere within an organization, such as flex time or AWS, cannot always be implemented within a Contact Center because it needs to function based on the time schedules, needs and desires of customers, not typical office arrangements. To accommodate these customer needs, the GPO Customer Contact Center has extended its business hours to 7:30 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., EST, Monday through Friday.
When Bruce James assumed office as Public Printer, he immediately recognized improved customer service as a top priority. In the past, GPO call center operations focused around knowledge of a particular specialty, such as taking orders for publications and subscriptions. Today, the new Contact Center within GPO’s Information Dissemination area focuses around a “universal agency” concept, meaning all agents are cross-trained in all areas, enabling them to address any customer concern. According to Kevin O’Toole, Information Dissemination’s Director of Library Services and Customer Relations, “Our hope is to reduce service call time, which was previously quite high. Now we have the service expertise available immediately, and do not have to search for someone to address the caller.”
The new Contact Center, which was launched on August 2, 2004, is staffed by a cross-section of experienced GPO employees who know how to deal with customers. Since it began operations, the new 30-person organization, headed by its Director, Lisa L. Williams, has handled 17,699 incoming calls and processed 1,449 emails. It has also handled the rush of customer orders generated by sales of the 9-11 Commission Final Report, as well as orders generated by a successful Information Dissemination promotion of World War II military history publications, which began with the dedication of the new World War II Memorial on the Mall during Memorial Day weekend.
Information Dissemination’s top customer relation’s managers are also working closely with GPO’s Office of Information and Technology Systems to improve credit card processing. This has now advanced to the point that online orders are now no longer accepted when a consumer credit card is declined. Consumers must submit an approved credit card, which has eliminated the collections efforts that were once necessary.
The new Contact Center is not a magic bullet, but it has already improved the way GPO interacts with its customers. As time goes on, new technology and its top-notch staff will bring further improvements in GPO’s service to the American public.